This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on January 12, 2019
Mellonsfolly Ranch is an authentic Wild West town nestled in the tranquillity of the Ruatiti Valley. The story goes that a prospector named George Mellon discovered gold there. Liz Wylie went to meet the special people who manage this unique accommodation nestled in 1000 acres of Ruapehu bushland.
When NZ Herald writer David Fisher visited Mellonsfolly in 2007, he asked its creator John Bedogni why he spent $8 million to build a Wild West town in the middle of nowhere.
Bedogni, one of the wealthy founders of Metropolitan Glass, could not give him a definitive answer.
I cannot presume to answer for him but I do wish to speculate about why Mellonsfolly is so appealing to those of us born in the mid-20th century.
Current owners Sarah Bartley and Miguel Leguizmon say they host a lot of 60th birthday celebrations and I reckon I understand why that is.
Bedogni (aka Charles Mellon) has perfectly captured the fond memories of a generation who were the first children to watch TV in this country.
On any given night of the week during the 1960s, there was sure to be a Western on TV – Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The High Chaparral, The Big Valley, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Daniel Boone, Branded and my personal favourite The Virginian.
Even if the acting was bad and the scripts were atrocious, the wardrobe and set designers were brilliant.
The buildings and interiors at Mellonsfolly are absolutely historically correct as are the costumes worn by the hosts and supplied to guests.
This may not be our history and it may not even be completely accurate American history but it perfectly recreates those memories of what we saw on our TV screens.
No doubt Bedogni watched a lot of the Western films of the era and Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns in particular.
Host Miguel Leguizmon (aka Pancho) with his jingling brass spurs and big sombrero looks as if he may have just stepped from the set of A Fistful of Dollars.
Sarah Bartley (aka Rosita) has been at Mellonsfolly from the beginning and Bedogni initially hired her as a cook to feed the builders back in the mid-2000s.
"I slept in the loft above the stables and I guess I fell in love with this valley," she says.
"I had been travelling a lot and partying a lot and I realised how much I enjoyed the peace and quiet."
She has lived at Mellonsfolly ever since although she has taken time out to go travelling again and while travelling in Argentina she met Miguel.
He seems custom-made for the place and is Sarah's leading man and business partner.
The couple have a 17-month-old son named Chico (a very good sidekick name says his dad) and they are committed to running Mellonsfolly as an accommodation and entertainment venue which is now owned by the Bartley family.
They take two months off each winter and Sarah likes to come to Whanganui and craft pieces at NZ Glassworks.
"I did a fine arts degree at Wanganui Polytechnic years ago and it is great to be able to go and spend time at the glassworks."
We are offered a cuppa and homemade scones at the Lucky Strike Saloon where the wood panelled walls are hung with authentic American trophies and artefacts.
There is a black bearskin, and stuffed heads of a moose, a white-tailed deer and even the head of a mythical Jackalope.
Despite the trophies, there is no hunting allowed at Mellonsfolly.
"We have clay pigeon shooting and I teach people to shoot with bow and arrows as well as use a lasso and throw horseshoes," says Miguel.
He also fires off a genuine 1835 American cannon each time a new group of guests arrive at Mellonsfolly.
"I find that 12 teaspoons of gunpowder is just the right amount," he says.
He doesn't always remember to tell Sarah when he is about to fire it and she has had a few sudden shocks.
"I have dropped a few plates," she says.
Raetihi horseman Tommy Waara leads horse treks through the bush to Mellonsfolly and there are three retired horses happily living out their days in a paddock there.
The native fauna seem to accept the presence of a Wild West town in the middle of their habitat.
Sarah and Miguel say there are whio (blue ducks) living on the property and moreporks often visit at night.
"We have them lined up on the hitching post outside the saloon sometimes," says Sarah.
Miguel says they know that people disturb moths when they are walking around, making them easier to catch.
The couple has stayed true to the vision created by Bedogni and all 14 buildings in the town are beautifully furnished and decorated with antiques he had shipped from the US.
Sarah and Miguel have renovated two cottages on the property for staff accommodation and one is occupied by Isobel May (aka Miss Belle) and her chocolate Labrador Halle.
She arrives at the saloon dressed in vintage Western style with Chico dressed in his own authentic costume complete with miniature tooled leather boots.
Isabel grew up on a neighbouring property in the Ruatiti Valley where she was homeschooled and after seeing a bit of the world, she says she is where she wants to be.
"I lived in New York for a few months and I really missed this place," she says.
We take a tour of the other Mellonsfolly buildings and the furnishings and attention to detail are quite astounding.
It is like being invited inside one of those impressive film sets and finding that everything is even more perfect on the inside.
The themed accommodations all bear the names of famous (and infamous) Wild West personalities such as Billy the Kid, Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull and Wild Bill Hickok.
The parlour in Miss Nancy Ann's Hotel has plush velvet sofas and a beautiful old gramophone with a selection of playable records.
"Ladies can enjoy a glass of bubbles while the men amuse themselves in Clinton's Billiard Saloon," says Sarah.
Guests can then mosey over to the Lucky Strike Saloon for dinner which is prepared in the modern commercial kitchen cleverly hidden behind wooden panels.
The menu is hearty, Western-style tucker but the chef can cater for special dietary requirements as well.
There is also a high tech sound system and underfloor heating concealed within the framework of the buildings.
Texas Rose's Bathhouse looked especially appealing to me – deep cast iron bathtubs and a potbelly stove with sweet-smelling soaps, bath salts and fluffy towels at the ready.
Every good Western always had a bathtub scene but the facilities seldom looked as luxurious as these ones.
And here there is no risk that someone is likely to shoot you while you haven't got your gun.
There is accommodation for up to 26 people at Mellonsfolly and the Waterfall Mountain Courthouse also serves as a movie theatre or conference room.
It has been an absolute privilege to visit this unique place which can usually only be accessed if you are a paying guest.
So, if you are about to turn 60 or if you just love the Western genre then have a look at what Mellonsfolly has to offer.