The Kiwi who co-founded the global bungy jumping phenomenon from Queenstown continues to push boundaries ahead of bungy’s 25th birthday.
AJ Hackett, in Russia overseeing construction of a new jump site, confirms he’s returning for next month’s 25th anniversary at the global birthplace of commercial bungy – Queenstown’s historic Kawarau Bridge.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Hackett says, adding until then he’ll be super-busy with an ambitious new bungy, swing and flying fox project in Russia’s Sochi.
Sochi – joining Hackett’s numerous other sites in Bali, Cairns, France and Macau to name a few – will boast a 65-metre jump plus a 200m whopper with a water-touch option, he says.
Hackett: “This’ll be the second-highest bungy but by far the highest water touch we’ve had.”
The Russian site also features one of the world’s longest and highest suspended pedestrian walkways at 500m long – and the big new bungy is from a futuristic pod in the middle.
Hackett: “We’ll have a large water body in the bottom of this valley into river flats so with people who’ve jumped regularly we might be able to do water touches which will be really interesting.”
Hackett and co-founder Henry van Asch were instrumental in pioneering bungy jumping here in 1988 – sparking global hype with millions jumping at sites since.
The pair split commercially in 1997 with Van Asch retaining New Zealand rights for the AJ Hackett Bungy brand, while Hackett got overseas operations.
Despite differences at the time, the pair have made up and in 2007 their respective companies agreed to work more closely together in a deal brokered by Van Asch’s then-chief executive Michelle Trapski.
Both Hackett and Van Asch now have mutual praise for what each other is doing, with Van Asch believing Sochi will be a real drawcard: “It’s going to be spectacular. I think it’ll actually generate some good interest for bungy and people will probably travel there to do it,” Van Asch says.
“Younger people keen on bungy might jump here, then they’ll find out a bit more about [Sochi] and might go over there specifically to do it ’cos it’s going to be a really amazing site,” Van Asch believes.
Hackett says the Van Asch company offering in Queenstown now is incredible – the Kawarau site, which started with a caravan office in 1988, now has a state-of-the-art bungy centre and recent zipline addition.
“What Henry and his team have been able to do there is really amazing, it’s a huge credit to them – it’s a whole different thing to 25 years ago,” Hackett says.
“But we still have fun, we still like to celebrate our successes and have a good party.”
Hackett says his site at Sochi, which hosts the Winter Olympics in February, is unlikely to be ready until after the big event – but he hopes to spend quality time in Queenstown celebrating next month.
“I love Queenstown. I was there briefly a month ago and it was just too short. I really want to have three or four nice days in town and spend some time with Henry and the guys.
“I believe they’re producing a few good wines down there so we’ll have to try some of that,” Hackett chuckles.
Asked why he thinks his and Van Asch’s bungy sites retain their popularity, Hackett says: “We were committed right from day one to create beautiful permanent sites and treat it very seriously.
“It was a passion and it was a lifetime commitment for me, I made that decision at word go.”
Hackett: “After 25 years we’ve actually learnt a huge amount and we’re ready for the next 25.”