Report: Discovering Terra Magma, the mysterious volcano at Bobbejaanland

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We had no idea where we were going, yet we knew exactly where we were going. This may sound like a paradox, but it perfectly describes the feeling of experiencing a rethemed old favourite for the first time. After an impressive construction period of just 6 months, Bobbejaanland (Belgium) presented its newest dark ride to the press on 13 May. Team DRdb was invited and, armed with nothing but a camera, dared to explore the insides of the mysterious volcano: Terra Magma.

In 1961, Bobbejaanland was founded as a permanent settlement by famous performer Bobbejaan Schoepen after touring the world. Daily shows in the theatre and a large swimming pond were the main attractions. By the ‘70s Bobbejaanland had started to develop into a full-blown amusement park and Bobbejaan was on a mission to regularly provide his guests with new rides. In 2004, Bobbejaanland was sold to the Spanish Parques Reunidos group, continuing the legacy of one of Belgium’s best known family parks.

One of the best known attractions was Indiana River, which opened in 1991. This entirely indoor log flume, the first of its kind, had a Mayan theme. Guests would board a boat flowing down a river through a rainforest and end up inside a temple filled with traps and treasure. More information on Indiana River can be found in our elaborate special: The History of Indiana River.

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The exterior of Indiana River (© Bobbejaanland)

An ambitious plan

After more than 30 years of operation, the time had come for Indiana River to retire. The decor inside needed to be replaced at least, as it was made from primitive materials like wood and Styrofoam. It was decided to keep the building and log flume system with 3 drops intact and design a new ride around it. For this, the Belgian studio KCC Entertainment Design was brought in.

KCC was founded in 2000 and is well versed in the world of theme park design, starting off designing entertainment venues and gradually scaling up the size of their projects. In total, they have been involved in over 200 projects found in over 45 countries.

They stood at the cradle of multiple amusement parks, most of which were realised in Asia, like the Smurfs Theme Park in Shanghai, China. They also designed the French Family Entertainment Center La Tête dans les Nuages, where Triotech installed their first installation of the Hyper Ride. Designing a dark ride themselves however, would be a first for the studio.

Work on the retheme began in the fall of 2021. KCC presented Bobbejaanland with 3 concepts, each starring a distinct theme: the mediaeval castle ‘Mystery Arena’, the industrial ‘Mystery Factory’ and last but not least ‘Mystery Volcano’. In March of 2022, the park sent out a survey to a selection of fans to find out which of these concepts appealed to them the most. According to Bobbejaanland, the volcano was declared the winner by a significant margin.

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Concept art for the themes that didn’t make the cut (© Bobbejaanland / KCC Entertainment Design)
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Concept art for what would eventually become Terra Magma (© Bobbejaanland / KCC Entertainment Design)

An ambitious plan was set up: in just one off-season the old ride would be completely transformed, both inside and out. Matthias Paillot of KCC was appointed as lead designer and developed a new storyline with a total of 14 scenes spanning the queue and the 3-minute ride. Indiana River closed its doors on 6 November 2022 and work immediately began on the transformation.

The park took the opportunity to completely revise the log flume system technically (which supposedly took up almost half of the budget). A new control system was built from the ground up under the guidance of Technical Manager Tom Knuts. Also the boats have been repaired where necessary. In an early phase of the project, it was even considered prolonging the log flume layout. Ultimately, this was deemed financially unfeasible.

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Construction inside during the winter of 2022-2023 (© Bobbejaanland)

In February of this year, the final name of the ride was announced to be Terra Magma, Spanish for Land of Magma. The month after, Bobbejaanland organised a preview for the press, during which the storyline was revealed. In short, guests will be following in the footsteps of adventurers to explore the mysterious island of Terra Magma for themselves. Unwelcomed by nature however, they will come face to face with dangers around every corner and ultimately narrowly escape the eruption of a volcano.

