I've been hanging around with AJ Hackett, Mister Bungy ...
Now, I had promised I wouldn't use such a corny opening line, but it seemed just too good to pass up. In fact it is true.
We've just spent a few serendipitous days with AJ at his Indonesian resort of Pondok Santi on the island of Gili Trawangan, just off the north shore of Lombok. You'll not meet a more laidback, genuine article than this New Zealand icon. I've never plucked up the nerve to jump off one of his platforms with only a latex cord around my ankles, but many thousands of people worldwide have experienced this adrenaline rush. This includes my son, who took advantage of AJ's one-off offer of a free jump if completed without clothes - that's my boy! AJ told me he was on to a loser there as too many Kiwi blokes are only too pleased to rip off their gear to tumble through the air.
His resort of Pondok Santi is probably the nearest I'll get to heaven. AJ was there with his beautiful 14-year-old daughter Margaux. I knew she was a chip off the old block when she drove past me in a golf cart doing about 50km/h down a one in ten bank, foot flat to the boards, screaming with delight. Dad was cheering her on when I'd have been shouting at my daughter to slow down, slow down.
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One doesn't often have the chance to meet people like AJ Hackett. He is successful, totally dedicated and at the same time one feels he still enjoys getting out his hammer and nails to fix small things around the house.
This cheerful chippy from a state house on Auckland's North Shore knows no fear. He has flung himself off a rickety DoC bridge just outside Queenstown, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sky Tower and the Stock Exchange Building in Auckland. Margaux was the world's youngest bungy jumper at age 4. AJ has built up a multi-million dollar international business, putting his country on to the Adventure and Eco tourism world map.
Now he has traded off the NZ side of his business and gone worldwide. Cairns in North Queensland was a great success, followed by brief ventures into Florida, Las Vegas, Bali and now Normandy in France where he met his former model wife and mother of Margaux. He is a risk-taker, with his body and in the commercial world. He has lost and made money in big chunks. His latest venture is setting up a bungy at the Winter Olympics site in Sochi, Southern Russia. With a projected price tag of $55 billion, the November Winter Games will be the costliest ever and AJ will be part of it. President Vladimir Putin has put his head on the block with this international enterprise, so it cannot fail; I wonder whether AJ will tempt him into taking a leap of faith off his tower?
Although a personal risk-taker he is a safety fanatic with his customers. He's lost no one despite a few near scrapes and was instrumental in developing an operating code for safe bungy jumps, now used worldwide.
AJ travels constantly and it was only good luck that had us sharing his time at Pondok Santi. He was on holiday, but like most human dynamos he finds relaxing difficult. We were breathless in our pursuit: we sailed in his refurbished, hand-built 25m outrigger; we played fast golf on Lombok; we drank whisky late into the night and knew that as we relaxed AJ was taking calls from around the world.
It was our pleasure and I felt proud that New Zealand can produce such total and unaffected gentlemen as AJ Hackett, entrepreneur extraordinaire; although I suspect he'll be upset at the gentleman epithet.
Michael Cox is a former National MP.