New Zealand's eeriest spots

The original owners of Larnach Castle were beset by tragedy.
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The original owners of Larnach Castle were beset by tragedy.

Believe in ghost stories or not, you don't have to travel far in New Zealand to find eerie spots.

From old mental hospitals and hotels to a castle built by a family with a tragic history, many of these places are - or are said to be - sites of grave suffering and untimely deaths. Others, such as Spirits Bay in Northland, are reputedly sacred conduits between this world and the next.

Here is just a small selection of the country's eeriest places.

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Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, Karaka, Auckland

The former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital is now the site of the Spookers theme park.
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The former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital is now the site of the Spookers theme park.

Deranged psychopaths stalk the halls of the old Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, intent on giving all they come into contact with the biggest frights of their lives. Well, kind of.

Spookers, which bills itself as New Zealand's only haunted attraction theme park, has been attracting pundits for more than a decade; its convincingly made up "live scare actors" proving strangely alluring. 

Part of the attraction, no doubt, comes from the property's dark history. It sure looks the part: the stark exterior concealing empty, derelict rooms with scratch marks on the walls, bars on the windows and dark stains on the floors.

Opened in 1932, the hospital, which included a maximum security wing and a morgue, housed more than 800 patients in its heyday, before sweeping mental health reforms forced the closure of it and similar institutions in 1999. Since then, many former patients have come forward claiming to have witnessed or experienced abuse at the hands of staff.



Spirits Bay, Northland

Spirits Bay (right) has long been considered sacred by Maori.
WILLIAMSPHOTOGRAHPYNZ/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Spirits Bay (right) has long been considered sacred by Maori.

An isolated bay near the tip of the North Island, Spirits Bay has long been sacred to Maori; said to be the place where the souls of the dead leave this world for the next. The bay has two names in Maori: Piwhane and Kapowairua, the latter meaning "to grasp the spirit".

Before setting off from the bay to visit his daughter, Ngati Kahu chief Tohe is said to have told his people to grasp his spirit if he should perish on his voyage. Tohe went on to name more than 100 places along the west coast on his travels south before meeting his death at Whangairiki.

Legend has it that, at night, spirits can be seen moving down the beach toward an ancient pohutukawa tree and suddenly disappearing. If this is something you think you'd like to see with your own eyes, there's a campsite between the long sandy beach and lushly forested hills of the Aupouri Peninsula.

If you don't want to join the departing souls though, be careful in the water as rips are common and swells can be large.

Erskine College, Island Bay, Wellington

Erskine College in February 2014, after it had been red stickered by Wellington City Council.
Talia Carlisle

Erskine College in February 2014, after it had been red stickered by Wellington City Council.

Abandoned to the elements, once dignified and graceful Erskine College for many years seemed to be hovering somewhere between life and death. Built by the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1905, the four-storey convent building - which has Gothic, Tudor and Edwardian touches - served as a Catholic girls' boarding school until its closure in 1985.

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Its status as a Historic Places Trust Category I building, signifying it has "special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value", did little to preserve it. Wellington City Council declared it unsafe in 2012 after it failed to meet earthquake safety guidelines and it continued its slow but steady decline.

Its once well tended gardens went to weeds and were covered in "keep out signs"; its stonework was covered in graffiti; its windows broken or boarded.



But it seems the buildings, which featured in Peter Jackson's 1996 The Frighteners, may get a happy ending after all. In June, developer Ian Cassels' Wellington Company won approval from the Save Erskine College Trust and Heritage New Zealand to move forward with a $30 million project to convert the property into housing. 

Racecourse Hotel, Riccarton, Christchurch

The licensee of the Racecourse Hotel was shot dead in his bed in 1933.
Dean Kozanic

The licensee of the Racecourse Hotel was shot dead in his bed in 1933.

The scene of an unsolved murder, the Racecourse Hotel looks fittingly like it's straight out of a Hollywood western. In 1933, Donald Fraser, the 41-year-old licensee of the hotel, was shot dead in his bed, where he was asleep with his wife, by two blasts from a double-barrelled shotgun.

The case became a media sensation and, while the police had their suspects, no one was ever charged for the crime. Investigators checked and rechecked the movements of everyone in the hotel that night, but no conclusive evidence of whodunnit was ever disclosed.

Police did establish that the bullets were bought on the West Coast but could not say by whom.

Larnach Castle, Dunedin 

Norcombe and Margaret Barker, executive and founding directors respectively of Larnach Castle.
JANE DAWBER/THE PRESS

Norcombe and Margaret Barker, executive and founding directors respectively of Larnach Castle.

In a kind of real-life fairytale gone wrong, the original owners of New Zealand's only castle were beset by tragedy, including multiple untimely deaths. Commissioned by businessman and politician William Larnach for his beloved first wife Eliza in 1871, the Gothic revival-style castle took 200 men three years to build. No expense was spared and European craftsmen spend a further 12 years perfecting the interior.

After losing his seat in parliament, Larnach took his family - he had six children with Eliza - to the UK but soon learned his businesses in New Zealand were failing and decided to return with his wife, her younger sister Mary and the youngest children. Eliza died shortly afterward of a stroke at the age of 38 and he promptly married Mary, reputedly a drunkard whom his children despised. She too died at the age of 38 after contracting blood poisoning. Larnach also lost his daughter Kate - said to have been his favourite child - to typhoid in her 20s.

At the age of 57, Larnach married again, this time to a woman named Constance 22-years his junior. Rumour has it he discovered Constance and his son Douglas were having an affair and, in 1898, after receiving a letter that confirmed all the sordid details, he shot himself in a parliament chamber.

The castle's current owners, the Barkers, bought the property in 1967 and begun a massive salvation effort, returning it from a state of near ruin to its former glory. Some believe the Larnach's have never been able to let the place go. William is said to be haunt the lower level, which contains the ballroom he presented to Kate on her 21st birthday, while Eliza apparently haunts the upper levels.

Do you have an eerie tale about you travels in New Zealand? Share them in the comments.

 - Stuff

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