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Twenty-five years ago today, 28 people jumped off a bridge in New Zealand in the first ever organised bungee jump. To mark the anniversary we pick the world’s best adrenaline dives
Bungee jumping off Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, New Zealand, launch pad of the world’s first commercial leap. Photograph: AJ Hackett
“I still recall my first jump,” reminisces New Zealander AJ Hackett, the man who launched commercial bungee jumping 25 years ago today. “I had the most amazing sensation.”
At the time Hackett was running a struggling ski shop but inspired by British daredevils The Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, Hackett had begun experimenting with the adrenaline activity.
Together with his friend and fellow Kiwi Chris Sigglekow, he had started doing tests with latex rubber, climbing equipment and parachute harnesses. There was no back-up, just two guys pushing their luck.
“I used to do a lot of climbing so knew about ropes,” says Hackett, “but we wanted to figure out if it could be predictable, so that we could go to greater heights.
“To see who would jump first we drew straws,” he explains. “Chris lost,” Hackett adds with a grin. “But we weren’t nervous – the first jump was only 19m – it was more about hoping it would work.”
It did work and, within a year, Hackett was on a French ski tour with teammate Henry van Asch, jumping bridges up to 150m high in his spare time. In 1987 Hackett made headlines around the world, getting arrested for jumping off the Eiffel Tower.
Hackett and van Asch quickly realised there was money to be made and, as skiers, New Zealand snow hub Queenstown seemed an obvious starting point. On 12 November 1988, the Kawarau Bridge bungy site (Hackett prefers bungy to bungee) opened for business. On that day 28 people took the plunge.
Since then, more than three million have followed suit at 15 Hackett sites around the world. Every one of them has lived to tell the tale.
Millions more have jumped at over 50 other bungge sites across almost as many countries. Accidents have happened, but they’ve been rare. The thrills meanwhile, just get bigger and more extreme, the craziest of which has to be Chile’s £7,800 Pucón jump, a six-day trip which involves leaping from a helicopter towards the bubbling lava of a live volcano, before flying the 35 miles back to town, still bouncing around on the bungee.
If that’s a little beyond your budget, then here, in no particular order, are the 10 best jumps currently on offer.
Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, New Zealand
While its 43-metre drop might now be considered light on scares by serial thrill-seekers, the Kawarau’s status as the place where it all began is undisputed. More than 650,000 people have taken the plunge from this historic suspension bridge, with many dipping their heads in the stunning turquoise waters below. It’s also the only Queenstown bungee that can be done as a tandem. • +64 3 450 1300, bungy.co.nz, single jump £92 including T-shirt
The Nevis, Queenstown, New Zealand
A title contender for the world’s most terrifying bungee jump. The secret for this one is in the build-up: you start in a four-wheel drive and head up, up and up the bumpy mountain road until you arrive at the stark and stony Nevis gorge, in the middle of which, 134m up, hangs a cabin, blowing in the wind, which you reach courtesy of an open-air cable car. You’ve then got eight seconds of freefall ahead of you.
• +64 3 450 1300, bungy.co.nz, single jump £134 including T-shirt
Victoria Falls Bridge, border of Zimbabwe and Zambia
You’d be hard-pushed to find a more spectacular setting in which to take the leap of faith than here. You stand, in no man’s land between two countries, atop the old railway bridge that Cecil Rhodes ordered to be built. Behind you crash the mighty falls, known to locals as “the smoke that thunders”, while 111m beneath crocodiles circle in the Zambezi river.
• +260 213 324231, victoriafallsbungee.com, single jump £81
Verzasca Dam, Ticino, Switzerland
If you’ve ever dreamt of being a real-life James Bond, this is the jump for you. Made famous by the dramatic opening to 1995’s GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007, this bungee involves plunging down the 220m-high concrete wall of the dam. The landmark, built in the 60s and officially known as the Contra Dam, doubled as a Soviet weapons facility in the film, but in reality houses a hydroelectric power station. • +41 91 780 7800, trekking.ch, single jump £132 under-20s, £173 20 or older
Bloukrans Bridge, Tsitsikamma, South Africa
Set amid the nature reserves and ecological riches of South Africa’s Garden Route, the 216m-tall Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bridge bungee in the world. Those harbouring second thoughts, while looking out at the surrounding mountains and distant sea views, can steel themselves with the knowledge that the likes of Prince Harry and Jack Osborne have done the jump and survived. • +27 42 281 1458, faceadrenalin.com, single jump £48
Macau Tower, Macau, China
At 233m and in the heart of the far east’s gambling capital, this is the world’s highest bungee jump from a building. You leap from the outer rim of the giant tower, with mainland China just visible if you squint. Hackett and his team had to develop a “second-generation bungee cord” for the site, due to the height and need for it to fall straight, rather than swing. •+853 8988 8656, ajhackett.com, single jump £210 including T-shirt
The Last Resort, Tatopani, Nepal
Located on a ridge overlooking the rapids of the Bhote Kosi river, about 60 miles east of Kathmandu and just seven miles from the Tibetan border, this adventure-mad resort is home to whitewater rafting, canyoning and the country’s only bungee jump. It is surrounded by jungle and you plummet 160m from the bridge towards the raging Bhote Kosi below. • +977 1 47012477, thelastresort.com.np, single jump £62 including lunch and transport from Kathmandu
Niouc Bridge, Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland
Nicknamed “Spider Bridge” due to its cobweb of cable wires, the 190m-high Niouc is the world’s highest suspension footbridge and one of the loftiest jumps in Europe. Before diving from the shaky structure, you can take in the typically vivid blue skies as well as the sublime views of the Navizence river and surrounding Alpine peaks. • +41 79 447 28 00, bungyniouc.com, single jump £142
Extremo Park, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Latin America’s highest bungee jump is also one of the newest. Adrenaline junkies leap from a tram suspended by a series of cables, which stand 143m above the Central American cloud forest, totally exposed to the area’s often wet and windy conditions. It’s set in a park that also lets you explore the jungle canopy with an extensive circuit of ziplines (pictured) and a Tarzan swing. • +506 2645 6058, monteverdeextremo.com, single jump £38
Europabrücke, Innsbruck, Austria
This huge structure, the name of which translates simply as “Europe’s Bridge”, stretches 657m across the Wipp Valley, rising 192m above the Sill river, just south of Innsbruck. Carrying the Autobahn that stretches through the Alps between Austria and Italy, the bridge was, from 1959 to 1963, the highest on the continent. Standing on its edge will perhaps be the smallest you’ll ever feel. • +43 316 688 777, rupert-hirner.at, single jump £125
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