Gerstlauer coaster’s setting makes for a unique experience
Bellewaerde opens Wakala, family coaster with signature thrills
AT: Tim Baldwin
YPRES, Belgium — There is no question that the COVID-19 crisis wrecked numerous plans and attraction openings in 2020. One of those that still went forward was Wakala at Bellewaerde. Supplied by Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, the one-of-a-kind coaster diversified the park’s attractions lineup, while still keeping it in the family range.
Placed in the park’s Canadian section, Wakala is themed around the indigenous Kwakwaka’wakw people of the Pacific Northwest coast. The stylings of the ride reflect the culture and character of this region of British Columbia. The Native American tribe can still be found around the neighboring islands and around the forests and water in Western Canada. With canoes as their primary means of transportation, the ride reflects that with trains that resemble watercraft.
“Since the attraction is built in the Canada themed zone, it was an obvious choice to match the theming of the zone to the attraction — which we also did with the attraction Dawson Duel that was new in 2017,” said a park spokesperson. “In the search for inspiration, we found the stories about the ‘Kwakiutl’ culture. Since they live in the woods next to water, it was an immediate match with the attraction which is also built in the woods and next to the water. Therefore we chose to add some extra details about this culture into the theming of the attraction, for example the canoe-shaped train and the placement of totems.”
The coaster was announced in the autumn of 2019 and construction began with hopes of a spring debut. With the global health crisis, those plans were postponed to early summer, but the ride did welcome guests who visited the park this season.
Management embraces families as the park’s primary audience. Wakala fits well into this demographic but doesn’t shortchange on the fun. A statement on the park’s website says: “Bellewaerde consciously chose a family coaster in order to allow the family target audience to experience unique and unforgettable moments together.”
The new coaster boasts a rarity in that it features both a chain lift and a tire-lift booster section. Departure from the station places the 10-car trains directly onto a chain lift. From there, riders enter a sinuous wriggle of curves and dips that traverse over walkways, green space and even over water. A significant portion of the ride straddles waterways and stretches out into a lake. After a curvaceous First Act, the trains enter a second lift, this time using booster wheels to propel the ride into more curves, dips and into its signature move — a stalling reverse point out over the lake reaching 69 feet in the air. As the train soars out over the water, the track curves up and ends. Riders momentarily feel weightlessness and then travel a section of the track in reverse. A section of tires serve as brakes and holds the train in place while a segment of transfer track rotates into place. The tires then move the riders forward and back into the station.
Building parts of the coaster out into the lake was certain to require planning and create challenges. “It certainly did!” Stefaan Lemey, general director of Bellewaerde, told Amusement Today. “The lake is 100% natural for more than 100 years, so we had to examine the bottom of the lake and supporting earth layers. We had to lower the water level of the lake to be able to push concrete foundation poles into the ground. It was a huge — and expensive — work effort to get those heavy machines into position to be able to make the in-depth foundations for the different track columns.”
For Gerstlauer, the challenge wasn’t as extreme. “Being over water [on our end] did not make a difference. The only challenge is to design the ride so that under all circumstances, it never reaches the top,” said Simonis Andreas, Gerstlauer. “This is simply realized by using the law of physics, so that the reverse point is higher than the top of lift 2. Furthermore, the speed of lift 2 is monitored constantly by the control system.”
When asked by AT why the decision to go with Gerstlauer, Lemey said: “We had some ideas on what features we wanted to integrate and how we wanted the ride to interact with the lake and the environment as well as with the other family ride, Dawson Duel. At the same time we wanted to have a high ride capacity as we knew upfront that with this budget, we could hit a top-1 ride for our family visitors. We discussed our ideas with several ride constructors, and Gerstlauer came out to be the best partner for this iconic project.”
“The cooperation with the Bellewaerde and Compagnie des Alpes team was great and challenging. The layout was developed together with Simon Julien from Compagnie des Alpes and Andreas Simonis from Gerstlauer,” said Erwin Haider, Gerstlauer. “The idea of the forwards/backwards portion was originally designed for another layout on another area in the Bellewaerde Park, but then in 2017 it was incorporated into the actual layout that was built on this location.”
“The canoe theme of the front car was developed with computer aided design,” said Andreas. “This enables us to visualize the look and appearance before any models are built and to check for any interferences with the existing car structure as well as the roller coaster track. We worked together with Cyprien Pichon, CdA’s concept designer, who was responsible for the overall design of the train, the themed painting and the structure in the fiberglass.”
Total track length is 2,165 feet long, although riders travel over a portion of the layout in both directions. Top speed is 31 mph, firmly putting it in the family-friendly category. Its tallest point is 70 feet.
“Bellewaerde is consciously investing in this coaster because it is a family attraction for the whole family and suitable for children from one meter in height,” said Lemey. “Wakala is a perfect addition to the existing offer in the park. Bellewaerde offers its visitors a new sensation with this attraction, which both young and old can experience together.”
Bellewaerde believes its core audience is families with children between six and 12 years old.
Even with a portion of the track serving as a forward-backward shuttle experience, Wakala can still operate with three trains, making for an hourly capacity of 1,000 riders.
An investment of €7.5 million ($8.8 million) was made for the new roller coaster. Wakala was the largest single investment in an attraction since 1999. It is the park’s fifth coaster attraction.
Coaster fans have praised the ride for its creativity in this family market as well as the ride’s smoothness.
No attractions were removed to install the coaster. “There was an isle with squirrel monkeys that visitors could visit,” said a park spokesman. “However, these animals have now been relocated to another place in the park, the Jungle Zone.”
The reaction has shown park management that their choice was a good one.
“Wakala has been welcomed very positively by our visitors,” a park spokesman told Amusement Today. “Our surveys have shown that Wakala is now the No. 1 favorite attraction of our guests.”
Other than rides, the park offers a mix of activities that include exotic animals and exploring green environments. Bellewaerde has been in operation since 1954.