The thrill of riding in jet propelled boats and the adrenaline rush of a rapidly propelled human catapult – both created by Kiwi inventors.

In 1921, after leaving school in Christchurch, Charles William Hamilton, known always as Bill, moved to a sheep farm in the McKenzie country known as Irishman Creek Station. He soon got bored with looking after sheep and turned his attention to designing heavy moving machinery. In 1924, he purchased a lathe and established his first workshop at the farm and began his life as one of New Zealand’s greatest inventors.

Bill Hamilton (hamiltonjet)

At the age of 23, he made a trip to England and purchased an old Sunbeam car. In 1925, he entered the car in the NZ 50 mile Motor Cup Race. His modifications to the car’s engine and chassis resulted in him becoming the first Kiwi to pass the 100mph barrier when he set an Australasian speed record of 100.3mph. Three years later, he improved his speed on Oreti Beach in Southland by driving at 109.9mph (177kph)

In 1927, Bill invented a scoop drawn by a tractor to construct a dam to provide water for a 17.5kw hydro-electric plant to provide electricity for his isolated home and workshop. In later life he said this was the invention he was most proud of.


From the time he was a small boy growing up on his parent’s farm in Canterbury, Bill loved building canoes from bamboo and canvas. He spent many hours floating down the river on the farm in these homemade vessels. The canoes weighed over 20 pounds so the young boy had a struggle carrying them back upstream. It was at this time, he put his mind to the task of inventing a boat that could be propelled up rivers and in shallow water. He started by building a boat with an externally mounted engine but it was too noisy and was hard to manoeuvre so he dropped that idea. He never gave up on his dream and finally in 1954, the first Hamilton jet boat took to the water. The unique mode of propulsion soon became popular but it wasn’t until 1960 when three of Bill’s jet boats ran up the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, that his boats became world famous.

Bill Hamilton on his Jet Boat (maritimemuseum.co.nz)


In 1935, the Government contracted Bill to build an airstrip at the Hermitage, Mt. Cook.  He loved flying but almost died in a plane accident in 1936 when the aircraft he was in hit a mast during a storm at Wellington airport. In 1939, 17 men worked in a large munitions factory that was built on his farm to provide bullets and shells for the Second World War. By the end of the war, Bill had established his own company, C.W.F Hamilton in Christchurch. The engineering factory he built on a 20 acre site employed 500 workers and went on to build scrapers, bulldozers, intake gates and hydraulic machinery for the various hydro electric projects that were constructed in the following decades.

On March 30th 1978, Charles William Hamilton, one of New Zealand’s greatest inventors died at his hometown of Fairlie. He will always be remembered for inventing the Hamilton jet boat which can be seen in every country with access to rivers, lakes and ocean. He personifies the Kiwi attitude of “I can fix it”- an attitude that has historically defined New Zealanders as people with the ‘can do’ approach to life and its challenges.


Following in Bill Hamilton’s footsteps, best mates, A.J.Hackett and Henry van Asch have thought of ways to satisfy their thrill seeking desires by inventing a couple of activities that they have made world famous. A.J.Hackett bungy jumps are now found in spectacular locations around the world and draw millions of thrill seekers who are happy to drop on the end of a bungy for a fee. Now, after 30 years of dreaming up an even more heart stopping activity, Henry has just opened the Nevis Catapult in Queenstown, the home of their first commercial bungy jump operation.

”It’s a massive rush of acceleration and it’s like when you get going you just fling out into space. There’s nothing else quite like it.” Henry van Asch said after his first ride on the catapult.

This new creation, combining height, flight and speed, is the world’s biggest human catapult that propels people 150metres out over the deep valley. The 4 minute ride provides 3g of force, as much as a rocket apparently. This means the person in the harness reaches 100kph in just 1.5 seconds. This is a spectacular new way to fly. Geepers!!!

This new thrill seeker attraction is evidence that Bill Hamilton’s inventing juices are alive and well with a new generation of Kiwis who look at the world and say “Yeah, we can do it!”

In 1974, Bill Hamilton was knighted for his valuable services to manufacturing and in 2004 he was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame. It will only be a matter of time until A.J Hackett and Henry van Asch are awarded similar accolades.

Ceidrik Heward


  1. Kere Menzies says

    Bungy Jumping with a rubber elastic cord (as opposed to the vines that villages used) was actually invented by one of the English Universities dangerous sports clubs. Hackett and van Asch just commercialised it. The fact that they couldn’t patent the technology says a lot.


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