It would curl the furry toes of any hobbit and send Bilbo Baggins scurrying into Middle Earth in fright. The blood-curdling, expletive-laden screams reverberating throughout the stunning New Zealand countryside have become incessant.

They are bellowing from the petrified insides of thousands of young adventure tourists like Scott Ashcroft. Scott may be terrified of heights but when his friends decided they were going to celebrate his 25th birthday by doing New Zealand's highest bungee jump what could he do? He jumped too. And when the bungee band bounced itself out, Scott realised he might have a shot at making his 26th birthday.

"Everybody walks away feeling really good about themselves and ready to take on other challenges. Life is a big, big challenge and if you take on some of these challenges the reward is huge," says AJ Hackett, a New Zealand bungee trailblazer.

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From bungee jumping to skydiving, jet boats to zip-lining, New Zealand has transformed itself into a magnet for thrill-seekers from around the world, turning adrenalin into a billion dollar industry.

But not everyone walks away from an adventure tourism experience in New Zealand. Over the past eight years at least 50 visitors have died when things went dreadfully wrong. Many more have suffered crippling injuries.

Of course, many of these white-knuckle pursuits are dangerous but is New Zealand doing enough to ensure that companies and individuals selling these thrills to a wide-eyed crowd are playing by the rule-book - and is that rule-book as comprehensive as it should be?

Many think not.

"My son's death was entirely preventable. It was not an accident. It was an inevitable certainty that that was going to happen," says Chris Coker, the father of sky-diving plane crash victim Brad.

Coker's 24-year-old son Brad came all the way from the UK to throw himself out of a plane high over the Kiwi mountainside but that plane crashed shortly after take-off - killing all nine on board. The loss of his son in the Fox Glacier disaster has spurred Coker into an internet campaign targeting New Zealand's unique compensation system.

"I really don't want another father in the world to get the knock on the door from the police to tell them their child's been killed. It will happen again because of the law in New Zealand. The fact that you can't sue anybody for negligence or wrongful death [means] nobody is held to account," Coker says.

In a forensic examination of New Zealand's adventure tourism industry and safety regime, Dominique Schwartz exposes significant flaws in regulation and safety awareness. She investigates the activities of a prominent ballooning operator with a troubling track record and hears evidence that New Zealand's taxpayer-funded accident compensation scheme may be enabling poor practice.

101 East investigates New Zealand's adventure tourism industry and asks, just how safe is it?


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