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In Memory of Deer Park Heights

This week, I was commenting on A Dangerous Business’ great photo of the Remarkables when I found out something that really saddened me…Queenstown’s Deer Park Heights has been permanently closed.

Stunning scenery at Deer Park Heights

Stunning scenery at Deer Park Heights.

Deer Park Heights was one of my favourite places in Queenstown. Not only could you get some of the most stunning views possible of the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau, and Queenstown itself, but you could feed the “wildlife” and visit a plethora of Lord of the Rings filming sights as well. I had so much fun there on my first visit in 2005 that I made a point of going back three years later as well.

Inquisitive AlpacaSilly goat
An inquisitive alpaca checks out our car…followed by a goat a few minutes later.

My first trip was the second half of a Lord of the Rings day trip around Queenstown. The morning half of the trip took us up Lake Wakatipu to Twelve Mile Delta, Glenorchy, and Paradise, which were all stunning locations even without the additional intrigue of them being Lord of the Rings locations (for those that are interested, the locations were (a) where Sam and Frodo first saw the Oliphaunts, (b) Isengard, and (c) Lothlorien). The second trip was simply the result of a friend asking what we could do in Queenstown that was reasonably cheap ($20 entrance fee per car).

Donkeys, donkeys, donkeysAnd what's on your dashboard?Donkeys get up close and personal with any car that’s going slow enough!

The first thing that struck me when entering Deer Park Heights was the sheer number of animals wandering around. This is only amplified when in a small car rather than a large Deer Park Safaris bus! Occasionally herds of goats or a yak would block the road and we’d have to nudge forward to scatter them and continue on. Open your windows at peril–you might end up with a donkey licking your steering wheel or gnawing at the cover on your dashboard!

Making an Ass of HimselfA hog doing a donkey impression
He’s making an ass of himself…and the hog is doing a good impression.

There are a few stops along the way where you can actually get out and feed these animals too (for $2). I’m sure the donkeys get fed way too much — they were very good at shoving all of the smaller animals and even the Shetland pony out of the way — but they sure didn’t act like it. The photo above was taken when the donkeys were straining for someone, anyone, to give them a little morsel of food.

The Kawarau

The Kawarau River valley.

No less striking were the stunning views that just got better as we got closer to the top of the Heights.To the northeast was the Kawarau River basin, a tiny blue line cutting through a verdant green landscape. To the east were the Remarkables, a mountain range that truly lives up to its name (which our guide told us was because they are one of the few mountain ranges in the world that run directly north-south). To the west was the gorgeous blue of Lake Wakatipu, its arms separated by tall, rolling hills. It was difficult to get back into the car at each viewpoint, and the bonus of my second trip was that we didn’t have to. We could stand and stare in awe for as long as we wanted!

The set of "The Rescue"

The Korean prison used in “The Rescue.”

Surprisingly, I also got to see a piece of Disney history in Deer Park Heights. I was completely unaware that Disney had made a film about a Korean prison in the late 80s, but the evidence of The Rescue’s filming was there. Apparently they filmed there for nearly a month and then left the set for posterity. Unfortunately, as most buildings do when they aren’t kept up, it fell into disrepair and was surrounded in fences to keep people away from the crumbling building. It made for some interesting pictures of communist murals against a beautiful backdrop…but also showed why the NZ government mandated all future film sets (including those from The Lord of the Rings) get pulled down.

Even though we couldn’t see the actual Lord of the Rings sets, there were still many stops where I could picture myself in an exact scene from the movie. These included:

The Mountain TarnThe mountain tarn (which Peter Jackson made look like a giant lake) that the Rohirrim walked around on their exodus from Edoras (The Two Towers)

HillsThe hills that the wargs ran down to attack Aragorn and the Rohirrim as they walked to Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)

Being an LOTR dorkThe cliff that Aragorn fell off of shortly after (one of my most disliked scenes from The Two Towers…but yes, I still took a picture “falling off” the cliff)

Lake WakatipuThe “river” that Aragorn sees Sauron’s minions pillaging when he emerges from the Paths of the Dead (The Return of the King)

All of this has been closed to Queenstown visitors since 2009, and there is no plan to reopen because the owner is now in his nineties and cannot handle the attraction. His grandson has commented regarding the family’s intentions for Deer Park Heights below.

