Cowboy Paradise still operating despite trial

Cowboy Paradise owner Michael Kevin Milne in the Greymouth District Court dock on March 27 as a...
Cowboy Paradise owner Michael Kevin Milne in the Greymouth District Court dock on March 27 as a jury delivered verdicts on eight charges following the bust of an underground cannabis bunker on his property in 2019. PHOTO: JANNA SHERMAN
A Milltown business on the West Coast Wilderness Trail where a commercial cannabis-growing bunker operated undetected remains open.

Cowboy Paradise owner Michael Kevin Milne, 68, and Anthony Wayne Harris, 77, were last week found guilty by a Greymouth District Court jury on a raft of drug charges including cultivating, selling and possessing cannabis for sale between 2017 and 2019.

They were acquitted on earlier charges laid by the Crown, which alleged they had been running the growing operation as far back as 2013.

Both men have been granted bail pending sentence later this year.

Milne’s lawyer Helen Coutts said he had about 30 guests booked in at Cowboy Paradise for Easter weekend.

He was "on his own" at the site, where he did all the cooking, and he was unable to get staff. He also had deer to take care of on the farm.

As the court trial began in Greymouth, fellow operators on the cycle trail were told to advise cyclists the Wild West-themed Cowboy Paradise was no longer available for refreshments or a toilet stop.

The West Coast Wilderness Trail Trust said Milne did not want cyclists who were not staying with Cowboy Paradise using his decks or facilities.

"Our trust is working with him to educate riders of this fact."

The email from the Wilderness Trail said Cowboy Paradise was private property and a working farm, although riders did have the right to pass through the property.

"If you are not a paying guest staying at Cowboy Paradise, please pass straight through without sitting on the decks or entering any of the facilities. Refreshments and toilets are no longer available."

Milne, formerly of Christchurch, started building Cowboy Paradise in 2008. It includes a pistol range, saloon and accommodation units.

The business website includes images of an expansive deck overlooking bush behind the saloon, and seven en-suite family units. Guests were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The site is operated by a generator that shuts off about 10.30pm and starts back at 7am.

The business, in the upper Arahura Valley and on the cycleway leg between Kumara and Hokitika, has received mixed reviews from guests over the years.

In a recent report to the Westland District Council cycling and walking subcommittee, feedback from cyclists said there were xenophobic signs and a "spooky" atmosphere in the area.

The comments have been heavily censored.

Council chief executive Simon Bastion said any negative feedback on the wilderness trail was a concern and both the council and cycleway trust acted where they could.

However, Cowboy Paradise was a private business.

"Our understanding is that Cowboy Paradise is still open for business. This is a private business and it is not up to council and the trust to tell a business on the trail how to operate," Mr Bastion said.

"We have an easement across [this] property that allows riders to traverse through Cowboy Paradise."

Issues with the property have plagued the council for years, from problems with the easement to resource consent non-compliance and liquor-licensing objections.

More recently, an additional shelter and toilets were built nearby on road reserve for about $80,000 as an alternative pitstop along the cycleway. — Hokitika Guardian