Abandoned SA tourist destination and cactus ranch to be restored to former glory

After 40 years of neglect, the Arizona Cactus Ranch is set to be restored to an iconic SA tourist destination, complete with café and nursery.

South Australia has been home to many unusual attractions lost to the passage of time, from Glenelg’s Shell Land to Murray Bridge’s Puzzle Park. Luckily, on occasion, the world comes full circle and breathes new life into iconic SA destinations.

The Arizona Cactus Ranch, also known as the Model Ranch, opened in 1952 and was a popular tourist attraction for families travelling through Port Wakefield to the Yorke Peninsula.

After the death of the owner and creator, Windsor man Joe Lowey, the property was sold in the early 1980s and never reopened to the public.

To this day, many South Australians reflect wistfully of their experiences at the ranch as children and how the three acres of land was home to 50-60 strange varieties of cacti.

In a delightful twist of fate, the Arizona Cactus Ranch has been purchased after years of neglect, to be restored to its former glory.

“When we purchased this Ranch, my initial plan was to build a small house for a weekend getaway,” shared new owner, Raghu Palisetti, on social media.

“But, after my purchase we came to know its forgotten story and how significant it was in Adelaide’s history.”

Mr Palisetti continued to share that “hundreds of people have shared their childhood memories” of the ranch, which inspired him to restore the property for future generations to enjoy. This task, however, will be big.

“We started restoring the place and soon I realised bringing back the ranch from extinction is a gigantic task,” shared Mr Palisetti.

Next steps for Mr Palisetti, he says, are to “team up with the right people”, clean, and secure the property. Joel Leahy, the new Property Manager & Gardener of the Arizona Cactus Ranch, will be assisting with this effort.

“We’re starting restorations on the garden and the house on the property,” says Mr Leahy.

“There are a few species that people are no longer allowed to have, as they’re declared species. We’re going to be bringing in thousands of new native cacti to rejuvenate the land.

“We’re also hoping to open a little café/souvenir shop and nursery for people to visit. The nursery will hold mainly little cacti, so people can take a little piece of the park home with them.”

Mr Leahy previously worked in various industries, including security, defence and teaching, but always had a long-held love of plants. After collecting bonsai trees for 25 years, he first got into cacti after his son purchased one from Bunnings 5 years ago.

“There’s a huge cacti community in Australia. Raghu asked a few people in the community for help, and they suggested me to assist with the revamp,” Mr Leahy.

“We eventually hope to host weddings in the gardens – maybe even open a restaurant or cabins for people to stay. But first, it will be the garden and café.”

Mr Leahy says they hope to open in December, but funds are tight.

“We are currently selling baby cacti to raise funds for the project. You can find them on our Facebook page, otherwise we have launched a Go Fund Me page,” says Mr Leahy.

To donate to Arizona Cactus Ranch’s Go Fund Me page, click here.

To find out how you can buy baby cacti, visit the Facebook page.

The Arizona Cactus Ranch is located at 492 Lowey Road, Windsor, SA 5501.

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