Joanna Mathers uncovers disquieting stories of places where the former inhabitants just don't want to let go ...
From the moment the doors closed behind me, I knew something was amiss. My friend and I were in Hanmer Springs for a weekend of pampering. We'd treated ourselves to the best hotel in town, and were looking forward to two days of relaxation and indulgence.
But excitement was replaced with unease when I entered the hotel foyer. The air in the hotel was cold and still; the atmosphere heavy.
"I bet this place is haunted," I whispered to my friend. She laughed nervously.
On the way to our room, my suspicions were confirmed. I asked a passing staff member if the place had any resident spirits.
"Yes, that's Mrs Rutherford," she smiled. "She was the wife of the original owner. The poor dear burnt to death after her dress caught fire in the kitchen."
There followed two days of terror. My friend woke to find her bed scorching hot, though the night was cold and she had no electric blanket. Strange white lights flickered on the ceiling. A bath remained boiling to touch, even when half of it was filled with cold water. A black shape whooshed past my bed. So much for a relaxing weekend.
Naturally I turned from ghost sceptic into ghost hunter in a heartbeat. I've since discovered that other people have reported similar experiences in old hotels and historic homes throughout New Zealand. If you're a thrillseeker wanting to take a trip into the twilight zone, here are some spooky spots to visit.
Built in 1908, and extended in 1928, the Waitomo Caves Hotel has a reputation for supernatural activity.
General Manager Richard Howard tells me many guests and staff members have had ghostly encounters. "People have seen a Maori man, and a woman dressed in Victorian clothes. There is also supposedly a child who haunts the place," he says.
Room 12a (there is no room 13 at the hotel) is a particularly active spot; people have reported objects moving and a lamp being lifted off the ground.
Richard says that all the paranormal activity is playful, however, and that the hotel has a positive atmosphere.
Address: RD7, Otorohonga
Contact: Phone 07 878 8204
Ewelme Cottage in Remuera was built in 1863. John Webster, who lived here for many years, says that he's heard about (and experienced) some odd happenings. "People have seen a cat running down the hall and disappearing through a wall," he says. "Voices have been heard, and [two different] women have been seen."
Possibly the most intriguing sighting is of a little girl sitting under an oak tree in the garden. "She looks about 13 or 14," says John. "She has asked children to play with her, and says 'please go away' to adults."
Address: 14 Ayr St, Parnell
Contact: Phone 379 0202, email email@example.com
Auckland's "scream park" is known for its blood-and-guts entertainment. What's less well-known is the building that it's housed in has some rather unearthly inhabitants.
Managing director Julia Watson explains. "The building was the nurses' home for the Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital," she says. "Our actors have had strange experiences. One actress saw [two] images of herself in a mirror. A visitor viewed two identical figures standing next to each other, when there was only one person in the room."
Perhaps the most terrifying incident involved a mattress swivelling on a bed, then following a person out of the room. "I was a total sceptic when I first started here," says Julia. "I'm not anymore."
Address: 833 Kingseat Rd, Karaka
Contact: Phone 291 9002
Built in 1862 for Alfred Buckland, Highwic is one of Auckland's most beautiful historic homes. It's also home to a ghostly canine.
Spokeswoman Cheryl Laurie says "People have seen a black dog running across the garden to the boundary of the property."
The Bucklands were known to be dog lovers, and would have had many dogs.
The dairy cellar is also a paranormal hot (or should that be cold) spot. "Many people sense the presence of a child in there," says Cheryl.
Address: 40 Gillies Ave, Epsom
Contact: Phone 524 5729, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mokena Hotel in Te Aroha was a boarding house during the gold rush of the 1860s. It's now a hotel, and said to be home to some paranormal patrons. The spirits of Maori children have been sensed by mediums in a room where children watch DVDs, and groups of ghost hunters often lurk the halls in search of supernatural activity.
Address: 6 Church St, Te Aroha
Contact: Phone 884 8038
Napier Prison is a great place for wannabe ghost hunters to get spooked. Operating as a penal facility from 1862 until 1993, it's been open to the public since 2002. Managing director Marion Waaka says that between 1872 and 1879 many were hanged here, including Roland Herbert Edwards, who murdered his wife and four children.
"[People have heard] footsteps and voices, moaning in the halls, doors being opened or closed, or locked. [There are] multiple claims of being touched on the face; and ghostly visitors have interrupted the sleep of backpackers or workers staying on site."
Many believe Roland Herbert Edwards haunts the prison, and a cat that lives on the grounds, Basil, is thought to be possessed by the ghost of a prisoner called Basil.
Address: 55 Coote Rd, Napier
Contact: 06 835 9933
Some locals claim this hotel in Te Aroha is haunted by a spirit known as "Harry the Maori". A "clairvoyant" visitor stayed in a room in which a young man called Jimmy had passed away. When asked if she'd seen "Harry" in the night, she answered "Yes, but his name is Jimmy". She'd not been told of the death before her stay.
A chair in the men's toilet has been known to move of its own accord, but the owners say they have not experienced anything themselves, and that the atmosphere here is positive.
Address: 165 Whitaker St, Te Aroha
Contact: Phone 07 884 9994
Ghostly activity has been reported in this well-known Mt Albert homestead. Manager Rendell McIntosh says people have reported seeing "women dressed in Victorian clothes, mainly on the first floor, where the bedrooms were".
"One man came downstairs and asked the women on reception who the woman upstairs was. She answered 'you were the only one up there'."
Rendell says that all the sightings are of happy people; "Alberton has always been a happy place."
Address: 100 Mt Albert Rd, Mt Albert
Contact: Phone 846 7367
Two sides of the ghostly tale
If you are interested in the paranormal, or have something spooky happening at your place, Ghosts of Auckland may be able to help. They investigate paranormal activity throughout Auckland and offer their services free of charge.
Does all this talk of ghosts make you want to laugh out loud? You're not alone. The New Zealand Skeptics Society is committed to finding the scientific facts behind claims of paranormal activity.