ESCAPE FROM A NORTH KOREAN PRISON
Please enjoy the following guest post from Black Fox compadre Money Mark …
‘The thieves. The thieves. The filthy little thieves,’ says Gollum, as the hobbits steal what is rightfully his. And that’s how, in our imaginative minds, we envisaged the owner of Deer Park Heights felt as we snuck into his mountain to steal a glimpse at the treasure which rested atop.
We were in Queenstown, New Zealand, and we had two aims for this holiday:
1. To eat as many Fergburgers as possible
2. To sneak into Deer Park Heights and see the treasure atop the mountain
Deer Park Heights is an 800 hectare park, easily accessed from Queenstown. You can literally see it from anywhere in Queenstown. Previously, for NZ$20 you could drive around the park at your own pace, stopping where you liked to feed the animals and enjoy the views. There were many types of animals in the park: bison, llama, goats, sheep, donkeys, miniature horses (hell yeah!!) and something called a Himalayan tar. If anyone knows what a Himalayan tar is without using Google, I will be very impressed. Feel free to use other search engines though; Ask Jeeves perhaps? Does anyone remember that crazy butler? Is he still around?
Anyway, at the top of the park was our treasure. Well, we hoped it was still there. It was a Korean prison built in 1986 for the Disney film The Rescue. The Rescue currently rates a solid (but not flashy) 4.4 out of 10 at IMDB—but I assume that’s still higher than Transformers 2.
The prison took three-and-a-half months to construct, at a cost of NZ$1 million, and was used for over 20 days of filming. With a budget of $18 million, the film was a straight-to-video release and had the tagline: ‘An elite US Navy Special Forces team is imprisoned behind North Korean lines. The Pentagon calls them expendable. Five young heroes call them Dad. Now they’ll risk their lives to being them home.’
I would have eaten that up as a kid.
Our first view of Deer Park came right as we landed in Queenstown, as (unbeknownst to us) it’s essentially right next to the airport. We straight away jumped in a taxi from the airport into town. The road circled around Deer Park Heights, which was in turn circled by a giant lake. It looked beautiful with its reflection in the water, but it really was dwarfed in scale by The Remarkables mountain range behind it. Here in Queenstown we are in true Lord of the Rings territory and I was Aragon traveling with 3 gay hobbits.
After a couple of days in Queenstown, eating Fergburgers, we headed off to do some reconnaissance. We knew where Deer Park Heights was, but what we didn’t know was whether the North Korean prison was still on top, or if had it been torn down. So we headed to the Queenstown gondola to journey up to an opposing mountain to check it out. For our reconnaissance we moved from our Lord of the Rings mode to a more stealthy and high-tech James Bond theme. I was playing ‘Pierce Brosnan’ Bond, one mate was playing the role of ‘Roger Moore’ Bond, another was playing ‘Sean Connery’ Bond, and the last was playing the role of Johnny English.
The brilliant super spy-like idea was to go paragliding off this opposing mountain to get views of Deer Park, see if the North Korean prison still existed and to figure out the best route up to the top. (In reality, the day before we used binoculars at the top of the opposing mountain to see over to Deer Park, clearly seeing the prison on top. That part of the story doesn’t seem as epic though, so let’s pretend that didn’t happen. Cool? Cool.)
So we paraglided off the edge of the mountain with the classic Duran Duran bond theme A View to a Kill playing in our minds. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and all three Bonds and one Johnny English were sailing in the air. Unfortunately, due to a large drinking binge the night before, two of the Bonds were feeling very un-Bond-like and were getting motion sickness pretty bad. They pushed on and went higher and higher again (well, in reality, I went lower as I was about to vomit) until they could finally see it for the first time (It was the second time): their treasure, their one ring, their Octapussy. The prison was still on top of the mountain and it was reachable!
In the end, one Bond threw up on the ground and one threw up mid-air, but (due to the skill of the paraglider pilot) missed getting any vomit splash-back. Now that’s Bond-like!
We collated and massaged the data on the prison using one of our Q-like Bond gadgets that was apparently called an Insider Positionable Ancillary Device, or iPad. It’s like a giant smart phone for secret agents and would serve no purpose in the real world, but maybe with a good marketing campaign I believe people might be silly enough to buy them. People will buy anything. With our information combined with some quality NASA photography courtesy of the British Secret Service and Google, we made our attack plan.
The plan was very technical and detailed but, in summary, we were to rent a car and drive around Deer Park to look for an opening. We hoped we would find a place where not many people couldn’t see us and then simply walk straight up the mountain to the top. Our main goal was to try to get up the far side of the mountain, away from the prying eyes of the town and the (apparently) crazy owner.
Lets talk about the crazy owner for a minute. Is he crazy? Probably not. Is he old? Yup. Why did he close the mountain? Not sure, but I assume it was due to him having a large amount of the so-called ‘evil gene’. Anyway, we asked around and we were told that he doesn’t like visitors and really doesn’t like people on his land—which is fair enough. To us, he was our Ernst Stavro Blofeld, our Dr. Evil, our Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men, all mixed into one. If he saw us and if he caught us, he would surely put us on one of those tables with the giant saw blade that slowly moves towards your junk. He did have the evil gene after all.
