By ALEXA FORBES



Adventure tourism is now a major drawcard for people from around the world as they head to Queenstown for blood-curdling thrills and glorious scenery.



Every day, people arrive to leap off bridges, be thrown about in jetboats, ride on rafts or boogie boards, and be suspended from cables in gondolas or chairlifts, or simply hang below fabric canopies floating above the earth.



Why? There must be something in the air, the water or the scenery. Whatever it is, it has been going on for a thousand years, ever since the first Maori visited in the 12th century.

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In search of the elusive pounamu (greenstone) and the moa, those first Kiwi explorers recognised the beauty of the area.



Centuries later, European farmers arrived in search of lands to run their stock. When a couple of shepherds hit pay dirt in the 1860s, miners from around the world battled rugged country to claw their way upstream to the tent towns of Macetown, Seffertown and Skippers.



They endured harsh climates with few comforts as they dug and panned in search of gold.



In the latter half of the 20th century, a new breed of adventurer arrived: adrenalin seekers risking all - not for minerals, food or to find a new route through the mountains - but simply for fun.



By the 1950s adventure for fun was moving toward adventure tourism. Pioneering New Zealand tourism family the Wigleys introduced Queenstown first to the motorcar (which the council of the time banned), then to aviation - flightseeing - and, finally, a winter industry, skiing.



In the 1970s rafting trips were offered on the Shotover River.



Then in the late 1980s AJ Hackett and his friend Henry van Asch bowled into town and began the world's first commercial bungy jumping operation from the historic Kawarau Bridge.



Now, Queenstown is home to nearly 100 adventure tourism operations. The most famous are bungy jumping, jetboating, river rafting, snow sports and tramping - but there are many others, including the world's fastest adventure ride, Fly by Wire.

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Much of Queenstown's burgeoning adventure industry is spawned by its unique and demanding environment. Where else, for example, can you gallop a horse up a stunning alluvial delta, blue lake behind, jagged mountains and glaciers ahead?



Where else can such majestic scenery be appreciated along with a goodly dose of adrenalin from the air when strapped to a sky diver, parapenter or hang-glider, or looked at from all angles from the cockpit of a 1940s warbird-turned-acrobatic flightseer?



You can bungy jump in many parts of the world but it's in Queenstown that oozes the culture of adventure that allowed this mad sport to become a tourist activity. You'll find the spirit and energy that makes you want to leap from your bed and take it on.



How many have dared to leap into the unknown with just a length of latex to save their lives? Thousands.



And how many of them have returned to do it again - to experience the heart-stopping thrill of plunging to earth and literally being sprung back from the brink by their life-saving umbilical cord?



As one bungy jumper puts it: "Moments before I went to jump at the Nevis Highwire Bungy my mouth went dry and my pulse was hammering.



"Suddenly, you realise that fear has a taste: a sour, metallic tang which seems to fill your mouth. Behind you the countdown begins. You feel someone's hand in the small of your back.



"You push outwards and away from the platform. Your first thought is how easy it was. Then you plummet downwards toward the river. A scream of pure terror, plus a little bit of exhilaration, rises in your throat, although you can't hear it very loudly over the noise of the wind.



"The river gets closer. Suddenly, you notice it getting smaller again. You have started on the rebound without even realising. Your screams turn to hysterical whoops as you realise that the worst bit is now over.



"Back at the top - after it's all over - you feel invincible."



But you don't have to be a terror junkie to enjoy Queensland. Many arrive to take on the Great Walks, to tread the paths into the national parks of Fiordland and enter some of the last great wilderness areas of the world.



You can breathe the air found only deep within the bush, far from everyday human existence, and be completely consumed by the majesty and beauty of the surroundings, or totally absorbed by the antics of mountain parrots playing less than a metre away.



Half an hour from Queenstown is Glenorchy, gateway to the tracks that climb the great divide: the Routeburn, Greenstone and Caples.



Adventure tourism means many things to many people. Whatever your notion, you can't visit Queenstown without at least considering the chance to push yourself to the limit. Are you up for it?