Top Ten Transport Inventors in Aotearoa

Are you our next brilliant transport inventor? New Zealanders are famous all around the globe for their inspired, innovative, and sometimes just wacky ways to get from Point A to Point B. Check out these amazing transportation options invented right here in Aotearoa, and click the links for cool examples!

Richard Pearse invented a powered monoplane in 1903.

Richard Pearse was an engineer, farmer and inventor. He is one of New Zealand’s first aviators. His monoplane, invented in a farm shed, allowed him to be one of the first people to leave the ground in a powered aircraft. His first flight in 1903 was a somewhat uncontrolled ‘hop’ of about 50 metres, ending in a crash into a gorse hedge. The plane itself was made from converted farm equipment, bicycle parts, and a bamboo frame with canvas stretched over it. The original engine was found at the bottom of a well, and is currently on display at MOTAT in the Love Science Exhibition. There is even a Richard Pearse Drive in Māngere, appropriately located near the Auckland Airport.

See what is believed to be pieces of one of the first aero engines created by Richard Pearse.

Sir William Hamilton created the Hamilton Jet boat in 1954.

Bill Hamilton was a farmer, inventor, and engineer. He loved exploring the rivers and lakes around his home and as a young man, he dreamed of zooming up the river in a powered boat. He experimented with different motors attached to a small dinghy in the dam on his farm. The jet boat was the first watercraft to propel itself with a jet of water instead of a propeller. This produced a boat that could go very fast, turn quickly, and traverse extremely shallow waters.

Check out our retro Air New Zealand jet boating backpack.

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr established the Te Toki Voyaging Trust in the 1990’s.

Te Toki Voyaging Trust is a community of people revitalising the art of waka hourua (the traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe) and navigating using the night sky. After Māori settled in Aotearoa, waka evolved into deep single-hulled vessels that were suitable for transporting people and goods over shorter distances. After Europeans arrived, new modes of transport and suppression of Mataranga Māori led to the near-extinction of waka hourua knowledge. But ocean-voyaging and celestial navigation is undergoing a renaissance thanks in part to Te Toki Voyaging Trust, and the vision and leadership of Hoturoa. Te Toki Voyaging Trust use their waka hourua to connect rangatahi (young people) with their whakapapa, culture, and their role as kaitiaki, innovators, and scientists.

See a photo of a Māori waka, and learn more.

David & Andrew Akers invented the Zorb in 1994.

David and Andrew Akers set out to find an innovative way to walk on water. They ended up inventing one of New Zealand’s most famous adventure experiences: The Zorb. Zorbing involves strapping yourself into a large, inflated ball and zooming down a slope. You can also use the Zorb to walk on water or play games such as Bubble Soccer.

Watch “History of Zorbing in New Zealand.”

Paul Beckett invented the Blokart in 1999.

Paul Beckett was looking for a fast, fun adrenaline rush without spending a cent on petrol. He had tried hang-gliding and land sailing, and thought, why not combine the two? The first blokart was created by Paul in his double garage in Mount Maunganui. Today, blokarting is an international phenomenon with its own international association and world championship races.

Here’s how to sail a blokart safely.

Alan Gibbs has invented several amphibious vehicles, going back to 2003.

Alan Gibbs is a kiwi businessman and entrepreneur. He has invented several aquatic vehicles. His inspiration came from the large fluctuating tides near his home of Kaipara Moana, the largest estuary in Aotearoa. The Aquada came out in 2003, after a decade of research and development. This was the world’s first road-legal, high-speed amphibian vehicle. He has gone on to release the Humdinga and Phibian in 2012, and the Quadski in 2013.

Watch the Gibbs Aquada in action!

Geoffrey Barnett invented the Shweeb cycling monorail in 2007.

Geoffrey Barnett is a kiwi journalist who lived abroad in the bustling city of Tokyo. He is a keen cyclist but was frustrated by being stuck in slow traffic and the dangers of sharing the road with powered vehicles. His solution? A suspended cycle-powered monorail that allows commuters to pedal over the top of traffic. The Shweeb gets its name from the German word Schwebebahn or ‘floating rail’. Riders are suspended in a pedal-powered pod and can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. The pods can also click together, allowing faster riders to assist slower ones. A prototype Shweeb opened at the Velocity Valley adventure park in Rotorua in 2007.

Catch the Shweeb Racer at Velocity Valley!

Glenn Martin invented the Martin Jetpack in 2008.

Like many of us, Glenn dreamed of flying via jet pack. He started designing his jetpack in 1981. Glenn spent the next 30 years working on prototypes and designs. In 2008, he released a personal jet pack aircraft. The Martin Jetpack uses huge fans to keep its riders off the ground, for up to 30 minutes at a time.

See a test flight of Glenn Martin’s jetpack.

Guy Howard Willis invented the Manta 5 in 2017.

What questions keep you awake at three in the morning? For Guy Howard Willis, it was the puzzle of the aquabike. He reckoned that most road transport has an equivalent watercraft; buses have ferries, motorbikes have jetskis, cars have jetboats. But bicycles had no equivalent, until the Manta 5. After dreaming of this invention for 20 years, Guy was motivated to create an aquabike after thinking that someone else might beat him to it! Guy worked with a team of designers and engineers to invent, prototype, and test the world’s first hydrofoil bike. After six years of research and development, the innovative Manta 5 is now available to purchase.

Here is a hydrofoil bicycle invented in New Zealand, the world’s first!

Paul Barron invented the Woolight in 2019.

Paul Barron is a surfboard shaper and innovator committed to making an eco-friendly surfboard. He has been innovating surfboard designs for years through his company Barron Surfboards. Surfboards are traditionally created by shaping a core from styrofoam and coating it with a mixture of resin and fibreglass. But none of those products are environmentally friendly, and Paul wanted to change that. His Woolight surfboard swaps out two of these products for a natural ‘bio-resin’ and Merino wool. The idea came to Paul in a light-bulb moment, when resin accidentally spilt onto a woollen jumper in the workshop.

Jump on this surfboard with ‘Woolight’ technology.

So…what are YOU going to invent?