Mellonsfolly Ranch

The old west comes alive in the Central Plateau

  • Mellonsfolly Ranch

    Gun slinging visitors.
  • Mellonsfolly Ranch 2

    Luxurious Victorian styled accommodation.
  • Mellonsfolly Ranch 3

    The town is nestled into native bush in the Central Plateau.

Drive for just two hours from Wanganui and you’re in another world. In remote Central Plateau back country, you’ll find Mellonsfolly Ranch, the ultimate luxury escape with a twist.

What started out as an idea to build a simple family lodge “away from it all” by Auckland couple John and Kenda Bedogni, soon snowballed into Old West Town, a thousand acre bush-clad development and home to Mellonsfolly Ranch, a Wyoming-styled western town of the late 1800s.

Mellonsfolly takes its name from the Auckland beach suburb of Mellons Bay, where John and Kenda live and developed their “labour of love”.

A passion for all things ‘western’ saw the couple scour the US for buildings and inspiration, and their attention to detail is found in every part of the retreat. Unlike a movie set constructed simply of facades, Old West Town has complete buildings, including a saloon, bathhouse, courthouse and western-style Victorian accommodation.

Local Wanganui businessman, Robert Bartley had been a shareholder in Old West Town for four years until earlier in 2012, he bought the complex outright from the Bedgoni’s. “It’s unique. We offer an authentic western experience you won’t find anywhere else in the country,” says Robert.

Mellonsfolly attracts a variety of guests including old west enthusiasts, corporate groups, birthday parties and weddings.

“A lot of team building and conferences happen around the Ranch and the courthouse comes in handy for sorting out any differences of opinion!” laughs Robert.

Over the past year, the business has responded to a change in demand and now offers day stays, resulting in the winter season being fully booked.

“Whilst most of our guests stay for up to a week, there was an increasing demand for day stays,” says Robert. “Winter is a brilliant time at Mellonsfolly. We offer everything from clay bird shooting, gun slinging, horse trekking, mountain biking, hiking, simply sitting back watching western movies, or spending time in the saloon playing poker. The bathhouse is also very popular,” he says.

When they first arrive, guests transform into character, donning gun leather and Stetsons; literally stepping back in time.

“Guests tell us they really feel like they’re back in the 1890s,” says Angela, Robert’s daughter who also works in the business. “We keep all of the ‘workings’ of the Ranch well hidden and technology, although available, is not apparent. It’s a luxury escape and being remote is part of its attraction.”

As well as Old West Town, Robert Bartley has business interests in Wanganui including owning Ali Arc Industries, Wanganui Finance, and an I.T. company. All of them have one thing in common; they are based in Wanganui and employ local people.

“I like spreading the risk across entities,” says Robert. “We employ a lot of local people and have proved that there are opportunities to have thriving businesses in provincial towns.”

For more than 30 years, Markhams Wanganui director Rex McKinnon had been working with Robert until his retirement earlier this year. “Markhams looks after all the financial aspects of my business portfolio. Rex was conservative, but backed all of my plans. He was a good sounding board and a brilliant business advisor,” says Robert.

Director James Bowen has taken over the portfolio, coming in halfway through the deal on buying the Ranch. “It’s part of the succession plan. I’ve got the next generation of my family coming through the business and James can look after them – they’re young and can relate to each other. And we’re keeping our business interests local. Part of that is having a local accountancy firm.”

Published Spring 2012.

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