Making the leap: how Macau became home to the world’s highest bungy jump
A.J. Hackett, a creator of the bungy jump, tells Destination Macau magazine how he instilled his extreme brand of adventure at Macau Tower and around the world
He has competed for the New Zealand Speed Skiing Team, leapt – without permission – off the Eiffel Tower and earned several Guinness World Records for feats such as bungy jumping out of a helicopter. But to hear A.J. Hackett tell it, a life of action and adventure was pretty much sealed into his DNA.
The man behind the world’s highest bungy jump – 233 metres at Macau Tower – hails from a long line of mountaineers and explorers, including an uncle who was a member of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic 1958 expedition to the South Pole. “Another uncle had a snow grooming machine, and he used to drive that to the top of the mountain for visitors,” Hackett, now 56, recalls. “So they really had an affinity for the mountains and the ocean.”
Hackett also grew up by the ocean near Auckland, New Zealand, on one of the most populated streets in the country at the time. “There was always a lot of action going on,” he says. “It was close to the beach, so we spent a lot of time on the water, scrambling around the rocks looking for all sorts of things.”
His mother, an adventurer who travelled the world alone in the 1940s, wouldn’t allow her children to simply sit around the house. “It was basically, ‘Do whatever you want to do, as long as you’re not harming anyone else’. That was one of my mum’s early philosophies: ‘He’s going to do it anyway, so I’ll just turn around. But don’t come crying to me if you hurt yourself’.”
It’s a philosophy that served Hackett well when the young builder met fellow adrenaline lover Chris Sigglekow and started working on a modern version of a Pentecost Island ritual in which men jumped off 35-metre-high wooden towers with vines attached to their ankles.
“The very first thing Chris and I decided was we’ve got to make this thing predictable,” Hackett says. “We wouldn’t just show up at a bridge and throw ourselves off. We’d throw weights off first, measure the bridge, make the bungy, throw it off, film it, watch it. And if it went well, we would flip a coin to see which one of us would go first."
Using their knowledge of building and rock-climbing techniques, the pair was able to fashion a small bungy jump over water. “We knew if there was any problem, the worst thing that would happen is that we would go for a swim,” Hackett says of their first jump in 1986. “But it worked perfectly, and we were instantly addicted to the very special rush that you get from throwing yourself into the unknown and surviving.”
They continued to jump off progressively higher bridges, refining their system and inviting friends to join weekend jumping trips. At the time, Hackett thought he might make a career of doing stunts for films or TV commercials. But a series of daring jumps using a new ankle-tie system – off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, France’s Pont de la Caille, a cable car at Tignes ski resort in the Alps and, finally, the Eiffel Tower – attracted considerable media attention.
The following year, 1988, Hackett set up the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation in New Zealand. Sites in France, Australia Germany, Indonesia and the United States followed, and in due course the international entrepreneur was recognised with several honours, including the New Zealand Tourism Award for Excellence, the Centennial Honours Award and the Gusi Peace Prize.
Hackett went on to develop a unique brand of adventure tourism, combining bungy with other activities such as luge, ziplines and jungle swings. He eventually attracted the attention of Pansy Ho, managing director of Shun Tak, which built and manages Macau Tower.
Sensing that the Macau market wasn’t ready for a public jumping operation, Hackett began by setting up lower-risk activities such as the tower climb and Skywalk. Skyjump, a controlled descent, came next, finally followed by the full bungy jump in 2006 – the same year Hackett was awarded a Commendation of Prestige by the Macau government for his contribution to tourism.
“We’ve never looked back,” Hackett says. “Since the bungy started, it’s been hugely successful and growing every year. Mainland Chinese are now our No 1 jump customers. Almost 25 per cent of our jumpers are coming from mainland China, and when we first started it was less than 1 per cent.”
Thanks in part to the Macau site promoting adventure tourism among mainlanders, Hackett is now developing a Skypark in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan province. He also recently opened a Skypark in Sochi, Russia, featuring the highest bridge jump and the highest swing in the world – all while recovering from a car accident in New Zealand that left him with two fractured ankles.
“You’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Hackett says. “Even if it’s the kitchen table, jump off – it will still feel good."