Nobody’s getting on this yellow brick road during lockdown. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Nobody’s getting on this yellow brick road during lockdown. (Image: Tina Tiller)

BusinessSeptember 1, 2021

That lockdown kind of magic: When Rainbow’s End meets level four

Nobody’s getting on this yellow brick road during lockdown. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Nobody’s getting on this yellow brick road during lockdown. (Image: Tina Tiller)

The fun never stops at Rainbow’s End – until it absolutely has to. Sam Brooks talked to the boss of New Zealand’s biggest theme park about what happens to the magic during lockdown.

On an average day at Rainbow’s End, the air is full of piercing screams as people are thrown through the air, laughs as they’re drenched with log flume water, and the dulcet tones of whoever is performing on the stage in the middle of the park.

In level four, Rainbow’s End is silent. Suddenly the park, which usually draws anywhere between 1,500 and 1,800 guests a day, is empty. There are no guests, no workers, and every ride lays dormant. Even the infernal ribbits of the frog that stands sentinel on the log flume are nowhere to be heard.

When the first case in the latest Covid-19 outbreak was announced, Rainbow’s End snapped to attention like a leprechaun having his pot of gold snatched away from him. The moment that a press conference was announced, CEO Karen Crabb, like many of us, assumed that the country would be going into lockdown.

The park quickly whipped into action in order to get out of action. “We knew what we needed to do, so it was very calm and organised,” Crabb says. “Communications went out to our team, our managers, our board and our customers within a couple of hours.” The park would be closed, secured, and all further communications would be done via online channels. 

Rainbow’s End has a staff of nearly 300, from the frontline ride operators, through to marketing and administration, to strategy and planning. When the lockdown was announced, the catering team went in and cleared out all the fridges to pack away or distribute to the staff, while the marketing team got onto updating the park’s surprisingly robust pages for what goes on during lockdowns.

Although it’s a lot to manage, Crabb stresses there was a lot more to work the first time the park experienced lockdown. “This time everyone knows what they need to do. Everyone works on their priorities, their areas, and we all keep in really good contact with each other through text, phone or dial-ins, whatever it might be.”

Rainbow’s End under happier, non-lockdown times. (Photo: Supplied)

The park, obviously, is closed. The only person who goes onsite, other than security checks from an external agency, is a maintenance person who goes in once a day. “They literally pop in for 10 minutes, to just do a check of compressors, pumps and all that kind of stuff, to make sure it’s nice and safe.”

Unfortunately, while the rides are checked, it’s not as though there’s one lucky staffer who gets to ride them alone throughout lockdown. “I don’t think that would go down very well,” Crabb laughs. “All they do is go down and make sure that the rides are doing their thing, but nobody’s testing the rollercoaster, I’m afraid.”

The only worker who remains on site throughout level four? Nala, the park tabby cat (sorry log flume toad, see you at level two!). Nala lives at Rainbow’s End, and whatever maintenance worker is in that day feeds her whenever they visit. According to the park’s site, security doesn’t just monitor the safety of the park, but ensures that Nala is receiving “sufficient pats”. (Sadly, there are no photos of Nala available, but PR confirms that she looks like a normal tabby, though “sometimes a bit chonkier”.)

Beyond the park, there’s still a lot of remote work going on. While the administrative and planning teams continue their normal work, much of the workload for front-facing workers goes into training and upskilling. Last year, the park found training online worked incredibly well for them. Instead of using their rostered hours to go into the park, workers used those hours to complete their training. 

Crabb compares it to the online learning that school students are doing. “With everyone who works with us, there’s a huge amount of training that they have to do before they’re able to work with us. We train you before you start, we train during the job.” In the two weeks of lockdown that have passed, the park’s 277 staff have completed a whopping 6,061 individual training modules, ranging from the expected (health and safety) to more specific things like how to scoop ice cream and the recipes for the on-site hamburgers.

Enjoying the log flume, outside of lockdown (Photo: Supplied)

When Auckland moves to level three, Rainbow’s End will move into getting ready to open again. While workers won’t have to come into work, Rainbow’s End will give employees the opportunity to work their shifts and tend to the park.“The biggest issue for us is honestly not the rides,” says Crabb. “It’s the weeds, the sweeping, and all that kind of stuff that needs to happen.”

From level three, the park can open within 24 hours’ notice. “It would just be a matter of if we thought it was clean and tidy enough for people to come and enjoy the day, but we would.” Once the park is in level two, the usual restrictions on capacity and social distancing will stay in place, and if punters want to visit the park, they have to book their ticket in advance.

There’s light at the end of the lockdown for Rainbow’s End, though. The park still plans to launch its City Strike Laser Tag Arena (zombie themed!) in October, open new lolly shops that same month, and a new character is currently on a boat on the way from China, ready to join fellow castmates Rai, Bow and Sir Prised Alot when they can safely open again. 

Until then, though, Nala remains the only worker on site. I hope she’s enjoying the lack of lines – while they last.

Keep going!