Spookers, New Zealand’s only haunted-attraction theme park, is for sale. The family-owned-and-operated “scream park” at Kingseat, south of Auckland, is attracting international interest – including from Australia – for its original collection of zany and terrifying attractions, with the owners are hoping the right buyer will take the business global.
Julia Tukiri, 37, established Spookers with her parents, Andy and Beth Watson, in 2005. “We didn’t set out to own a haunted attraction theme park,” she said. First, they built a corn maze on their family farm. “It was a bit of daytime fun,” Ms Tukiri said.
This was soon followed by torchlit maze tours, where “my dad would scare the staff,” she said. “Then a local farmer decided it would be funny to chase the staff with a chainsaw!”
Now sprawling over 20 hectares in Auckland, Spookers has grown into several attractions, including a 300-seat restaurant and bar. As visitors tiptoe through the 40 ghoulish rooms of the Haunted House, “we have real, live actors scaring the hell out of you,” Ms Tukiri said. “They can touch you, they can grab you, all sorts. A lot of blood and gore.”
In busy weeks Spookers goes through at least 10 litres of fake blood a night. “We’ve been though so many different recipes over the years,” Ms Tukiri said.
They’ve tried making it from scratch with things like glycerin and flour – “but that doesn’t last very long” – and buying it ready made. “Now we just use a blood powder and we make massive amounts of blood with that – it’s like a mass casualty.”
The Woods is a forest “themed mainly around hillbillies. Sort of like The Hills Have Eyes,” Ms Tukiri said. “You get chased by chainsaws – things like that.”
Disturbia is a 3D attraction with psychedelic clowns, while The Fog is “like you are walking through a swamp”. The summer attraction, CornEvil, out in the fields is strictly for 16 and up. “Please do not bring younger children, as under no circumstances will they be allowed entry,” states the website.
“CornEvil can be very scary. It is not JUST a walk in the corn!”
Punters regularly faint of terror. “We had one on Friday night,” Ms Tukiri said. “We have quite a lot of wet pants.”
It was the dedicated and passionate staff that made Spookers great, she said. “The actors themselves have creative control over their characters, and their lines and everything.” They do their own make up, devise scenes.
“So it changes dramatically every night.”
Now, the family have decided to move on. In 2013 Ms Tukiri’s father Andy was elected mayor of Rangitikei District in Manawatu-Wanganui, a region on the North Island, and Beth wants to be able to support him more. Ms Tukiri wants to spend more time with her brood – she shares five children aged between 2 and 23 with her husband – and try new ventures.
The family are taking offers and considering various options for selling the intellectual property for Spookers, The Amazing Maze & Maize, CornEvil, and Run for Your Freakn Life mud run race, as well as the physical businesses operating in Kingseat.
The “target group” of buyers, said Elaine Ford, managing director of Divest, which is handling the sale, are investors – “we’re talking to a number of the big-venue operators internationally” – who can utilise the Spookers intellectual property, add the various attractions to their operations, and take Spookers to the world.
“Just imagine if it were rolled out in scale in China and through Europe,” Ms Ford said. “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful outcome?”
Ms Tukiri agreed. “We would love for the buyer to be, or become, as passionate about the Spookers brand as we are and have the means to take this iconic brand that is beloved by hundreds of thousands of people to the world.”