Kawarau Suspension Bridge

State Highway 6, 23 km from Queenstown
Gibbston, Otago
The Kawarau suspension bridge is massive cultural landmark in the Queenstown Lakes environment. As well as standing proud at the spectacular road entrance to the Queenstown area, and representing all that was bold, brave and smart about Otago's settlers and early planners, this engineering marvel is the very epicentre of the International sport that is Bungy Jumping.

For 60 kilometres, the Kawarau river, with ice cold waters of luminous blues, tumbles through it’s gorge at treacherous pace, draining Wakatipu eastwards toward Lake Dunstan at Cromwell. It is this gorge which was first used by Ngai Tahu to traverse the tough country between the lakes.

In the Gold Rush days, many lives were claimed as travellers punted across the fastmoving river at this juncture in the gorge. In 1878 the road planners saw fit to commission Henry Pasley Higginson to design a bridge.

Thanks to the skill of Higginson and local contractors, the impressive 91 metre suspended one way crossing, supported by towers of Otago Schist, was completed in 1880 and served the area proudly until 1963. A new two way highway bridge was then built to serve increasing volumes of traffic on State Highway Six. The old bridge was listed as a category 1 Historic Place, though it fell into disrepair for a time.

In 1988, the old bridge began a new life when it was upcycled by A.J. Hackett and Henry van Asch, a couple of youngsters with a crazy idea for bouncing people upside down on rubber bands. The pair formed the world’s first Bungy Jumping company, Hackett launching himself off the bridge in 1988. From there the sport took on international proportions and is a cash cow for concession operators in many of the world’s tourist spots.

Although there is a new bungy operation in Skippers Canyon to the west of Queenstown which boasts a longer drop and there is no question that this location is the original and the best. Jumpers can choose to have themselves dipped in the water or not and take a way a video of their screaming success.

The Bungy Centre (2008) itself is a notable work of architecture by Patterson Associates, in their own words Designed as a subterranean ‘tourist trap’ after the ancient Eel catching devices of Maori. The plan winds a bungy cord like ramp down to a viewing deck perched over the Kawarau Gorge.

It won the NZIA Resene New Zealand Award for Architecture 2008
An incidental and bizarre anomaly around this location is the variation in pronunciation of the title Kawarau. There is a town in the North Island which goes by the same name but it does not suffer the same problem. It is correctly pronounced Car – wahr – row. Otago’s Paheka settlers, long steeped in their defiance of Maori pronunciation, are mostly given to calling the area Koo-Wahrrah. Some say this dates to the Australian heritage of the original miners in the area, nevertheless it has stuck.

Please see nearby attractions for there are many, the simplest of which is a 8km walk or cycle along the Gibbston River Trail starting at the bridge.

Comment from: Kevin Murray

I would love to get back to Queenstown and take another leap off the Kawarau bridge. First they weigh you and mark your weight on the palm of your hand, then you walk over to the jump off platform and wait your turn. When my turn came, I was asked if I wanted to enter the water up to my shoulders and that I did.
If you come here by all means you must experience this thrill!A

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  • Vineyards in the Kawarau Valley
    Vineyards in the Kawarau Valley
  • Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge
    Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge
  • Bungy Jumping
    Bungy Jumping
  • Street map
    Street map
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