I still hope that, one day in the future, it will reopen so more visitors — LOTR and non-LOTR fans alike — can spend many more afternoons here, being harrassed by donkeys and goats while they try to snap a picture of the view!

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52 Responses to In Memory of Deer Park Heights

  1. Liesl July 24, 2012 at 6:59 am Reply

    Just got back from a weekend visit to Queenstown and were surprised to find Deer Park closed. Have not been there for 3 years and wanted to go visit the stunning views we remembered. Weirdly there were not even any signs. We wondered whether they were closed due to filming or something. Thank you for you post. We too are great fans of the ex deer park.

    • Kristin July 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Liesl! It’s really sad that you couldn’t go back and see the views. I haven’t been to Queenstown since Deer Park closed but I know I would be sad driving past it too! It’s odd that they haven’t put signs up at all — you would think that they would at least have something at the entrance that says what’s going on. I hope that one day they can find someone to sell the property to that will understand the value of tourism there and reopen it to the public!

  2. Ken November 7, 2012 at 12:08 am Reply

    Gutted to see this has closed. I was also out there in 2005 and was one of the highlights of my trip and the best thing in Queenstown! Loads of great photos and the North Korean prison on the top of the hill was a massive surprise! Planning to go back next year to NZ and I am gutted its not open. Hope it opens again one day!

    • Kristin November 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm Reply

      Hi Ken, thanks for your comment! I was really gutted to see that it had closed too. It was becoming a regular stop on my visits to Queenstown, so I can only hope that it eventually reopens so we can all go back and get even more photos!

      The North Korean prison really was a surprise, wasn’t it? I totally wasn’t expecting something like that in the middle of a wildlife reserve!

      Hope you have a great trip back to NZ next year. I’m hoping to work it into my plans for next year as well. Are you planning on going back to the South Island or up to the North as well?

  3. Luke Chapman April 15, 2013 at 10:34 am Reply

    I was really sad to see this spot had closed down when I went to NZ last. I was really looking forward to getting some amazing photos there!

    • Kristin April 20, 2013 at 5:33 am Reply

      It’s really sad that you didn’t get to go there before it closed! I know I’d be sad going back to Queenstown now knowing that I can’t go up there. Here’s hoping that someday they sell the property to someone that sees its value to the public and reopens it!

  4. George Dickson May 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm Reply

    Hi i am the grandson of the People who closed the Deer Park 😀 and im happy to see that you are seeking a return of deer park heights and i reassure you that if not me but other family members will re-open deer park heights.

    • Kristin May 22, 2013 at 11:18 pm Reply

      Hi George, thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear that you and your family members want to reopen Deer Park Heights. It really is a treasure for Queenstown and a place that many people have been very sad to see closed. I hope you’re able to make it happen…and I hope your grandparents are enjoying their retirement too!

    • Dennis October 9, 2013 at 2:11 am Reply

      George Dickson, In a nation stuffed with beautiful things, for me Deer Park was close to the top of that list. Every time I traveled to NZ from the US, going to Deer Park had to be in the itinerary. It was a place of beauty and mystery. There use to be 3 American buffalo in their own paddock, high up on the mountain with a 180 degree view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu..drop deep gorgeous view across the pasture. But as you were feeding the buffalo from your 2 gallon can, you couldn’t help but wonder how the heck these buffalo even got here. What a tale they must have. Those buffalo were undoubtedly the luckiest buffalo that ever lived. So into the car an around the next bend you go and there would be a yak wandering along the road. A yak? Wandering? Whoa,how incredible is that? When I think about it now, a small smile and a shake of the head come along with it.
      George, what ever the future may hold for your family and this property, shake your Grandpa’s hand for me and thank him for letting us all in to his mountain so at least once in our lives we could see such a wonderful place.

      • Kristin November 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm Reply

        Dennis, thank you for such an eloquent, beautiful comment. You have summed up so many people’s thoughts on Deer Park exactly. We’re lucky to have been allowed to visit when we did!

