As a hit horror movie terrifies cinema-goers across the country, a group of real Auckland ghost hunters is getting busy.

Paranormal Activity 3 smashed box office records in America when it took in US$54 million ($70m) and shot to No 1 on its opening weekend. The spooky flick raked in about $800,000 in its first fortnight in New Zealand.

Andrew Farrell, founder of new paranormal investigations group Ghosts of Auckland, said probing other-worldly phenomena around the city could be as spooky as anything Hollywood could dream up. "Things don't happen as violently or as obviously as they do in the Paranormal Activity movies, but if you hear or see something you can't explain it does really give you the chills."

Farrell, a jewellery store assistant from Devonport, formed the eight-strong investigations group in August. He claimed they had already filmed an unexplained figure at historic Highwic Cottage in Epsom.


And at the old Waikumete Cemetery in Glen Eden, they claim to have captured a vortex: a bright-light portal between the spirit and physical world plus an eerie mist-like spirit called an ectoplasm.

"There have been reports of people seeing strange things at Highwic Cottage for many years," Farrell said. "We think we got an apparition of a face looking through a window.

"We tried a lot of ways to recreate and debunk it but we weren't able to do so. We are pretty confident what we have on camera is a genuine paranormal phenomenon."

Ghosts of Auckland conduct free investigations for commercial and private clients. "If we charged for our services people might not take us so seriously and perhaps think we would make something up just to keep them happy," Farrell explained.

He reckoned Auckland's haunted hotspots had plenty of untapped potential.

The group planned further investigations at the old Mt Eden Prison and at the former Kingseat psychiatric hospital at Karaka, South Auckland, a building he described as "possibly the most haunted in New Zealand".

"The old Mt Eden Prison has never been investigated before and some former inmates and guards tell of a lot of paranormal activity there too."

The New Zealand Skeptics association believed the Auckland investigators were mistaken about what they captured on film. "To me, the Highwic Cottage photos do not present any convincing evidence for the afterlife and are more likely to be reflections of their camera flash off the timbers or a cobweb," spokeswoman Vicki Hyde said.

"The existence of the afterlife is too important a question to leave to blurry images and mistaken attributions."

The city's spookiest places
* Kingseat Hospital, Karaka, closed in July 1999. Many deaths were recorded at the hospital and more than 100 apparitions have been reported there.
* Waikumete Cemetery was opened in 1886. In Murderers Grove, 19 executed killers were buried with nothing but a tree as a marker.
* Ewelme Cottage, Parnell, is a colonial dwelling built circa 1863. It was used as a location for The Piano.
* Highwic Cottage in Epsom is one of New Zealand's finest timber Gothic houses. There have been sightings of a ghost in a bedroom.
* Kinder House, Parnell, was built in 1857 by the Rev John Kinder. The house is reportedly haunted by a black, shadowy figure said to be Kinder, or his brother.