The wild, wild, west

Go west young man! ... well west of Ohakune, to a lit­tle ‘ole place called Mel­lons­folly Ranch, writes Si­mon Maude.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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