    • Matt Meiers December 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm Reply

      Hi George,

      I was wondering if you could please send me an email to establish correspondence about your grandparents property?

      It would really mean a lot

      Cheers
      Matt

    • Christina June 29, 2015 at 1:50 pm Reply

      Hi George

      Is there any chance that your family members would like to communicate with me about your grandparents Deer Park in Queenstown.

      I am looking forward to your reply.

      Kind regards,

      Christina

  5. Matthew Meiers July 21, 2013 at 5:46 pm Reply

    Hi,

    I wish I could get access to Deer Park Heights for purely selfish reasons.

    18 months ago, my now wife and I decided due to family pressures and politics to elope to New Zealand to get married at Lake Tekapo.

    We took our parents and a select group of friends and family with us and had a delightful ceremony.

    We have holidayed in New Zealand a few times before, and had visited Deer Park heights every time.
    I have a couple of photos of my ‘then girlfriend/now wife’ sitting on the edge of the summit. And after our ceremony we convoyed to Queenstown hoping to redress in wedding costume the following morning for me to get photos of my bride in the same location as my favourite photo of her in her wedding dress.

    I was crushed, when we found we could not access the park. I personally felt to blame as I had not checked to see if the property was still open. Although no one blamed me, I was definitely dismayed.

    What I am hoping, is to be able to contact the owners of the Park themselves and plead my case to them directly for myself and approx 6 family and friends to gain access for some photographs and recreate what I didn’t get to achieve those months ago.

    I still feel like I let my wife down a little bit.

    I hope that someone can contact me on [email protected]
    Please, it would mean so much to me. And to my wife.

    I am dearly hoping that I can surprise her with this as an anniversary present.

    Cheers
    Matt

    • Kristin December 8, 2013 at 9:25 pm Reply

      Hi Matt, many apologies for not replying when you first posted this comment. It’s really sad to hear that you weren’t able to get the wedding photos you wanted as Deer Park Heights was closed! Unfortunately I can’t put you in touch with the owners of Deer Park Heights — the only thing I can suggest is to reply to George Dickson above as he is the grandchild of the owners. However, I don’t think he has the ability to let anyone into the park at this time, although he has expressed his wishes to get Deer Park reopened in the future so people can come back and enjoy it.

      I definitely don’t think you should feel like you let your wife down! I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help with an anniversary present for her, but hopefully it will be able to happen sometime in the future.

      • Matt Meiers December 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm Reply

        Thanks Kristin!
        I have replied to George’s comment above.
        Here’s hoping!

        Cheers
        Matt

        • Kristin January 6, 2014 at 9:55 pm Reply

          Yes, here’s hoping Matt! Hopefully you guys are able to sort something out!

  6. Jason August 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm Reply

    I just returned from Queenstown and wanted to take my kids to see the animals and take in the beautiful views once more. We drove into Kelvin Heights and couldn’t see any signs. In the end we stopped a local who was out for a walk and asked. Was very sad and disappointed when we heard that it was closed. Hopefully the NZ government reopens as a lookout/reserve if not an animal park.

    • Kristin September 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm Reply

      Hi Jason, thanks very much for your comment and it’s sad to hear that you were disappointed in Queenstown. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like it’s very well signed that the park is closed off — it would be nice if it was made clearer to stop tourists like yourself from going over there and trying to figure out what’s going on! It’s still a privately owned property so the NZ government currently doesn’t have the ability to reopen it, but having talked to the grandson of the owners of the property, they do have intentions to reopen it at some time in the future (although there’s no definitive timeframe). I hope you and your kids still enjoyed Queenstown though!

  7. Chris Bewes October 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Dennis – my sentiments exactly. A piece of paradise on earth and I am very grateful that I visited several years ago. The clang of a dropped coin into the food dispenser was all that it took to induce a large number of extraordinary animals to hastily and greedily visit us – up very close! Cannot remember having more fun than in this amazing place!

    • Kristin November 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm Reply

      So good to hear that you were able to enjoy a visit to Deer Park Heights before it closed Chris. I totally agree that all it took was that clang to get all the animals going crazy — it really was a sight to see!

