A popular tourist spot on the West Coast of New Zealand has been revealed as the location of an underground cannabis bunker that caused a stir back in 2019.
Local police busted a “sophisticated cannabis-growing operation” located in a large bunker seven metres underground and seized around $5 million in assets including a large number of firearms back in September 2019.
A police media release posted a the time of the bust said a 63-year-old man was arrested and charged with cultivating cannabis as well as selling cannabis.
The man appeared at Greymouth District Court where he was released on bail and granted interim name suppression, which has since lapsed.
New Zealand media outlet Stuff has now revealed that the bunker was located beneath a popular tourism operation known as Cowboy Paradise, and the man arrested was its owner, Michael Kevin Milne.
Located near Hokitika, Cowboy Paradise includes a shooting range, accommodation and a saloon.
It is also marked as an accommodation provider for the West Coast Wilderness Trail, a six-kilometre cycling trail that attracts around 10,000 tourists a year.
According to locals, the bust followed almost a decade of rumours and complaints from those living nearby.
At the time of the arrest, Westland mayor Bruce Smith told Stuff that he believed the bunker was 24 metres long by 12 metres wide, and buried seven metres underground.
The Wild-West-themed venue was shut down by the local council in 2016 over concerns for public safety, but the dispute was resolved after Milne signed an easement for a cycle trail through his land.
Stuff reported that the council has received complaints about buildings on the property not being up to consent standards, and Milne was given a list of 14 concerns around ventilation, accessibility, roofing and heating.
It is also reported that Milne had plans to build a wild-west ‘town’ on the 700-hectare property, complete with 57 buildings including bard, restaurants, accommodation and a function room along with a 500m main street.
The project was left unfinished following his arrest in 2019.
Featured image source: cowboyparadise.co.nz