Lonely Planet Writer

The most extreme human catapult has just launched in New Zealand

A world-first adventure tourism experience opened this week in Queenstown, New Zealand. The Nevis Catapult – the world’s largest and most extreme human catapult – is located in the remote Nevis Valley and provides adrenaline junkies with a hard-to-resist challenge. Strap yourself in.

Nevis Catapult Image by James Morgan Photography

Picture this: You’re flying through the air with speeds of almost 100km per hour in 1.5 seconds as you are propelled 150m out across a ravine. Your heart is pounding in your chest. You don’t know what’s coming next. Will you drop? Will someone pull you back in? You’re hit with up to 3G of force. Suddenly, you plunge towards the valley floor. Jaw-dropping bounces, heart-pounding speeds… you feel alive!

The multi-million dollar Nevis Catapult was created by New Zealand bungy pioneers, AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch – the same guys who introduced the world’s first commercial bungy in the 1980s. They had been playing around with the idea for a human catapult for over 30 years before deciding to take the plunge.

“Seeing an idea that you had as a crazy kid come to life 30 years later is hard to describe. But what I love most about the Catapult is it gives people another opportunity to push the boundaries, challenge themselves and to ‘live more and fear less’,” says Henry van Asch. “For me, the most surprising part of it is how surprising it is – the speed, the height and then the sudden drop. You don’t know exactly when you’re going to do either and that adds to the fun.”

Housed in a pod, and between a series of cables – alongside the famous Nevis Swing – the Catapult is a unique combination of height, flight and speed using a bespoke high-speed winch system developed after years of research. The duo went for the highest safety rating possible and getting signed off was an “extremely rigorous process” but they say they’re glad they can stand behind the product knowing it’s as safe as it can possibly be.

Nevis Catapult. Image by James Morgan Photography

Speaking about the Catapult experience, van Asch says: “It’s a pretty unique feeling, surprising even. There’s nothing else quite like it. It’s going to be very scary for some. The harnessing system alone will get your blood pumping because it’s so comprehensive and often anticipating what’s coming next is as scary as the actual catapult itself. The speed is extreme.”

Hackett and van Asch launched the world’s first commercial bungy jump in 1987 after being inspired by locals doing traditional vine jumps in Vanuatu. They set about developing and testing bungy cords with the help of Auckland University scientists. After extensive research and development, a series of extreme jumps were made. The first one was in Tignes, France from a ski area gondola 91km above the snow. To show complete faith in the product, Hackett even jumped from the Eiffel Tower in 1987, making headlines across the globe.

Henry van Asch. Image by James Morgan Photography

Since then, they’ve gone on to launch Bungy New Zealand Ltd (formerly AJ Hackett Bungy). Managed by van Asch, the centre has three sites in Queenstown and two in Auckland, while Hackett has established international sites.

The two don’t intend to rest on their laurels and are already thinking up more extreme challenges for thrill-seekers. “We’re always looking for the next way to push people out of their comfort zone and prove to themselves that, if they can do this they can do anything. There are always more ideas floating around,” says van Asch.

For more information, see here.