  8. Felix November 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm Reply

    When my then girlfriend (now wife) were in Queenstown after doing the Milford Trek a number of years ago, we were doing the usual touristy things when the front desk at our hostel suggested Deer Park Heights. We hadn’t heard about it, and from the pamphlet description sounded like a horrifically uninteresting over-sized petting zoo. Thankfully, the front desk persisted and essentially shoved us in the direction of Deer Park Heights. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. It was vast, unspoilt, and beautiful, and throughout our entire time at the park, we didn’t see a single other human being. There were animals everywhere, and they looked well taken care of. A moment I will never forget is a massive Bison crossing the path of our car, and stopping there, staring at us with steam coming out of its nostrils. We’ve since told everyone heading to NZ to go, and were quite crushed when we heard it was closing. We’ve always wanted to go back, and hope that it will open again, and maybe this time around, they will market themselves a little bit better. I’d pick Deer Park Heights over any of the other touristy activities available at Queenstown.

    • Kristin November 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm Reply

      I agree, Felix, that Deer Park Heights didn’t seem super exciting from the brochures. I mainly went there for the LOTR connection but I loved the place itself by the time I left! It’s wonderful to hear so many personal stories about the place from so many people that have enjoyed it over the years. That bison with steam coming out of his nostrils definitely sounds like a sight to remember!

      Hopefully all the stories like this will inspire the owner’s family as well. I know they are keen to get it reopened sometime in the future, and hearing how many people it’s touched will only help that!

  9. Tim Simmonds September 22, 2014 at 7:58 am Reply

    Hi Kristin,
    I found my way here looking for info to whether the park had re-opened or not. I’d heard that it had closed since my visit in 2007 but my sister is planning a trip in October so I was going to recommend it. I and my kids loved it there… the amazing views, feeding the animals…and not forgetting the LOTR locations! 🙂 We only stayed in QT for 3 days but visited the park twice. Here’s hoping that George’s family will re-open it some day. Thanks for the memories 🙂
    Tim

    • Kristin October 1, 2014 at 1:15 pm Reply

      Hi Tim, thanks so much for sharing your memories of Deer Park Heights too! It’s great to hear you loved it that much — I’m also in the camp of people that have visited on more than one occasion because they enjoyed it so much the first time! I know George’s family has been vocal on their hopes to reopen the park one day, so here’s hoping that people like you sharing their memories of the spot helps them open it that much sooner.

  10. Harrison Shen March 6, 2015 at 8:41 pm Reply

    We are planning of going around South Island in April this year, and really hope the park will be reopened / accessible to some extent by then!!

    • Kristin March 7, 2015 at 8:21 am Reply

      Hi Harrison, as far as I know, Deer Park Heights is unfortunately still closed. I know it can be opened on special request, but those special requests tend to come from people like Trey Ratcliff (a pro photographer who describes his experience there at http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2013/07/22/the-view-from-deer-park-heights-in-new-zealand/).

      • Matt March 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm Reply

        I did get in contact eventually with some stalking with someone that could get me access to the park as I deemed my earlier ideas of recreating a wedding day photo worthwhile.

        However, from their reaction of ‘yeah no worries, but I want $1000’ turned me off it immediately.

        Good luck, I hope it does reopen.

        • Kristin March 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm Reply

          That’s unfortunate to hear that sorting out a return trip to Deer Park Heights didn’t work out Matt. $1000 is definitely a very steep price (one that I wouldn’t pay for a day trip despite loving Deer Park Heights) but I guess if the park isn’t running on a daily basis it’s hard to estimate what their costs would be to get it all organised for visitors for the day. I know it’s possible since Trey Ratcliff did it but he’s got a bit more influence than you or me!

      • Harrison Shen March 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm Reply

        Thanks very much Kristin for your response, don’t think it would be reopened that soon then… sigh

        • Kristin March 10, 2015 at 7:40 am Reply

          Unfortunately it seems like it probably won’t be Harrison. After my most recent trip to Queenstown, I highly recommend going up the chairlift to the top of Coronet Peak instead. The lake is only just visible from there (since it’s much further out of town) but the views are incredible and there are a lot less people than at the top of the Queenstown Gondola.

