We caught up with John Verga for the inside scoop on owning Funfields Theme Park, VR experiences on pirate ships and his favourite ride at Funfields.
Funfields [2365 Plenty Rd, Whittlesea] boasts some of Australia’s most exhilarating water rides. A large park consisting of wet and dry attractions, Funfields is set over 40 acres of stunning Victorian countryside and is located in Whittlesea, an hour north of Melbourne's CBD. Since its opening, Funfields has continued to grow and is now considered one of Victoria’s leading theme parks. We have over 24 rides and attractions, including thrill seeking rides and world record-setting waterslides; there’s something for everyone no matter the age. The park is not only ideal for a great day out, it is also perfect for parties, events, corporate functions, school excursions and family fun days. We were voted Victoria’s Hottest Theme Park last year by Park Chat Live and we’ve also made the Experience OZ Ultimate Victoria Top 100 Bucket List.
Back in 1987, Funfields [formerly the Alpine Toboggan Park] was purchased by our family as an investment in 40 acres of prime land on Plenty Road. At that stage, it only had the Toboggan Slide and two small waterslides.
My favourite thing has to be that we have achieved what we set out to do 32 years ago; to create not just a theme park but also a picnic park where families can spend quality time together and create some great memories. I lost both my parents before I was 10 years old, so this aspect is extremely important to me and the driving force behind all the decisions made to develop Funfields.
Growing up they absolutely loved coming to the park, especially when a new ride was installed and they got to try it out. As teenagers and then young adults, they both worked here on a casual basis while completing secondary school and university. Neither of them work here at the moment on our insistence. We want them to experience the world, to create their own network of friends, but down the line who knows what they’ll decide to do.
I don’t go on rides these days as often as I used to, and I’m definitely not a thrill seeker when it comes to rides. If there’s one ride however that I still enjoy, it’s our Alpine Toboggan Slide. The Toboggan Slide was the first attraction built at the park by the previous owners back in 1985 and it’s still extremely popular and one of our biggest drawcards.
Unlike myself, my business partners Angelo and Albert are like two big kids. Whenever we travel they go on the biggest and fastest rollercoasters and waterslides they can find, while I’m just content taking the photos. However, there is one ride at Funfields that neither of them have braved and that’s the Voodoo. It seems that being swept off their feet and hurtled 18 metres into the air in a looping, 360-degree frenzy is where they draw the line.
The Gravity Wave is the world’s biggest, longest and tallest Tornado Wave of its kind. The 201.16-metre-long shuttle blasts off from a 27.1-metre-high launch pad and propels riders at speeds of up to 24 feet per second. The Kraken Race is the world’s longest ProSlide Kraken Racer. It is the first of its kind in Australia and one of only 20 worldwide. Riders reach speeds of over 60kph – that is 17 metres per second! The Typhoon is the world’s longest ProSlide CannonBowl Water Slide. It boasts a length of 137 metres and includes both a single and double tube ride with a massive drop of nearly 19 metres. All three of these rides are world record-breaking waterslides and were built by Canadian company ProSlide. There are only five waterslides by ProSlide in Australia so we are pretty lucky to have so many here.
We offer a tantalising mix of wet and dry rides and is home to some of Australia’s most unique rides and experiences. The Voodoo, Zamperla’s 360-degree inversion ride is the only one in Australia and our swinging Pirate Ship is the only Huss ship operating in Australia and features a Virtual Reality Experience.
Another point of difference is that we have combined both a picnic park and a rides park. Patrons are quite welcome to bring in their own food and drinks, whether it’s a picnic lunch or a barbecue. We have 19 electric barbecues placed around the park for patrons to use.
The ideal day at the park starts off with plenty of the dry rides in the morning — think Toboggans, Go Karts, Voodoo, Pirate Ship, Mini Golf and Bumper Boats — followed by a BYO lunch or something from the great range available at the Food @ Funfields outdoor cafe. In the afternoon, shift bases to either one of our two water play areas or Volcano Beach and enjoy our range of wet rides. Top this off with a gelati or fresh juice from the Refresh Ice Cream parlour and there you have it.
Three years ago, we developed a Virtual Reality experience on our Pirate Ship Blackbeard’s Fury. To the best of our knowledge, we offer the only VR experience on a Pirate Ship in the World. We also get lots of patrons commenting that they’ve been on a similar Pirate Ship at SeaWorld on the Gold Coast. Not many know that it is, in fact, the actual ship from SeaWorld which we purchased around 2009.
When we survey patrons, one of the questions often is, “What was your favourite ride today?”. Most patrons have trouble picking out just one ride and end up saying that they love all of them. However, judging by queues, the Toboggan Slide and Go Karts are definite winners while Gravity Wave and Typhoon are big favourites for waterslides. The Volcano Beach Wave Pool is also now a huge drawcard. It is amazing how many people have never been in an outdoor wave pool.
We launched the Volcano Beach Outdoor Heated Wave Pool in December 2018. It’s a South Pacific-inspired attraction holding over 1.5 million litres of heated water, that pumps out waves up to one metre high and is the first outdoor heated wave pool in Victoria. The area also includes an area for young children as well as older thrill seekers, a food outlet, VIP huts and shaded areas for recreation and relaxation. We want visitors to imagine they’re in the middle of a warm tropical oasis – complete with surf, sun lounges, food service and more.
Haha, that’s for us to know and for you to find out! But on a serious note, we have been building at least one new attraction or making changes every year since 2009 and I suspect that the same will continue. As the old saying goes if you’re not growing, you’re dying!
We were Whittlesea locals for many years but once the kids grew up, got their licences and started travelling to Melbourne for university, we decided to move in a bit closer and for the last 8 years we’ve lived in Plenty.
Our favourite cafe in our area is Tancks Corner Cafe in Yarrambat.
Restaurant: Suwan Thai in Eltham.
Nature spot: Blue Lake in Plenty.
Picnic spot: Anywhere in the mountains.
Hidden gem: Hawkstowe Park in South Morang.
All information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication.
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