Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Relic from a lost safari park

I bought this old pin badge last Sunday at the Avondale Market. It's seen better days, bent probably due to bad care and being left in the heat of a glass display case in the sun too long (the seller, unfortunately, wouldn't reduce the price based on that).

There's not a lot left from the Auckland Lion Safari Park at Red Hills Road, Massey, in operation from 1981 until sometime in the mid 1990s (the company files, which I intend looking at as soon as the silly season passes over, go down to 1995).

The park seems to have originated as an offshoot of the Bullens operations in Australia. (See also this Facebook page) Exactly why the Auckland park closed I don't yet know, but the Old Friends memories online speak of hi-jinks among the staff like cycling through the lions compound, playing around with tractors and mud slides, yet also note fond memories of the lions, tigers, and Clyde the Camel.

If game parks are a modern development from the acclimatisation societies and their peculiarities, safari parks are a close relative. But safari parks deal exclusively in the visitor animals—none of their stock have ever been liberated, or are ever likely to be. The Auckland Lion Safari Park is the newest of these, opened at the end of 1981. Other entrepreneurs have tried the venture, the earliest being the Orana Lion Park outside Christchurch. Until recently there were two others—one at Paraparaumu and another outside Hamilton—but these failed. The new park at Auckland has the backing of a circus organisation—the Bullen organisation, which is involved in six safari parks in Australia—so it has its roots in the exotic animal-keeping business that is the oldest of them all.

To visit a safari park, one does not leave one's car (although if you are a politician you can get a free ticket to travel through on a pushbike). Windows must be kept closed at all times, as you drive slowly and gaze at lions. It is the ultimate step in transferring alien animals to our environment.
I'd really appreciate any further leads or information from readers.


  1. Bullens also had an operation at Waikanae. The old Lion Park was a great place. Such a shame it vanished. Very little information is around. The Lion Pride was quite large. The highlight of the day was the caged meat truck they would take out into the main enclosure. One of the staff would be inside the cage part at the rear of the vehicle and use a stick to push the meat out.The cats would leap up on top and grab the met (mainly horse. I remember the camel. They had other attractions as well including the two tigers which you could only drive through their enclosure slowly and not stop. I'll check with Tony on this he may know a lot more since he had a long association with the former Bullens Circus/Safari.

    1. Bullens supplied the Lions from Warragamba Dam Wildlife Park, Australia. They also supplied Manager John Schmidt and Wife Mavis Vance, plus it their good friend Jimmy Vance. I was also a Game Warden and holder of the title.. "HE WHO RIDES BICYCLE THROUGH LION COMPOUND".
      Yes that Urban Legend is very true. SPENCER FAULKNER.

  2. Replies
    1. I was the young Game Warden who rode the bicycle through the Lion Park
      I always though of it as I one of those things we all did when we were young.. But I had no fear and big Kahuna's LOL

      Its weird because I got a phone call from MAI 88.6 FM radio station Auckland a couple of years ago seeking Urban Legends as such..
      Anyways I'm working in the Entertainment Industry still.. With Johnny Depp filming Pirates of the Carribean 5 on the Gold Coast. I would be happy to fill your blank spaces in. Cheers. Spencer Faulkner.

  3. Your post sent me off exploring on Google maps as I'm sure I was taken there as a child (although I'd quite forgotten until reading your post!). I have memories of being driven in a car around a looping track watching lions being fed. The series of now partially obscured tracks in an area just north of Red Hills Road seem to agree with this memory:

    Coincidentally I happened to be doing some research on an entirely different topic this morning and came across a familiar aerial photograph. It seems that this location was later used for filming many Hercules and Xena Warrior Princess episodes in the 90s. A page with more detail is here:

    Apparently the series of sets were called "The Lion Park" by actors and crew so there was clearly knowledge of the previous use of the area. The sets are long gone although some of the perhaps more mundane or practical buildings remain, along with a small pond.

    I wonder how the land is used now? Farming perhaps?

  4. Wonderful! Thanks so much for tracking that down -- I'll see if I can find some land history info tomorrow morning on the site. It all seems to be in one title at the moment. Auckland Council rates record describes it as "Lifestyle, Multi-Unit" so who knows -- but there is an interesting 1996 aerial on their GIS site.

  5. we moved to NZ 1983..our kids were told that there were no dangerous animals here...Imagine the fright thry got when our first house at Ranui/Swanson was downwind from the Lions roars and growls at night!! We soon found out the source of the night roars lol We took the kids there a few times. There was a sheep show where all sheep breeds were on display and well trained to move on command. There was also a mini train and rail that went through the woods. The lions were pretty cool, especially at feeding time. There was a separate paddock we could drive through and put your window down at your own risk. We risked it and I have been terrified of girrafes ever since. I also recall the water slide, the petting zoo where the kids bottle fed calves and lambs and held rabbits. The kids slept better after our visits to the safari park knowing the lions were caged in!! Happy Days

  6. I have lots of photos of this park. Actually, I have lots of photos that might interest you, full stop. Will email or Facebook msg you..

    1. I would love to see the photos you have can you email them or facebook msg to me please. or

  7. My family lived out west Auckland. I remember as a little girl, our family outing at the Safari, my father driving our little red Cortina watching the lions. Didn't they have other activities there as well or was that another fun park? Coincidentally ... my husband & children are also Bullens ... not sure if there is any connection to the Bullen brothers!