  11. Deer Park Heights July 25, 2015 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Not many people have been very respectful of the of the perspective of the reasoning behind the closing of Deer Park. Frank was born in 1922 and opened the park in 1970. This would make this distinguished man 93 years of age, Frank has worked hard his entire life and retired at the age of 82. Deer Park Height is Private land that has been granted a Zoo License, and is not owned by the NZ GOVERNMENT. People may gain access to the property from granted permission but does not mean any person could ask. There is communication and radio towersrations up there that need to be maintained and some companies may have their own key. Anyone that gains access without grant from direct link to Deer Park heights will be confronted by law enforcement. Deer Park Heights will not be reopened within the foreseeable future. The comments of appreciation have been knowledged and condolences for who wish to go back there.

    • Kristin July 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm Reply

      Hi George, I don’t believe that anyone here is trying to disrespect your grandfather. He did some great work and created a wonderful attraction that many people miss, which is how they end up on this blog post. I think there has been some misinformation in the past about who can gain access to the site, so it’s good for you to clear it up that it is not opened by request, as well as the fact that it won’t be opened in the foreseeable future (since the last time you commented you said that the grandchildren are hoping to reopen it when they can). I will update the post to say as much.

      I’m really sorry that you feel this way and I do hope that you see that this is a post (and comments) in appreciation of what your grandfather worked so hard to build.

    • Megan Ward June 29, 2016 at 10:41 pm Reply

      Please, please reconsider opening the park.
      I have just learned that it is closed and remember extremely fondly my trip there in 2003. I got married this year and booked our honeymoon trip to Queenstown with the idea of bringing my new husband to Deer Park Heights as it was the highlight of all my holidays as a child. He has never been to NZ before and was really excited to see this wondrous place I described.

      I am beyond devastated that it is no longer open. I am actually in tears. There must be so many people out there that would gladly spend their money to visit the park. Surely you can look into someone coming in to manage it or help with the running of it.

      it is a massive loss to each and every tourist that visits the South Island every year.

      • Kristin September 17, 2016 at 5:10 am Reply

        Hi Megan, I’m so sorry to hear that the closure has affected you so deeply. Deer Park Heights really is a lovely place that has provided a lot of people with great memories. As far as I know, there is no current plan to reopen the park due to the owners being too old to handle the park’s management, but I do know that the family has seen the many messages of support for Deer Park.

  12. Tjc October 15, 2015 at 3:44 pm Reply

    I wish it were still open, I’ve never been there and now live in Brisbane and was hoping to take my Aussie born baby there one day! My husband & I are both North Island born & bred and neither have been to Queenstown so would have been a nice family holiday! What a beautiful looking place!

    • Kristin October 21, 2015 at 8:45 pm Reply

      Hi Tjc, that would have been a lovely trip! Unfortunately the family have indicated that there is no intention to reopen the park in the near future, but hopefully you can still have a nice family trip to Queenstown anyway! Both the Remarkables drive and Coronet Peak offer some pretty stunning views (although I personally only recommend driving the roads in summer, when they are much easier to navigate).

  13. Dan Thompson March 14, 2016 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Nooooo!!!! Deer Park Heights was one of my favorite places in New Zealand! I was just recommending a friend to go there when I found your article (I couldn’t remember how they spelled it).

    So sad. Your pictures brought back great memories though! That crazy pig that hung out at the feed dispenser had my wife and I laughing for days.

    Dan

    • Kristin March 30, 2016 at 4:15 pm Reply

      Hi Dan! I know how you feel since it was one of my favourite places too! Glad you have some good memories of it before it shut down. And wasn’t that pig a hoot?! I loved him and the donkeys 🙂

  14. Keith April 4, 2016 at 2:18 pm Reply

    What a great article and beautiful photos!
    I’m a huge LOTR fan and a nature lover. I’ve been to Queenstown a couple of times in the past 2 years with the hope that Deer Park Heights would be open yet again 🙁
    I’ve seen every other filming location in Queenstown and surrounds but have never had the chance to go to Deer Park Heights as I was too young before it closed!
    Still hoping one day soon it will be open again, although I completely understand the reasons behind it.
    Any more updates at all other than the comments above?

