(Image: Haunted Auckland; Kingseat Hospital and other abandoned New Zealand landmarks)
New Zealand took centre stage during the filming and release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later The Hobbit, when its breathtaking, wild landscape doubled for Middle Earth. Many film locations and a small handful of sets can still be visited today. But while those movies showcased the wild side of the Kiwi landscape, we wanted to explore a selection of the long-forgotten, man-made ruins that dot the country’s rugged coastlines, cities and settlements. This article takes a look at some of abandoned New Zealand’s most impressive, historic and – at times – chilling locations.
Abandoned Tuahine Point Lighthouse
(Images: Grant; silent sentinel: the abandoned Tuahine Point Lighthouse)
Decommissioned in the 1950s, the abandoned Tuahine Point Lighthouse was the third lighthouse to be built on the Tuahine headland. The first was destroyed by fire only a few months after it opened in 1905. Just a year after the second was built in 1909, it was declared unsafe and condemned because of large-scale erosion that had eaten away at the rocks at its base. The 1911 Tuahine Lighthouse, however, still stands true, but its role was replaced by an electric system, built on the headland above, during the 1950s. Now, the abandoned lighthouse rusts away, a silent sentinel watching over the waters off the picturesque coast of New Zealand.
Abandoned Kingseat Hospital, Auckland
Auckland’s abandoned Kingseat Hospital closed in 1999, and since then it’s gained something of a reputation as one of the most haunted locations in New Zealand. Believers in the paranormal claim that the restless spirits of both patients and staff still haunt the grounds. One thing that can’t be denied, though, is the abandoned New Zealand hospital’s heartbreaking history.
This was highlighted in 2004, when a one-time patient claimed to have new evidence in the death of an 11-year-old boy. The death of Clement Matthews had been attributed to severe pneumonia, but after 30 years a witness came forward and claimed he’d seen nurses beating the child. Chillingly, the case isn’t the only one of its kind, either, with nearly 200 complaints of historical mistreatment and abuse dating to the 1960s and 1970s brought by former Kingseat patients.
Named after a hospital in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the psychiatric facility was constructed in 1929 when 20 patients from a neighbouring facility broke ground with the help of 10 shovels and 12 wheelbarrows. Since it closed, a number of proposals have been made for the future use of the abandoned Kingseat Hospital, with nothing coming to fruition – so far.
Abandoned New Zealand Power Stations, Taranaki Region
(Image: possumgirl2; dismantling New Plymouth Power Station in Taranaki)
Turning the movement of water into electricity has long been a major part of New Zealand’s power-generation strategy, and at one point Taranaki was home to seven of the country’s biggest hydroelectric plants. They weren’t just supplying the country’s urban centers with electricity, either. The process was adopted on small scales by local farmers, too.
When urban explorers ventured inside an abandoned New Zealand power station at New Plymouth – the chimney of which had once been recognised as the tallest man-made structure in the country – they found the plant in a state of decay. Built in 1972, it was slowly decommissioned between 2001 and 2008.
A number of other power plants were built at the turn of the 20th century, and while some have now been abandoned or demolished, others are being examined for possible recommissioning. Examples of the old equipment removed from these derelict places can be seen at the Museum of Transport and Technology Auckland, while a handful are still supplying power to small-scale dairy farmers.
Abandoned McLean’s Mansion, Christchurch
(Images: Madam48; abandoned McLean’s Mansion in Christchurch)
Runholder Allan McLean spent the first years of his life in Scotland, moving to Australia as a child and finally settling in New Zealand as an adult. Starting out as shepherds, McLean and his brothers saved enough money to buy two sheep runs – from there, their hard work continued to pay off.
In 1900, McLean’s Mansion was completed with the original name of Holly Lea. The 53-room home was renamed after his death (when it was donated to women’s education), and was the largest wooden structure in Australasia. First serving as a nursing home and then a dental nurses’ hostel and training centre, McLean’s Mansion, a Category I heritage building, has since been closed due to serious damage sustained during the 2011 earthquake.
Since then, the threat of demolition has loomed over the abandoned New Zealand mansion. In 2015, urban explorers documented what was left of this once-beautiful home which, like other abandoned places in New Zealand, is now a decaying shell of its former glory.
The Ruins of Wilson’s Cement Works, Warkworth
(Images: russellstreet; exploring the abandoned New Zealand cement works)
One of the first cement factories in the Southern Hemisphere, the Wilson’s Cement Works at Warkworth is now a towering ruin that pays incredible tribute to the blossoming industrial age of New Zealand. The remaining structures, including defunct lime kilns, date back to the 1880s when industrialist Nathaniel Wilson opened this internationally-significant manufacturing plant. In its heyday, it employed around 180 workers and produced about 20,000 tons of cement each year.
The cement produced here would be used in iconic structures like Grafton Bridge, but the years surrounding World War One brought financial difficulties to the Wilson’s Cement Works. When the company was absorbed into Wilsons (NZ) Portland Cement Company, production was moved to Portland and the land was sold off. The abandoned New Zealand landmark was severely damaged during military training exercises around the time of World War Two, and in 2003, the derelict factory came under public ownership.
