Tourism pioneers jump for joy
06 Nov 2008
Adventure tourism pioneers AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch tandem jumped for joy as they celebrated 20 years of adrenalin thrills at Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge yesterday (12.11.08).
Co-founders and local heroes, the adventurous Kiwi pair launched their commercial bungy operation, now a multi-million dollar empire, at the bridge on November 12 1988. And, according to the famous pair, it was still just as much of a thrill as it was 20 years ago.
Of nearly 650 children from local schools who were at the bridge during the open day, around 50, some aged as young as 10, took up the challenge - with their parents’ permission - of a free jump. Adults who turned up wearing 1980s clothing qualified for an NZ$88 bungy jump.
Bungy had given Queenstown "lots of opportunities over the years to celebrate and this is one of them", AJ Hackett CEO Michelle Trapski said.
More than 500,000 people have jumped from the bridge that became the springboard for the worldwide spread of bungy, and more than two million people globally have bungy-jumped from AJ Hackett sites.
When the Kawarau jump first opened, skeptics thought it was a tourism operation that would never catch on but on its first day - November 12 1988 - 28 candidates each paid NZ$75 to leap off the 43-metre high bridge.
"Lots of people had heard what we were going to do and the buzz around town was huge because we were pretty excited ourselves, so around 1pm, after AJ had finished painting the deck, we did a display and people rolled up to jump. Opening day was a bit of a blur, but I know several hundred people came out to watch," Henry van Asch recalled.
"Some thought we were mad and that we’d never last, but with the response we started to get an idea we were onto a great thing. Now it’s great ... being able to look back and know that so many people have had a great time and this challenge has changed their lives."
Birth of adventure tourism
The launch of the Kawarau Bridge Bungy site has been hailed as the birth of adventure tourism in New Zealand, and was integral towards putting New Zealand on the world adventure tourism map.
"When I stand out there with AJ, I know we are still both as passionate about it as we were then. It has been a fantastic ride and we’re both really happy to have done something that’s been fulfilling for all our jumpers and crew from all around the world, for Queenstown, and for tourism," van Asch said.
More on the AJ Hackett bungy story:
A leap of faith - the Kiwi spirit
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