And so, the journey to the top of Deer Park began. (Has this gone on too long already?) We got up early, packed our gear and headed out. We had already lost one man who went down with a nasty case of the flu/AIDS. Was he poisoned by the owner of Deer Park Heights? The only legitimate answer to that is 100% yes. Heading back the the airport, we rented a car at a legitimately good rate. For $52 a day, you can get a car plus insurance from Jucy® Car Rentals (click here for this exclusive offer).
Our circling of Deer Park was slow and steady. We were prodding the fences, we were searching for weaknesses like the raptors trying to get out of their cage in Jurassic Park. We came across the owner’s road entrance and the gates were closed. Was he home? We would soon find out. Signs attached to his gate included ‘Private Property–Do Not Enter’, ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ and the scariest one of all: ‘Will shoot trespassers and eat their brains to gain their knowledge’. The last one really shattered our confidence and there was talk of turning back. There was also talk of mutiny and talk of how we are the 99%, but that was just small talk.
Back on the road, we are still probing for weaknesses. Luckily, we came across a walking track leading to the rear side of the mountain. We hoped that we could potentially sneak in unnoticed a little way down the track. We were correct. Dropping off the car, we set out down the track and into the mountain like the guys from that other Disney movie, Deliverance. Let’s see how friendly these locals really are.
20 minutes along the walking track, we were out of view and thought that we had found a potential weak spot. No fences and just some rocky ledges to scale and we were in Deer Park, but with still probably an hour-and-a-half trek up. We were in his property and we needed to be quiet, we needed to be stealthy, we needed to be one with nature. Fortunately, one of our crew of three was wearing a bright red flannelette shirt. He was blending in as a bloody sheep or something. I liked the way he thought outside the box.
Up we went. Constantly searching for cover, but unfortunately our only cover was prickly bushes with real nasty one-inch thorns. Had our arch nemesis, the owner, planted these here years in advance, knowing that we would come for his prison? The answer was a resounding 100% absolute … no. They were just native to the area and thrived on Queenstown’s colder climate. We pushed on and got to our first fence which ended up being the first of six barbed-wired fences. Over we went like cats jumping over a … ummm … barbed-wire fence, and BAM! straight into the bog out of Lord of the Rings. Seriously this was the bog used in Lord of the Rings and we were in it. The bog also contained a dead cow that seemed like it had just toppled over recently and was melting back into the Earth. Dust to dust, I guess.
We pushed through the bog and continued upwards, our feet smelling like a combination of faeces and smelly wet faeces. We stunk, but we were pushing on as the stealthy approach seemed to be working. There was no sign of the owner and no tire marks where we were walking, which suggested that no one came out to this side of Deer Park. Our thighs started to burn, due to the climb, but we made it to the top of the first part of the mountain with only two parts to go.
Happy with our approach and needing a rest, we were taking a break when suddenly we looked over to the owner’s side of the property to see the namesake of the park: deer. There were a lot of them (I counted about 50) and the problem was that they were all staring directly at us! Every single deer staring at us like we shouldn’t be there, and giving away our position to anyone who decided to look. We started to hustle, knowing our position was quickly becoming hazardous. Had the owner seen the deer? Was he tuning up his ultimate death ray to take us out? Stay tuned for the answer. But if you want to tune out, the quick answer is ‘no’.
Our legs powered-on and jackets came off (jackets off). It was hot, we were sweating and our skin was burning—and this is in a skiing town! Very strange. After another 30 minutes, we ran into a herd of cattle, who saw us and bolted, screaming as we were passing. The noise was another horrible give away and I began to think that our super-stealthy spy badges would have to be given back. Maybe due to our large intake of delicious beefy Fergburgers, the cows could smell us and were frightened. My pores normally let out a strong beefy/porky aroma and most people love it, but animals maybe not so much. One member of the crew was a vegetarian though, and a little baby lamb ran up to him and jumped in his arms. I guess animals just know.
So anyway, time to finish this thing up because I have to do some work. We did make it to the top and we had to jump a lot of fences, with one fence containing the full skeleton of a deer whose antlers got caught in the wire. Poor thing. We never saw any bison or miniature horses unfortunately, and fortunately we never saw the evil owner. We made it to the top and saw a remarkable view of The Remarkables, and we saw our treasure in all its glory. Well, maybe not all its glory as it was beaten up a lot.
The prison was surrounded by a fence, with a sign stating ‘Former set of a Disney movie’, which was interesting. We jumped that fence as well and we were in. It was just the main front part of the prison left, with a painting of a Korean man on the front. It didn’t look like your classic Kim Il Sung paintings, so I’m not exactly sure who it was supposed to be. There wasn’t much inside the set, but the outside looked interesting. There’s something about seeing a North Korean prison on top of a New Zealand mountain from Lord of the Rings that also features Logan’s cabin from X-men Origins that was immensely satisfying. So we ran around and grabbed some photos and thanked fake Kim Il Sung from Juche.
We ended up having to parachute off the edge of the mountain to safety as the police arrived (AKA we walked down and jumped all the fences we jumped on the way up and left in our rented car).
There’s more photos of this adventure on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leighmullens/