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Concept art for scene 6, ‘The Hurricane’ (© KCC Entertainment Design / Bobbejaanland)
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Concept art for scene 10, ‘The Dark Side’ (© KCC Entertainment Design / Bobbejaanland)
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Promotional artwork (© KCC Entertainment Design / Bobbejaanland)

The realisation of Terra Magma was carried out by over 20 companies, all based in Belgium as well. 7 of these had a hand in the decor. Most of it was pre-fabricated, often times well in advance, so that it could all be installed in a timely manner, and the strict deadline of May could be met. Fans were regularly kept up to date on social media with construction images.

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Construction image of scene 5, ‘The Bright Side’ (© Bobbejaanland)

First impressions

The time was ripe on 13 May and that evening after closing hours, 300 invitees got the chance to be the first to explore Terra Magma. The local villagers of the island were waiting for us at the entrance of the park. They led us to the ‘foot of the volcano’ where we were welcomed by the self-obsessed but hospitable mayor Tom. ‘’There is liquor!’’, he proclaims as we reach his settlement.

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The mayor of the island welcomes us

The area around the ride, spanning from neighbouring roller coaster Oki Doki to the park’s other dark ride El Paso Special, has been transformed into Mystery Bay. Where previously a rusty canopy stood, a leftover from a removed carousel, now lies a quaint square with stalls.

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Mystery Bay

We enjoyed the snacks and drinks for a bit and then decided to head to the still closed ride to inspect it from the outside. Last time we were here during the preview in March, the building hadn’t changed a bit, still resembling the old Indiana River. But in just a few weeks, it has been completely transformed! The most prominent feature of the building is a lighthouse, on which a pelican sits (which is apparently named Peggy after the park’s Marketing Director, Peggy Verelst).

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Exterior of Terra Magma

‘Terra Magma’ in colourful letters marks the entrance. The exit stairway next to it used to resemble a step pyramid but is now part of the interior of a washed up shipwreck. The rockwork has been kept from Indiana River. Along the outdoor queue line we find a row of houses belonging to the villagers, which look like they were made from materials that washed ashore.

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Outdoor queue line

The rest of the building has cleverly been hidden behind a giant canvas with the island of Terra Magma printed onto it. It’s an unusual way to hide a show building, especially when you can get so close up to it. But under the right weather conditions it can look convincing enough.

The opening ceremony

It was 19:30 and the opening ceremony was about to begin. After kicking one of his villagers off the stage, mayor Tom takes the microphone and introduces himself and his people. ‘’I was supposed to be thanking people right know but since I forgot who exactly, I’ll talk some more about myself instead.’’ When he won’t stop giving self-compliments, he is interrupted by a lady who makes it clear that she has had enough of Tom’s antics. She gives the word to Bobbejaanland’s General Manager Yves Peeters and Marketing Director Peggy Verelst.

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The villagers on stage

‘’Good evening,’’ Yves begins his speech. ‘’Today, we’re celebrating. About 31 years ago, this attraction was opened by Bobbejaan Schoepen himself. It was called Indiana River. Well, today, we are pleased to introduce you to Terra Magma.’’ He continues: ‘’When we decided to start this project, we knew we were facing an immense challenge. After all, remodelling a house might just be even harder than building a new one, and Indiana River was a crowd favourite. But Bobbejaanland has to keep up with the times. Last winter we invested €5 million, of which over €3 million went into Terra Magma.’’

Peggy takes over and explains: ‘’Theming is becoming more and more important for Bobbejaanland. And this entire boulevard had yet to be defined, until today. Today we are launching Mystery Bay and Terra Magma is only the beginning of that. We wanted to involve our guests with choosing the theme. And so it happened that we are now standing at the foot of a mysterious volcano.’’

Yves takes a moment to thank all parties involved for the great co-operation and lists off what each of them contributed. Peggy gives a special thanks towards Technical Manager Tom Knuts and asks him to join the stage. ‘’Because you made your mark on the island, we couldn’t resist naming the new snack bar after you.’’ Snack bar ‘Old Tom’ can be found right across from the exit of Terra Magma.

