Adventure History

The ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ is a reputation well earned.

Queenstown is the home of adventure in New Zealand. We have everything that the adventure seeker could ever want – you can bungy jump with the world’s original bungy company AJ Hackett Bungy, tandem skydive with NZONE Skydive, go white water rafting with Challenge Rafting or jet boating with Shotover Jet. Or you can combine the excitement with Queenstown Combos.

Queenstown is a ‘Natural Theme Park’, such are the seemingly endless array of adventure activities and leisure holiday options to choose from. The spectacular geography of the region creates a special atmosphere and unique setting that has made this town famous the world over. As well as the many adventure activities on offer, Queenstown is also home to much of the Middle Earth backdrops used in both Tolkien trilogies filmed amid the mountains, lakes, rivers and forests and is the gateway to Milford Sound, Fiordland.

If you are backpacking in New Zealand – a visit to Queenstown is a must. Find out what Queenstown has to offer for backpackers.


Visitors have been flocking to Queenstown since the 1860′s when gold was first discovered in the Shotover River. When the gold finally ran out some years later many of those early prospectors decided to stay; captivated by the beauty of the surrounding mountains and rivers.

Around the turn of the century, it was the area’s many walking trails and tracks which first created the early beginnings of the tourism industry. Visitors would travel from throughout New Zealand and indeed other parts of the world during the summer months to experience the magnificent walks which have become famous in their own right including the Milford, the Routeburn and the Hollyford Tracks. In winter though, Queenstown virtually came to a standstill as locals hibernated until the start of the summer walking season.

In the early 1950′s the Mount Cook Group developed the nearby Coronet Peak Ski Area into a commercial ski field allowing Queenstown to become a year round resort. Rather than closing down for the winter season skiers flocked to the town creating new development and the construction of several new hotels.

Queenstown’s first real taste of Adventure Tourism came in 1970 with the establishment of commercial jet boating. The jet boat, a New Zealand invention, had been developed by a South Island high country farmer by the name of Bill Hamilton who had long been prevented from accessing many areas of his property due to the shallow rivers. The extensive maneuverability of the boat and its ability to travel in less than 3cm of water allowed for obvious commercial applications to be developed in a place like Queenstown and before long Shotover Jet had established a thrilling ride taking visitors through the spectacular canyons on the Shotover River.

White Water Rafting was to follow quickly on the heels of the success of jet boating. The two nearby rivers the Shotover and the Kawarau were ideal for giving visitors a taste of the thrills and spills of this new activity and it wasn’t long before new operators were scrambling to keep up with the demand.

1988 saw the arrival in town of two entrepreneurs by the name of AJ Hackett and Henry Van Asch that ensured Queenstown was forever branded as the ‘world’s Adventure Capital’. The pair had spent two years working with the University of Auckland developing a special cord made up entirely of individual rubber strands which, when attached to the ankles, could be used to bungy jump from a fixed platform. They originally got the idea from watching native tribes in Papua New Guinea who used forest vines to leap from man made towers, often with tragic consequences.

AJ had some months before received world wide publicity with his daring jump in the early hours of the morning from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Now, their plan was to use the historic Kawarau Bridge (43m above the river) on the outskirts of Queenstown as the location for the world’s first ever commercial bungy jumping site. Many locals were skeptical of the venture, believing that the activity would last only a few months before folding. However, it wasn’t long before visitors were flocking to Queenstown in their thousands to experience this newest of adventure activities which everyone was talking about … and so the bungy phenomenon was born! A year later the company developed a second site at the Skippers Bridge (87m above river level) to keep up with demand for the product followed by the opening of a third site ‘The Ledge’ at the top of Bobs Peak in 1997. It is estimated that more than 350,000 visitors have bungy jumped in Queenstown since that first commercial jump in 1988.

For approximately two years AJ Hackett operated heli bungy in Queenstown offering visitors the chance to jump from a helicopter hovering more than 450m above the ground. Unfortunately, the licence to operate this product was subsequently revoked by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Department following a change in their policy regarding such activities.

The wave of interest in adventure was to create an environment for a host of other activity operators to follow further consolidating Queenstown as “The Adventure Capital of the World”

Tandem Parapenting was pioneered in Queenstown by the late Bruce Grant. This involved attaching the passenger to the ‘pilot’ with them running off the edge of a mountain side with the wing (canopy) of the parapente rising above to create a sensation almost like a bird gliding to earth. [Bruce was later to be tragically killed in 1995 while climbing K2 in Pakistan]

Nzone Skydive were the first operators to commence commercial tandem skydiving in Queenstown in 1990 and the first company to introduce free fall photography. The company now employ over 70 highly skilled personnel and are involved in development of skydiving skills through their unique XLR8 free fall training program.

Other companies have followed in the wake of these early pioneers offering product such as tandem hang gliding, river surfing, parasailing, canyoning, abseiling.

In July 1999 AJ Hackett opened ‘The Nevis’ located at Nevis Bluff, close to its existing Kawarau Bridge operation. This venture involves visitors jumping from a platform suspended from overhead cables and positioned more than 135m above the river below making this now the highest commercial bungy jump from a fixed structure in New Zealand.

Queenstown will continue to find ways to challenge the adventurous. Its a place inextricably linked to adventure tourism … a place that has well and truly earned its reputation as the world’s Adventure Capital!

Shotover Jet
Challenge Rafting
Nzone Skydive
AJ Hackett Bungy
Queenstown Combos