Since New Zealander AJ Hackett dived off the Eiffel Tower 30 years ago, his bungy-jumping craze has continued to scale new heights of daring.
That first 'leap of faith' - a famous PR stunt that landed the young sportsman in international hot water - launched a pioneering business that would grab the attention of thrill-seekers the world over.
Hackett is a classic example of Kiwi ingenuity, a man who harnessed three of the country’s great passions - sport, adventure and the outdoors - with his entrepreneurial spirit.
Inspired by ancient Vanuatu land-diving rituals and Oxford University's Dangerous Sports Club extreme sport experiments, Hackett joined forces with speed-skiing buddy Henry van Asch to investigate the possibility of jumping from great heights while tethered by elastic cords. With the help of Auckland University students, they developed a super-stretchy cord with which to take the plunge.
Birth of adventure tourism
The Paris jump was just the beginning. In 1988, Hackett and van Asch opened the world’s first commercial bungy operation off the Kawarau Bridge, near Queenstown. It was hailed as the birth of adventure tourism in New Zealand.
The original 43m jump over the Kawarau River still attracts tens of thousands of thrill-seekers every year. The river is renowned for firsts. It is home to the world's first commercial jet boat company and the world's first river surfing operation.
Since then the Queenstown operation, one of the town's largest employers, has introduced a whole series of new bungy-based thrills including:
- The Kawarau Zipride - a family friendly zip line adventure
- Ledge Urban Bungy - a leap from the top of the Queenstown Gondola, 400m over the city, giving the best views of Queenstown
- Ledge Sky Swing - a night-life experience
- Nevis Highwire - the highest bungy in the Southern Hemisphere at 134m
- The Nevis Swing - the biggest swing in the world
- The Harbour Bridge Jump and Climb - jumpers walk to the top of the iconic bridge to a specially-built bungy pod
Van Asch now runs the New Zealand arm of the hugely-successful bungy business, while Hackett has extended the business off-shore. There are now 30 different international patents - including bungy jumps in Cairns (Australia), Bali, Normandy (France), Germany, Kuala Lumpur and the world’s highest jump off the Macau Tower (China) at 233m.