Auckland's newest family attraction opens to the public today
Whoa! Studios, founded by technology entrepreneur David Sutherland, has been more than four years in the making and he's confident those who make the trip to Henderson won't be disappointed.
It includes a thoroughly modern film set where the first performances of the live show A Very Gloomy Christmas are staged; an urban playground with Australasia's first crochet play-net and five-star family dining at The Grounds headed by chef and former My Kitchen Rules NZ host Ben Bayly.
Sutherland, founder of Integral Technology Group and chairman of Cogent Limited, said there had been a fair few 18-hour days to get the park finished but the hard work and long hours were about to pay off.
"The next stage is about to begin: bringing people in."
He got his first taste of what youngsters may make of Whoa! when it hosted Make A Wish New Zealand's 30th birthday, giving children with life-threatening medical conditions and their families the first glimpse of the complex.
"I thought Make A Wish was the ideal organisation to partner with because, in a sense, what they do is what we're trying and wanting to do here: we want to bring joy into the lives of children and their families."
He said kids were reluctant to leave and thoroughly enjoyed A Very Gloomy Christmas which follows a group of plucky puppets - Custard, Buzz, Brianna, Jazz and their best feathered friend, Kea - out to foil super-villain Dr Gloom's dastardly plan to steal their smiles.
The characters and storylines are taken from Custard's World - The Movie, which is now in pre-production and uses a script by Bafta award-winning scriptwriter Bob Baker who wrote Wallace and Gromit.
A Very Gloomy Christmas combines state-of-the-art 3D mapping and projection technology, with the traditional art of puppetry; video and digital effects with live performers, slapstick, puns and catchy songs.
"It's provided an amazing opportunity to combine all art forms into one exceptionally high quality show which is staged on a real-life film set," said producer and director Adam Fresco.
The cast includes some of New Zealand's finest young puppeteering talent, Jon Coddington, Rebekah Head and Paul Lewis, who were mentored by New York-based Peter Linz, a lead puppeteer on Sesame Street and The Muppets. Linz travelled to Whoa! Studios to advise on movie and live show puppeteering.
Actors Terry Hooper, who plays Dr Gloom, Fresco and Stephanie Sharp complete the cast.
Hooper, who was recruited four years ago, says when he first arrived at Whoa! it was a derelict building.
"I thought, 'here we go again!' but I've seen it slowly taking shape and I think people will be blown away by it."
Tickets cost $29 for kids, $39 for adults, including access to the live show and urban playground. Playground tickets alone cost $10 for an hour or $18 for two hours. Children under 3 are free with paid-for siblings. Whoa! Studios is at 8 Henderson Valley Rd, Henderson.
Chef Ben Bayly's kitchens sure do rule and with award-winning restaurants like The Grove and Baduzzi, he's used to high praise from discerning diners.
Now the former judge from TV2 show My Kitchen Rules NZ is about to face his toughest challenge yet: cooking for kids. The father-of-three is opening The Grounds, billed as a "modern family eatery", at Whoa! Studios and there's not a chicken nugget or bowl of fries on the menu.
Bayly hopes to encourage youngsters to step out of their comfort zones and try new foods so the menu includes things like handmade saveloys, kale chips, a selection of hand-crafted pastas, nine vegetable dishes, steaks, smoothies and slow-pressed juices as well as desserts such as ice-cream sandwiches.
He says the food is designed to be eaten "family style" with everyone sharing one or two dishes from each section of the menu.
"I want families to eat together like they do in places like Italy or China," he says. "They have great culinary traditions that we should be looking to embrace like sitting around a table and sharing high-quality food."