The Ruins of St Bathans School, Central Otago District
The abandoned St Bathans School once served students in Central Otago District, and remained active up until the 1940s. Its original construction was in 1874, when the township it stood in was awarded a £90 grant to build the one-room school house.
But, as is so often the case, as the area’s gold mining operations dwindled, so did the local population and the number of students in need of an education. In 1943, an earthquake damaged St Bathans School, and when lessons were transferred out, they never returned. Today, the crumbling ruins of the abandoned New Zealand school – its roof collapsed and windows and doors long gone – make for an eerie sight. Despite its derelict condition, the ruins are protected by Heritage New Zealand as a valuable reminder of the country’s gold mining history and of the educational system which operated in its small industrial communities.
Abandoned Industry: Whakaari Sulphur Mines
(Images: Krzysztof Belczyński; abandoned New Zealand industry on Whakaari)
Also known as White Island, Whakaari is an active volcano that’s witnessed some 35 minor eruptions since 1835. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that the mining camps where workers once lived have long since been abandoned.
Now a privately owned island and scenic reserve that can be visited through pre-booked tours, Whakaari’s last surviving sulphur mines closed in the 1930s. Mining operations were staggered, and in September of 1914 a mudslide killed all 10 workers on the island at the time. The only survivor of the accident was one of the camp cats, Peter the Great. The bodies of the men were never found.
Some of the machinery and other equipment once used to extract sulphur and gypsum from the island’s mines remains where it was left, slowly rusting away in the shadow of the active volcano as it periodically spews toxic gases into the air.
Abandoned New Zealand Railways: The Denniston Incline
(Images: Phillip Cossar)
From October of 1879 to August of 1967, the Denniston Plateau was at heating heart of coal production. But once the coal mines closed, the workers and their families, who had formed a close-knit community in the face of tough living conditions, began to leave the area, too.
When they departed, they left behind what was once referred to as an “Eighth Wonder of the World” – the Denniston Incline. A railway designed to move coal down a steep slope, it was once traversed by as many as 14 wagons every hour.
Today, a stretch of the abandoned Denniston Incline has been restored, and signboards scattered around the area tell the fascinating story of the coal mining industry that once thrived on the plateau. Even though its residents have left, haunting traces of Denniston are still evident, from staircases to nowhere and the foundations of derelict houses long gone to rusting mining equipment, which was once the life-blood of this abandoned New Zealand ghost town.
Historic Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland
Auckland’s oldest graveyard, the Symonds Street Cemetery is a Category I listed Historic Place with a controversial history. Opened in 1842 and the final resting place of some of New Zealand’s most important historical figures (including traders, missionaries, and the first colonial governor William Hobson), the cemetery was closed to new burials in 1886. In the 1960s, though, almost a quarter of the cemetery was destroyed during the development of the Auckland Southern Motorway. During that development, around 4,100 bodies were relocated.
Despite the disturbance, it’s estimated that around 10,000 people remain interred in Symonds Street Cemetery’s surviving burial plots, and Heritage New Zealand names the graveyard as one of the most important in the country. That hasn’t kept the old burial ground sacred, though, and amid concerns that have been voiced for the deteriorating condition of the graves, local vandals have been known to daub headstones in graffiti.
Macetown and the Homeward Bound Stamper Battery
Macetown was founded and settled in the 1860s, after the discovery of gold in the nearby Arrow River. But when the gold proved insufficient to support the town, residents turned to mining the surrounding hills for quartz. The boom times were short-lived, though, and Macetown lay abandoned by the 1930s.
Despite its short tenure, the mining boom did give rise to a number of colourful characters. A group of miners who called themselves ‘The Twelve Apostles’ were well known for their drinking and gambling habits, and the last remaining resident was William Jenkins. Known for joy-riding through town on his horse, Jenkins declared himself mayor in 1921. There was even a Chinatown district, situated at the end of main street, which hosted annual celebrations of the Chinese New Year.
Today, only the bare remnants of this abandoned New Zealand ghost town remain, but those ruins include what is understood to be the most complete and well-preserved ore supply system in New Zealand. The Homeward Bound stamper battery still stands, complete with defunct aerial cableway and ore hopper.
Bonus! Lord of the Rings Movie Set: Hobbiton, Matamata
(Images: Rob Chandler; Matamata’s abandoned Hobbiton set before restoration)
As the ancestral home of the Bagginses, Hobbiton in the Shire needs no introduction. Today, the serene pastoral set near Matamata, where Gandalf once trod, has been fully restored. But for several years between the completion of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the start of The Hobbit, the village lay in a state of decay. The plain facades of its abandoned hobbit holes almost became eyesores – in contrast to their quaint feel in the films – as sheep aimlessly grazed the gentle slopes. Thankfully, after the most recent filming wrapped, Hobbiton was restored and is now open to the public.