Safety lifeline for Adrenalin Forest
Caillabet’s venture prospering
A $ 200,000 investment that saves people from falling 31 metres from the top of trees also saved Jean Caillabet’s business.
Almost two years after a death at an Auckland adventure park resulted in the number of visitors nearly halving, customers are being roped back to Caillabet’s Adrenalin Forest parks in Porirua, Christchurch and Tauranga.
Adrenalin Forest director Jean Caillabet came to New Zealand from France for three months in 2006 to ‘‘make a fortune’’ or learn English, whichever came first.
He had been a mountain guide, rock-climbing instructor, ski instructor and kayaking coach in France so he thought he would start a business in New Zealand.
The first year in Christchurch was tough, but eventually his business grew to a second park in Aotea, Porirua, in 2010, and in Bay of Plenty a year later.
He now has $2 million invested in the business, has about 30 staff and gets more than 70,000 visitors every year.
Adrenalin Forest is a high- wire obstacle course more than two kilometres in length, up to 31 metres off the ground and set in up to four hectares of forest.
Each park cost about $400,000 and took four months to build.
Caillabet said the hardest part was finding a suitable site.
He leases land from local councils and used the cash flow generated from each park to fund the next.
In early 2013, a man died when he fell 14 metres from the highwires at Tree Adventures in Woodhill Forest, near Helensville.
Caillabet said that business dropped 40 per cent as a result; his staff still speak about the death every day.
Caillabet said the big picture view of the tourism adventure industry safety reforms was good.
Accidents were dramatic for the family and staff, but people had a view of the industry as being ‘‘ cowboys’’ with long hair and a lack of care.
Because adventure tourism looked fun, people thought the operators were fun, but the reality was that any lapse ruined business.
A year ago, he invested $200,000 in a new safety system called Clic-It.
The product, designed in France, stops participants from being able to take both safety devices off a safety cable while they are on the aerial course.
Caillabet became the local agent for the company in September. YMCA Wellington adopted it for its rope course, Black Water Rafting uses it at Waitomo Caves and it is also used on the Canyon Swing on the Shotover River near Queenstown.
‘‘It’s French so it’s perfect, smart and beautiful, and welleducated,’’ he said.
‘‘Cost me a fortune but was the best investment I have ever made. Without that, I would be bankrupt today.’’
At $ 42 for an adult, and between $17 and $27 for a child, the $200,000 investment represented ‘‘a lot of people’’.
But he says he has no regrets; the system reduced stress for staff, teachers, parents and participants.
Visitor numbers have been increasing at 20 per cent month on month since, he says.