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Flinging myself from a bridge 143 feet above a river was never on my bucket list. But once I agreed to bungee jump with my brother during our trip to New Zealand, I couldn’t turn back.
For our jump, we chose the quintessential bungee destination, the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand. Not only is this jump located in a picture-perfect setting, it also happens to be the first-ever commercial bungee site, founded by pioneering bungee company AJ Hackett.
Inspired by vine jumpers in Vanuatu, New Zealander AJ Hackett started jumping off of bridges and monuments, including the Eiffel Tower. Public interest began to grow and, in 1988, he set up the Kawarau Bridge Bungy at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge. Since then, his operation has grown to three jumps in the Queenstown area, as well as jumps throughout New Zealand and in Russia, Singapore, Australia, China, France and Germany. But Kawarau remains the leading jump location — more than 400,000 visitors make the pilgrimage to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy each year.
“If I’m being brutally honest, AJ Hackett put Queenstown on the map for adventure tourism,” said Regan Pearce, Queenstown sales manager for AJ Hackett. “Queenstown is the world home of bungee.”
Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge Bungy is a 143-foot drop and the first-ever commercial bungee site. // © 2014 AJ Hackett
Friends and family can watch jumpers from the sidelines. // © 2014 AJ Hackett
More than 400,000 people jump off the Kawarau Bridge each year. // © 2014 AJ Hackett
Two AJ Hackett employees catch jumpers and help them onto solid ground — though some jumpers choose to get dunked in the river. // © 2014 AJ Hackett
AJ Hackett takes photographs as well as a video of the entire experience. // © 2014 AJ Hackett
On the splendid solid ground of Rotorua, New Zealand, where I spent the week before my jump, I was plagued by momentary panic attacks when I would remember what awaited me in the depths of the country’s South Island. Yet there I was, only an hour away from my jump, in a cozy, black bean bag chair at the large AJ Hackett headquarters in Queenstown.
From my cocoon, I watched the company’s energetic promotional videos, tensing and relaxing throughout the narrative. Nearly all followed the same sequence: a close-up of an uneasy jumper breathing deeply at the ledge is followed by the plunge — always a graceful, spread eagle dive. No matter how many times I watched this sequence, I couldn’t find any clues as to what motivated the jumpers to remove their hands from their mouths and into the air, propelling their upper bodies into the sky and to the whims of gravity.
According to Pearce, who has bungee jumped more than 100 times so far, only one percent of prospective jumpers back out when they get to the ledge.
“It’s a very small number compared to those who do jump,” he said. “It’s the personal challenge that draws people off the ledge — even those who are on the edge with the angel on one shoulder saying ‘don’t do it,’ and the devil on the other saying ‘do it.’”
And, judging from the promotional videos, running with the devil looks a lot like undergoing a beauty makeover program. But, instead of better hair, people emerge from their jump with smiles, laughter and the glow of confidence. Sure, jumping is thrilling, but, according to Pearce, bungee offers more than just a physical effect.
“The biggest draw to our product is wants and needs,” said Pearce. “Not everyone wants to jump, but they need to.”
Pearce’s explanation of the inexplicable is a good hypothesis for how I managed to board the coach to our bungee site, put on my gear and wait in a 20-minute queue to meet my fate.
In order to shuffle my bounded legs to the ledge of the bridge, I exhausted what I thought was all my courage. I stared blankly at the top half of my right foot which was, as instructed, placed beyond the ledge, all alone in the air. What was it doing there, I might have wondered — if I could think.
The seconds after I was told to jump, and then told again to jump, are a blur. A feeling, rather than a thought, took over my body as I propelled myself off the bridge. Out of my head and into the air, I felt a new sensation: trust conquering a seemingly boundless and unknown fear.
Regan puts it another way.
“The feeling after you have jumped is something you cannot explain to people — you just have to do it to find out,” he said. “The most common phrase used by jumpers is ‘O-M-G, that was unbelievable!’”
Travel Agent Commission
AJ Hackett offers different levels of commission based on the number of bookings made per year.
Percent booked by travel agents: 25 percent of overall business
Matching Jumps to Clients
To participate in any of AJ Hackett’s activities in Queenstown, participants have to answer a series of health questions to ensure that they are in good health. Following are some recommendations based on age, but health and a desire to jump are the most important factors to consider when booking your client.
The Kawarau Bridge Bungy: draws participants from 18 to 45 years old.
The Nevis Bungy: draws participants from 18 to 35 years old.
“At 440 feet high, the Nevis is the most extreme bungee on offer, if not the most extreme activity in Queenstown,” said Pearce.
The Ledge Bungy: draws participants from 18 to 25 years old.
“More than 1,312 feet above Queenstown at the top of Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola, the Ledge is our freestyle bungy,” said Pearce. “This one sees a lot of young backpackers looking for something different.”
New From AJ Hackett
For those who choose not to jump or want a second adventure in the same location, the company has launched the Kawarau Zipride.
“In AJ Hackett bungee style, this innovation is the only zipride in the world which can collect you from the bottom — turning you 180 degrees — and bring you back to the point of departure.”