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A rumbling sound can be heard in the background, which gradually becomes louder and louder. As Yves declared Terra Magma officially open, smoke and a large flame shot into the air. Mayor Tom tries to keep the crowd calm, but most have started to make their way towards the volcano already.

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Opening of Terra Magma

Watch our video on the opening ceremony:

Going on an expedition

A small queue line had formed in front of the entrance and we too decided to head towards the attraction. The first part of the queue is outdoors. On our way to the ride, the villagers warned us about what’s to come and tried to sell us good luck charms. They have never dared to set foot in the inside of the island themselves. We ignored their advice and carried on.

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Once inside our adventure starts in the Cave Corridor. Previous explorers have made it easy for us as oil lamps lead the way. Cracks through the walls provide a glance of what’s on the other side: a land of paradise. This is however all conveyed through a single, flat mural, which isn’t very convincing.

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We arrive at the station known as the Sinkhole. The idea being that we are now deep underground and have stumbled upon an underground river. An opening in the ceiling lets daylight through as we board one of the boats. The operator cabin is also located here.

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Our boat departs from the turntable and the ride starts out a little abstract. In a pitch black room, oil lamps are suspended in the air and artworks like cave paintings light up one by one as we pass them. They show ominous depictions of the dangers that await us ahead, accompanied by an English voice over.

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We head straight towards a waterfall, but it stops flowing in the nick of time. Behind it lies the first lift hill, which we start to climb. It is surrounded by waterfalls and greenery, depicting the land of paradise we saw earlier in the queue.

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What goes up, must come down, and we plunge towards the next scene. Splash! The cave tunnel surrounding this drop is one of the few pieces of decor kept intact from Indiana River. With the boat still carrying some speed, the cave opens up and we find ourselves in a stilt village. A campfire is still smouldering but there are no signs of life. We take a small turn left.

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It is dark in the next room, where a storm is brewing. Occasional lightning strikes and in a flash of light we can see remnants of destroyed cottages on the right. We take a long left turn and circle around a spinning hurricane. Wind effects are on full display. In the next scene we see (in a projection) a ship caught in the storm. It crashes off-screen and we sail through a part of the shipwreck. Parts of the ship stick out of the water.

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The storm has settled and we arrive at the second lift. Here we see a starry night sky and a full moon at the top. We glide down another drop and end up in a swamp. Enormous carnivorous plants make up the landscape and we pass under a segment of a large snake-like body. On the left, the swamp monster shows its face in a projection.

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After passing another waterfall which stops flowing at the last second, our boat has reached the inside of the volcano. The walls glow a dim red like the surface of lava as we climb the third lift. At the top, large smouldering rocks in the wall light up and we pass through a cloud of smoke down the final drop.

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We fly through a bright, red-coloured room with dynamic lighting and, through an archway of smouldering rocks, shoot out from the volcano, back to safety. One final scene depicts the location in which previous adventurers have decided to settle, after having seen all that the island has to offer.

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We step out of our boat and ‘climb out of the sinkhole’ via a stairway and corridor. The walls here are plastered with posters hearkening back to the locations we came across during our expedition. The building is exited via stairs outside, through the washed up shipwreck. A small kiosk nearby houses a store where one can buy their on-ride photo. Merchandise of Terra Magma is also available here, ranging from mugs, a poster, pin and even a poncho for those who want to experience the dark ride without getting wet.

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Experience Terra Magma for yourself through our onride:

Having been on the attraction a couple of times, it was now nearing 22:00 and had gotten dark outside. The exterior became even more atmospheric than before. Unfortunately the opening was plagued by technical problems and the last breakdown meant the end of the evening. Mayor Tom is quick to jump on stage, explaining that ‘’the volcano has its own will’’, but the event was almost over anyway. We took the bit of extra time we had to interview some of those involved in the creation of Terra Magma.

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We spoke with Matthias Paillot and Ruben Strobbe of KCC and asked what they think of Terra Magma. Matthias, Creative Director and lead designer told us: ‘’I think that if we see the sketches next to the result, that we are quite close to what we promised to achieve. Especially the whole façade, the outdoor, is a completely refreshing style for the park. Inside, there is still some tweak work [to do]. But the general atmosphere we wanted to achieve, making the volcano come alive, is well done.’’

