Fear and fun: bungy jumping celebrates 20 years


Go ahead and jump

It was 20 years ago this month that New Zealanders Henry van Asch and AJ Hackett launched bungy jumping onto an unsuspecting world at Kawarau Bridge outside Queenstown.

Today, the two men are extremely wealthy, Queenstown is considered the adventure capital of the world and more than 2 million people have leapt into the wild, blue yonder - and it's due to a desire to defy gravity and a strong rubber band.

"Bungee jumping is about pushing yourself to the limit and discovering what is there," van Asch says. "We simply provided a way of doing it."

The two friends, who had met skiing down a New Zealand mountain, certainly pushed the French authorities to the limit in June 1987, when Hackett jumped off the Eiffel Tower to prove how safe was the rubber cord they had developed with the University of Auckland.

Van Asch, who worked behind the scenes on that event, says the two men knew they were on to a winner after seeing the amount of interest the Eiffel Tower jump generated.

Word spread quickly and within weeks of the first commercial jump tourists were making their way to Queenstown, drawn by the prospect of plunging 43 metres headfirst off a bridge.

Demand dictated that van Asch and Hackett expand within New Zealand and internationally - Cairns has the world's first purpose-built tower for bungee jumping where you can ride a BMX into the abyss.

Other tourism operators flocked to Queenstown to cash in on the crowds and the adventure industry took shape.

In 1997, the two men split the company with van Asch taking over the New Zealand side of the business and Hackett the international sites.

Van Asch's company, AJ Hackett New Zealand Bungy, has six different bungy experiences now. The latest, the Nevis Arc, opened last week at Doolan's Creek, 40 minutes from Queenstown.

Essentially, it's a swing suspended 160 metres above the ground but how far you swing out and when you drop is in the jumper's hands, which, as van Asch says, is just a new way of pushing boundaries. See ajhackett.com.au and bungy.co.nz.

Stopover sightseeing

Seoul's Incheon International Airport is discounting a selection of its tours for transit passengers.

Tours range from one to eight hours, including a seven-hour trip to the Demilitarised Zone, but the discounted tours are a 60-minute tour of the Yonggungsa Temple - it's usually $US5 ($7.80) but it is free until the end of the year - and the five-hour Seoul City Tour, which is half-price at $US25. The transit tour information desk is between gates three and four on the first floor of the airport arrivals lobby. See transit.freedom.co.kr.

Postpone Bali

Garuda Indonesia will waive amendment fees for passengers wanting to defer their immediate travel arrangements to Bali. Passengers with tickets booked for travel before December 31 can reschedule without penalty as long as they travel within the next six months. The change has to be made by Tuesday.

Work in Britain

As of Thursday, it will be easier for young Australians to live and work in Britain, thanks to the introduction of the Youth Mobility Visa scheme.

The big difference between the new system and the one that it is replacing - the Working Holidaymaker scheme - is that it allows Australians aged between 18 and 30 to work continuously in Britain for two years, do almost any kind of work and, for the first time, travellers can line up a full-time job before applying for the visa.

At ?99 ($222), the new visa is half the price of the old one. Applicants for the new youth visa will now have to show they have the equivalent of ?1600 to cover living expenses for the first couple of weeks. See ukinaustralia.fco.gov.uk/en.

Seedy business

Australian Quarantine makes a big deal about your shoes when you've been in rural areas but perhaps it's time to pay just as much attention to socks.

A study by Griffith University has shown that more than 1000 seeds can attach to socks at the end of a day's walk in mountain areas.

Ecologist Catherine Pickering says the results have significant quarantine implications for Australia's protected areas and agricultural and horticultural industries, as seeds carried in socks have the potential to become major drivers of the spread of weeds and invasive exotic species.

She says walkers should wear long trousers, making it harder for seeds to attach to socks and that, ideally, socks should be woollen. Hikers should put any seeds they pick off their shoes and socks in a plastic bag and take them out of the park before disposing of them.

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