New Zealand might be a young country, relatively speaking, but it certainly seems to have its fair share of ghosts.
As Halloween comes around on the calendar again, Auckland ghost-hunter and author Mark Wallbank knows his phone is about to start ringing. Wallbank is the leader of paranormal investigation group Haunted Auckland - a kind of Kiwi "Ghostbusters", but without the high-tech equipment, CGI manifestations and wisecracks of the classic movie.
Wallbank and his team take their work seriously, responding to calls from the public or organisations wanting mysterious events checked out, or conducting their own investigations at spooky places.
He recently returned from a trip to the UK and Ireland, where he fitted in as many haunted hotels and sites as he could. We meet up at the Northcote Tavern (haunted status: unknown but Wallbank would love to get upstairs and investigate it), just down the road from the Auckland Harbour Bridge (haunted status: possibly; dark shadow seen among the bridge pillars).
Auckland, and in fact NZ, is so full of sites where ghostly happenings have been reported, Wallbank has put them together into a book, Haunted New Zealand Roadtrip. He's been interested in the paranormal since growing up in the then-rural suburb of Howick in the 1970s. He formed an investigation group with a couple of mates when he was at high school, then kept the passion alive himself before reforming Haunted Auckland in 2010.
"I decided it would be nice to get back into a team situation. The paranormal field was becoming more popular on TV, and people were starting to talk about it and get interested in it again," he says.
Now a group of eight seekers get together for regular explorations and investigations.
Though many leads and locations yield nothing, Wallbank has had several unexplained experiences. He says he is not scared of paranormal phenomena; just curious to find out more.
"I'd be quite open to experiencing a poltergeist attack - I'd really welcome having something throw me up against the wall. I say bring it on, because it's all part of my research," he says.
"If I had to go through that to find some answers, so be it. You're not going to find out about ghosts by sitting at home on your couch. You've got to go where the ghosts are."
Auckland's haunted sites:
Puhinui Homestead, Howick Historical Village, Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga:
Set amid a collection of historic homes and buildings from Auckland's early colonial era, Puhinui Homestead has been a happy (ghost) hunting ground for the Haunted Auckland team. Built at Wiri in South Auckland in 1861, the grand two-storey homestead was moved to the Howick site in 1980. It might be in a new location, but its spirits seem to have come along for the ride. Multiple vigils and investigations have resulted in a large number of recorded manifestations, including an incident with a flying torch. The whole village is a great place to visit for its colonial atmosphere.
The Pumphouse Theatre, Lake Pupuke, Takapuna:
Built in 1894, the Pumphouse was originally just that: a pumping station taking water from the lake. However, its ghosts seem to come from a later era, when the building was converted into a theatre in the 1970s. An actress named Peg, a ghostly stagehand and even the more recent manifestation of a caretaker have all been reported. Enjoy a show there, or a coffee or treats at the French Rendez-vous cafe next door.
Building One, Unitec, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert:
Everyone over a certain age calls Unitec "Carrington", after the psychiatric hospital that once stood on the site - earlier known as Oakley or the Whau Lunatic Asylum. Originally built in 1867 and reconstructed after a fatal fire in 1988, the imposing brick building now houses design students but for many years was home to the desperately disturbed, locked away from society in what would today be considered primitive conditions. It's probably no wonder reports of supernatural events in the building include ghostly shadows, bangs and footsteps, the sound of keys clanging, lights switching on and off, and books being sent flying. Admire it from a safe distance, then go and have a coffee at the nearby Mud Pie Deli.
Hard to Find Bookshop, 171-173 The Mall, Onehunga:
See if you get vibed, as the Haunted Auckland team did, at the secondhand bookshop. You may also find yourself feeling possessed by the large number of fascinating used books on sale.
The North Head Tunnels, Devonport:
The large former pa site on the southeastern tip of the North Shore has given rise to many stories and urban legends, including stories that a fleet of aircraft lies buried inside. Heavily fortified from the 1880s, and including one of the world's few extant disappearing guns, the headland is riddled with tunnels and is definitely spooky. Take a torch, and have a snack at the excellent Navy Museum in Torpedo Bay before or after.
Haunted New Zealand Road Trip: In search of paranormal activity
by Mark Wallbank
(New Holland, $35)