Project Manager Ruben adds: ‘’Initially this was more of a tunnelled experience. The building was not visible [on the inside]. By tearing down everything, we created this big empty space. This we needed to fill up with a lot of decoration, a lot of theming, a lot of scenes.’’

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Map of Terra Magma (© KCC Entertainment Design)

Regarding the challenges to overcome, he explains: ‘’We have ceilings, walls and a lot of technical stuff you have to hide. Of course, it’s a dark ride, so we get away with it, but we still need to tweak some areas.’’

We also spoke with Peggy Verelst, Marketing Director of Bobbejaanland, regarding the decision to retheme the old ride instead of refurbishing it. ‘’This area [of the park] was still unthemed. It is very important to start working on the theming of the park more and more. Indiana River is a very big part of this area, that is one of the main reasons we started thinking about what could we do when we take the decision to retheme that ride.’’

Regarding the result, Peggy states: ‘’I’m very happy with what we did outdoors. I like the quality of everything we did, and also the amount of things we added. About the indoors, I’m also satisfied, but we can do better. I think we are there for around 70%.’’

See the full video interviews for more details below:

The festive evening came to an end with one final fiery explosion.

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The inevitable comparison

It goes without saying that Bobbejaanland and KCC had a lot to live up to. Not only was Indiana River regarded as a classic, the storyline and designs the studio came up with were very promising. Did they deliver?

The outside of the building is an enormous improvement. What used to be an obvious metal hall with just some rocks airbrushed onto it, is now a colourful ensemble that actually fits the theme. The villager’s homes are full of details and even the photo kiosk at the exit has received a facelift. The canvas with the volcano can look convincing, as long as the weather conditions are right. Especially from across the park it looks very appealing.

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The ride as seen out from the Ferris wheel

This high point is unfortunately followed up with a queue line that isn’t very impressive. The flat murals make it impossible to appreciate what is supposed to be landscapes in the distance. There just isn’t much to see here, whereas with Indiana River the queue was set within a lush jungle with details hidden everywhere. Following this trend is the station, which is emptier than before. The ‘daylight falling in through the ceiling’ however is a nice touch.

The ride consists of many diverse scenes. Their themes vary greatly, ranging from a village to a sea and then a swamp. While this can make it difficult to understand what’s going on story wise, it makes for a ride that is sure to have something which appeals to everyone. A good balance was also struck between physical decor and projections.

However, getting the biggest negative out of the way: some scenes go by a little too quickly. The stilt village is probably the best decorated one but it follows immediately after a drop, when the boat still has a high speed.

The lifts, on the contrary, where one spends the most amount of time, are the least decorated of all. Especially the second lift featuring just some stars and a model of a moon could easily be fleshed out more. Although to be fair, Indiana River had to cope with the same issue and the teams of KCC and Bobbejaanland are aware of this and working on it.

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The second lift is a bit underwhelming

Where Terra Magma shines though, is in its action scenes. The hurricane and shipwreck in particular are very effective due to the constant bright lightning strikes. Similarly, the lava effects are convincing due to the impressive dynamic lighting, especially on the final drop. Effects like waterfalls, wind and smoke were not present on Indiana River at all and have been utilised effectively here. A custom soundtrack, that was composed in-house at KCC, plays throughout the ride, but it was often too quiet to hear well on opening day.

While it may be too early to say right now whether the entire package is an improvement or not, there is no denying that the result so far is impressive considering the available budget. KCC has managed to design a ride packed with scenes and effects wrapped up in a nice story. It’s the implementation of these scenes that leaves a little to be desired, which is no doubt related to the short amount of time the team had to realise it all. Fortunately those involved are aware of the issues and working on improvements. We can’t wait to be back later this year and check out Terra Magma when it’s 100% finished!

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© 2023 Dark Ride Database
Visit by Erik and Jim
Article by Jim
Images © Dark Ride Database, unless indicated otherwise