Village Roadshow goes to Africa

The latest in a string of expansions of their theme park operations, Village Roadshow have unveiled their plans to convert a Victorian zoo into a full theme park along the lines of other hybrid zoo/theme parks such as Disney's Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens Africa.

Image: Richard Wilson. Pictured: Village Roadshow looks at expanding Werribee Opel Range Zoo into a major African theme park such as Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Melbourne's Sunday Herald reports that the $220 million development will combine the Zoo's existing African style zoo with major thrill rides and attractions to create Victoria's first major theme park.

The 40 hectare development is expected to attract 1.3 million visitors a year – in line with the Gold Coast parks' individual attendance – the majority of which from interstate and overseas. Attractions listed in the Sunday Herald include a major safari tour – no doubt similar to those at Animal Kingdom or Busch Gardens – as well as a roller coaster purported to be Australia's greatest, water rides and a range of other attractions and animal exhibits.

Village hope that they can get underway with construction by next year in time for a 2010 opening.

The plans were unveiled by Village Roadshow's  International Theme Parks CEO John Harnden, known in Victoria for his involvement with the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the Australian Grand Prix.

Florida's Busch Gardens Africa is home to a range of African themed rides, attractions and animal exhibits.
Village Roadshow's theme park division, Warner Village Theme Parks, operates the Gold Coast's Sea World, Warner Bros. Movie World and Wet'n'Wild Water World. Since gaining full ownership of their Gold Coast operations in 2006, they have pursued many other tourism operations, recently acquiring Sydney Attractions Group, the Auckland Aquarium and a foray into the US market with the purchase of Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park.

Missed messages are coming from the Werribee Open Range Zoo's operators, Zoos Victoria. The organisation released a statement over the weekend suggesting that the plans are unsatisfactory, under the impression that Village wants to take full control of the zoo. However CEO Andrew Fairley this morning has suggested that Zoos Victoria would be eager to work on a proposal that sees the Zoo and Village's theme park working side by side.

Village's renderings of their plans show the Zoo and theme park being fully integrated on the existing property.

The renderings show a park heavily influenced by the design and attraction style of Busch Gardens Africa with extensively landscaped grounds, African style buildings and a number of major rides reminiscent of those at Busch. The Florida park is home to three Bolliger & Mabillard roller coasters as its major thrill rides. The Swiss company is widely regarded as the best roller coaster manufacturer in the world, though Australian parks are yet to build one.

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