    Keith

    • Kristin April 4, 2016 at 6:25 pm Reply

      Hi Keith! Thanks very much for checking out my post and it’s great to hear from a fellow LOTR and nature lover. It’s sad to hear that you were never able to go to Deer Park Heights, especially if you’re aiming to see all the LOTR filming sites around Queenstown (and that’s quite a mission in itself)! Unfortunately, there have been no further updates other than what you’ve seen above; from what I know, there are no intentions for the park to re-open at this stage.

  15. Ignatius June 19, 2016 at 9:34 pm Reply

    Hi Kristin,

    Thanks for your article and it aroused a lot of my good memories. I felt exactly the same as you described when I visited Deer Park ten years ago. I am planning to visit NZ South Island again later this year and that’s why I reached your article. Thanks again for your sharing and, as most people here, wish that the amazing Deer Park will be re-opened very very soon!

    • Kristin September 17, 2016 at 5:07 am Reply

      Hi Ignatius, it’s great to hear that you have fond memories of Deer Park Heights as well! I hope you have a fantastic time on your return trip to the South Island 🙂

  16. Alex Liao August 7, 2016 at 4:25 am Reply

    Noooooo! I remember once in the 90s my family and I saw two massive tour buses with whom must’ve been Bollywood big shots shooting a scene up there! I hope it’s reopened soon!

    • Kristin September 17, 2016 at 5:01 am Reply

      That’s pretty cool Alex! I definitely didn’t see a Bollywood movie filming when I was there so that’s something very different!

  17. Ian McMeeking February 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm Reply

    I visited Deer Park Heights twice, once around 1972 when I was 9 years old (& my most vivid memory, supported by photographs, is being surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of [friendly] goats) and again around 2000 when the more exotic animals were present.

    It was a wonderful place and will always remain in my memories.

    • Kristin February 7, 2017 at 5:17 am Reply

      Great to hear your lovely memories of Deer Park Ian! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Lindsey M March 30, 2017 at 5:43 am Reply

    Completely gutted Deer Park Heights is closed. One of my favourite places in New Zealand. I lived in Queenstown for 3 months 11 years ago and frequently visited DPH during this time. Didn’t realise it closed and was just recommending places for my friend to visit on her upcoming trip to NZ.

    • Kristin April 1, 2017 at 11:12 am Reply

      Glad to hear you at least have good memories of Deer Park Heights though! 🙂 It’s a place a lot of people remember fondly.

  19. Jordan Von Hagen April 26, 2017 at 2:59 pm Reply

    So sad to hear about this! I lived in chch and went to Deer Park Heights back in 2005 with my family and I was only 10. I’ve since moved to Australia but am taking my bestfriend back to see where I grew up and we’re road tripping to Queenstown and I wanted to take her to see such a beautiful place! The memories I have of it are wonderful, and it’s a place that instilled my fear of goats as we were swarmed by them while they tried to get the food from us, and as a LoTR buff it was right up my ally, Such a shame, but I’ll be keeping my eye on this to see if it re-opens.

  20. Mark Ma August 25, 2017 at 5:11 pm Reply

    No!!! I just plan to revist south island next year Feb, Deer park is the most impressive memory of my 2007 NZ trip.

    but I respect the land owner’s decision.

    hopefully oneday we can revisit the place.

  21. Ian McGimpsey September 25, 2017 at 4:12 pm Reply

    I was a Nomads Safari guide in the early 2000s doing LOTR Trips around Queenstown. Deer Park Heights was a great location and just the views just blew the clients away. I now tell tourist about it from Frankton Road. No where near as good as being up there. Brought the DVD of The Rescue just to get the views anytime I wish. Gypsy Mac

  22. Min December 6, 2017 at 12:58 am Reply

    I felt so terrible right now!! Deer Park Heights was my only memory in Queenstown 10 years ago, I was planning to visit Queenstown the next month and hope to bring my girlfriend along, but that is not going to happen now 🙁 I still remember the goats going into our caravan and llamas poking at me, it was a lot of fun. I do hope they will reopen someday

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