The countdown is on for the all-clear to reopen Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary that houses big cats after nearly seven years - and Northland's tourism and business leaders couldn't be more excited.
Remedial work is nearly complete and park owners Bolton Equities are waiting for the final sign-off from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) which first ordered the once-popular tourist drawcard to close in mid 2014.
The closure was to enable the upgrade of animal enclosures to meet new standards.
Bolton Equities has spent more than $1 million on remedial work since taking over from the previous owners, Earth Crest, in mid 2014.
The park has 27 animals: 19 lions, five tigers, two cheetahs and a leopard.
Laurie Margrain, one of the trustees of Bolton Equities, said the countdown towards re-opening the park had started and a date was "very close".
"We are extremely hopeful that will be done before Christmas. The moment we have a new date, we'll let you know."
Margrain wasn't prepared to say much at this stage but said once the park re-opened, more information would be provided.
Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary operations' director Janette Vallance said unfortunately, the business was not in a position to announce an opening date until they got through the last section of work, had it approved and then had its final audit and approval process with MPI.
Margrain said the animals were in good health and none had to be moved elsewhere while remedial work was being undertaken.
Alan Cook, New Zealand Food Safety verification services director said MPI had been working with the Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary regarding requirements for re-opening the facility and continued to do so.
New Zealand Food Safety merged with MPI in 2012.
"Significant work has been done by the sanctuary and we expect that the remaining required changes will be completed soon," Cook said.
Kamo Community Inc chairman Colin Twyman said there was a lot of interest in the park and local businesses could not wait for it to re-open.
"Kamo has a nice little village and hopefully people who visit the park will be able to support local businesses here. Anything like that is going to be good for the village. Once they re-open, we'll join forces to promote them and us."
Twyman said the Kamo business community had its meeting yesterday to discuss the upcoming busy summer and how to cope with an influx of domestic travellers.
Northland tourism leader Jeroen Jongenjans said the re-opening of the park was fantastic news for the local economy that, to a large extent, relied on New Zealand visitors as the borders were closed because of Covid-19.
"It's one of the places families can go to and the park could attract a lot of visitors heading north. During rough seas in a rough day, people can take an umbrella and go to the lion park.
"It's not weather dependent and adds to a nice bit to the puzzle. We have arts, the Hihiaua Peninsula, Hundertwasser, and other places to visit and the park - just two hours from Auckland - will provide a smorgasbord of experiences for visitors to Whangārei," he said.
With the popularity of Lion Man Craig Busch and the television series he shot in the past, Jongejans said the park with big cats in the wild appealed to a lot of people, both in and outside Northland.
He said once the park owners attracted a steady stream of visitors on a regular basis, there would be more opportunities to build on other tourism opportunities around it.
"Whether they are 4 years old or 14 years old, they can all visit a place like that. Grandparents can also come along. It's easy to enjoy, there are no barriers. Kamo township will benefit as well because people will have to drive through it to go to the park," Jongejans said.
The park was formerly known as Zion Wildlife Gardens, and was once owned by TV's Lion Man Craig Busch.
Tragedy struck the park in May 2009 when big cat handler Dalu Mncube was mauled to death by a 260kg white tiger in an enclosure as horrified visitors watched.