Travel

The World’s First Giant Human Catapult is Here, This is Not a Drill

Attention Kmart shoppers: the world’s first ever human catapult just launched (sorry) in Queenstown, New Zealand. Open to the public as of today, the Nevis Catapult comes to us from the good folks at AJ Hackett Bungy NZ, the company responsible for commercialising and popularizing bungy jumping as we know it. So if you a) have $172, b) are older than 13, and c) weigh equal to or under 280 pounds, well, get thee to New Zealand. You’ve gotta try this thing.

For those of you just picturing someone literally being flung through space, don’t worry, you’re obviously attached to something. You get outfitted with a harness and strapped into the catapult’s high-tech winch system. At the platform’s edge, you’re lifted off the ground, eased into a horizontal position, and then rocketed 492 feet out across the Nevis Valley, reaching more than 60 miles per hour almost instantly.

Here is a video of the catapult that caused me to small-scream at the moment of launch, alarming my nearest coworkers, and then spend the next three or four minutes murmuring “that’s so dope” under my breath while I watched it on loop:

The whole ride, as it were, takes three to four minutes from start to finish. After you drop, you bounce for a bit, and are eventually hauled back up (a process that actually looks much more dignified than with bungy jumping, which requires an upside-down you to reach up and release a clip that sets you right-side-up, failure to do so meaning that you are simply hauled up feet-first flopping like a salmon).

“The experience is exhilarating,” cofounder Henry van Asch told me. “Up to 3Gs of force and acceleration of around [62 miles] in 1.5 seconds is not your typical experience -- and I think people are going to get a pretty big kick out of it. For me, the most exciting part of it is how surprising it is -- the speed, the height, and the sudden drop. You don’t know exactly when you’re going to go either and that adds to the fun.

“I did my first version of the catapult more than 30 years ago,” van Asch continues. “We were kicking around France at the time, jumping off bridges, and after seeing a guy skydiving out of a plane with his bike, we wanted to try our bungy version of that. We found the perfect site on Pont de la Caille, near Annecy, where there was a [492-foot deep] river spanned by two bridges around [328 feet] apart. We attached one end of the bungy cord to the suspension bridge and the other to me and my mountain bike on the adjacent concrete bridge -- and then I went for it. I felt this crazy impression that I wasn’t moving at all but the other bridge was rushing toward me at an incredible speed. Ever since I did that first catapult, I wanted to create some kind of catapult-style experience here [in New Zealand.]”

Queenstown (which happens to be on our list of the best places to travel right now) has long enjoyed a successful self-branding as the “adventure capital of the world.” When I passed through there backpacking a few years ago I did both the Nevis Bungy (the company has three bungy jumps around Queenstown, but at around 440 feet this one is the highest in New Zealand, and among the highest in the world) as well as the Nevis Swing, which now shares its pod with the Nevis Catapult.

AJ Hackett Bungy NZ’s safety record is absolutely spotless, so you can be confident you’re in good hands with any of their operations. The Nevis Valley was my first time bungy jumping, and the experience that was much more physically and psychologically comfortable than my second time. That was over Victoria Falls -- in the “no man’s land” between the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia -- and involved padding my legs with old towels and, five or six seconds before I jumped, a guy coming up to put a lifejacket over my head “just in case.” (This was a also a fun time! We can’t all have the resources of AJ Hackett Bungy NZ.)

“Seeing an idea that you had as a crazy kid come to life 30 years later is hard to describe,” van Asch says. “But what I love most about it is that the catapult gives people another opportunity to push the boundaries, to challenge themselves and to live more and fear less [the AJ Hackett tagline]. It’s a unique and unusual experience -- far more sophisticated than the ropes and pulleys AJ and I used 30 years ago, but no less fun.”

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.