The wild, wild, west
Go west young man! ... well west of Ohakune, to a little ‘ole place called Mellonsfolly Ranch, writes Simon Maude.
Driving 2000 feet off Ruapehu District’s volcanic plateau drops you into another time and place ... 1860’s Wyoming. Mellonsfolly Ranch, all $10 million dollars worth of replica Wild West town, lying wedged in the heart of steep gully country, is remarkable.
Still swaying and woozy from a frankly tortuous 90-minute drive from central North Island’s Ohakune, our party was greeted at the gates by ‘‘Pancho’’ and ‘‘Rosita’’ dressed in their bandito and bordello best.
Pancho’s eyes, framed by a ridiculously big sombrero, glowered. Sunk back beneath a jet black bushy beard, his blinding white teeth gnashing a malevolent grin.
‘‘Welcome,’’ he hissed clinking toward us in his cowboy boots and spurs, gauntleted hand outstretched.
Pancho deserved his very own spaghetti western leitmotif but Rawhidewas already playing on hidden speakers.
Rosita, buxom in satin, hanging on Pancho’s arm flutters her eyes at the gringo visitors.
Full Mexican movie-accented Pancho relishes playing it up to delighted guests with Rosita, his foil.
In a beat Pancho and Rosita, aka Miguel Leguizmon and Sarah Bartley, break character, introducing themselves as our hosts for the day. Miguel is, in fact, a native South American from Argentina and Sarah, a Kiwi, is his wife.
I must admit when I was pitched Mellonsfolly as a story I winced, not another theme park held together by sticky tape and paper mache I thought.
But Miguel and Sarah deserve being justifiably proud of Mellonsfolly.
Sarah’s family now own the 400-hectare ranch, originally built by Wild West enthusiast and New Zealand multi-millionaires John and Kenda Bedogni.
It feels like we’ve walked onto a film set but this is no two-dimensional celluloid B-grade western movie, this is three dimensions with a big branded ‘‘D’’.
All of the dozen or so buildings’ doorways open into fully recreated interiors offering overnight and day guests a sumptuous experience of how the west was won pulp novel style.
Although some of Mellonsfolly’s 27 beds are bunk beds, most are plush, rooms with ensuites tucked away above buildings including a saloon, hotel, sheriff’s office and courtroom.
Interior decorated by a Chanel New Zealand ex head, the individually themed rooms are resplendent in period reproduction wallpaper, curtains and fittings.
Groups small and large can hire out the entire town for a raucous weekend or corporate team building.
By all accounts, with the fully licensed saloon’s fire roaring, cowboy costumes on and a few whisky sours shared among friends, this place is something else.
‘‘We’ve had some wild nights, we’ve had people dancing on the bar,’’ Sarah smiles.
The day we visit it’s quiet, just a couple and our small party, my wife, young daughter, and her grandma. We still get the chance to raid the dress-up closet. Strapped to our hips are six shooters, on our heads 10-gallon hats.
Rosita’s rustled us up tasty Tex-Mex tortilla stacks, while our 4-year-old is delighted by the saloon pianola and its tinkling contemporary music hall hits.
Mellonsfolly is a sort of West World, loaded with technology, behind bespoke fake panels and switches sit audio-visual controls, there’s even a drop-down screen in the courthouse where guests can kick back and watch their favourite Western movie.
It’s simple pleasures as our family group wile away our time here.
We try our hand at archery, horseshoe throwing, whip cracking and air pistol shooting – then Pancho wheels out the big little gun.
With his boots jangling, he trudges back from the barn hauling a small cannon. It’s midday, time to set the thing off. Pointing the blank loaded cannon down the remote valley, a lit wick zips into the barrel, a colossal ‘‘boom!’’ shakes the spectators, and excited giggles spill from everyone.
Pancho’s beaming a colossal grin. Ariba!
The writer experienced Mellonsfolly Ranch courtesy of Visit Ruapehu.
Mellonsfolly Ranch husband and wife hosts Miguel ‘’Pancho’' Leguizamon and Sarah ‘’Rosita’' Brightley.
Elaborately detailed Mellonsfolly Ranch cost more than $10 million to build.