Queenstown, in the south-west of New Zealand's South Island, is billed as “the adventure capital of the world” and in the 1990s was the first to offer the modern version of bungy jumping – which originated in the Polynesian Vanuatu Islands, where men still tie vines to their ankles and hurl themselves off man-made towers.
The knee-trembling still line-up here in herds to throw themselves screaming over the edge, egged-on by the hundreds of spectators. Queenstown has countless activities for those with steel nerves, ranging from flying by microlight, to hunting by helicopter. It was gold that first brought prospectors to the area in the 1860s when the Shotover was the world’s second-richest gold-bearing river. You can still visit a restored Chinese mining village at Arrowtown but the gold eventually ran out. However, many of those early pioneers stayed on and by the early 1900s a small tourism industry had started to form, with visitors attracted by walking trails. As with summer hiking in the more famous Alps of the Northern hemisphere, it was a short step to introduce skiing, which came in the 1950s, turning Queenstown, New Zealand into a year-round destination.
But jetboating is what gave the town its worldwide reputation for adventure. Bill Hamilton, a local farmer and engineer who built the town’s first ski tows, developed the shallow-water craft to help him get into remote areas of his sheep farm. Having perfected it, he started the world’s first commercial jetboat company, offering thrill rides on the Shotover River. That in turn was followed by the introduction of whitewater rafting, taking visitors to canyons of the Shotover and Kawarau rivers that the jetboats could not reach.
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