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Behind the walls of Rainbow's End's new attraction

Theme parks are not just piped music, rollercoasters and a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about nefarious uses for underground tunnels.

They're also big business.

New Zealand Experience, the owner of Auckland's Rainbow's End, turned over about $11.6 million last year, despite horrendous weather in December and January.

The company is on target to meet profit guidance of between $1.4 million to $1.6 million for the current financial year, with the park's busiest period of the year still to come.

Profits might be bolstered by a combination of NIWA's predicted long, hot summer and the opening in December of the park's first stage of its $3.7 million Kidz Kingdom development.

Room to party

A quick tour of Kidz Kingdom reveals the old Castle Land facade, circa 1997, has bright new domes and a lick of paint. Brightly coloured party rooms have been installed in the castle's walls, where actors will talk to children via video screens.

Inside the castle walls, and beyond the temporary fencing, it's a work zone. A crane juggles steel and concrete tilt slabs for the area's two-storeyed building, which is the costliest part of the project.

More party rooms will be built here – an attempt to snatch business from the popular "soft-play" facilities that specialise in children's parties.

Tracks for a new train ride from Italian company Zamperla are being bolted down and checked. The train itself is in a freshly-built maintenance building at the park's southern end – the scruffy bowels of the park not many get to see.

None of the engineers know the loco's top speed. Considering the new section is aimed at under-eights, don't expect it to be lightning quick.

The old carousel and space shuttle rides have assumed their new positions, ready for the first-stage opening in about mid-December, with the indoor section expected to be finished in April.

It's going to be tight behind those castle walls, something you could say about the entire Manukau theme park.

Something old, something new

Rainbow's End is 30 years old this year, having opened in December 1982.

Its history shows continual expansion and investment in new rides, on top of old favourites like the pirate ship, Cinema 180 and log flume. The 54m high "free-fall" tower, built in 2001 and favoured by white-knuckle enthusiasts, can be seen for kilometres.

More investment is needed, however, which might be one of the reasons itsmajor shareholder, Garlow Management, is trying to sell up.

One of the NZE board's investment strategies over the last year has been to bring food and beverage outlets in-house, and try to make more money per customer from an expanded range.

At $51 a pop for adults, the challenge will be to get fee-paying customers through the gates, especially considering parts of the park look a little drab and dated.

Still, it's a kids' paradise – my son would love it.

The mid-week calm

Mid-week, there are a couple of hundred people and the place seems positively airy. The sun worshippers take to the go-karts while the gadget-gawkers flock inside to assault the video and hand-eye games.

On crazy days, Rainbow's End can cater for up to 3000 people. Which begs the question, where do the characters with oversized heads discreetly emerge from?

Unlike Disney World's fabled maze of interconnected tunnels, NBR ONLINE's tour of Rainbow's End does not extend underground. You will not see any photos of, say, Rai and Bo bickering over a card game between gigs.

Maybe next time we'll be shown the secret door.

dwilliams@nbr.co.nz

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