We uncover the chequered history of this notoriously haunted psychiatric hospital and share our impressions from our initial location scout at the former nurses hostel and Spookers attraction.
The Kingseat Investigations – History
Kingseat Hospital is a former psychiatric hospital that is considered to be one of New Zealand’s most notoriously haunted locations with over one hundred claims of apparitions being reported, as of 2011.
It is located in Karaka, New Zealand, south of Auckland and since 2005 has been used as a site for Spookers; a New Zealand attraction that is believed to be Australasia’s only haunted attraction scream park, and “The number one Haunted Attraction in the Southern Hemisphere”.
According to an article on Stuff.co.nz, Kingseat Hospital is the number one haunted spot in New Zealand.
The construction of Kingseat Hospital began in 1929 when twenty patients from a nearby mental institution came to the site along with twelve wheelbarrows and ten shovels. Kingseat Hospital was named after a hospital in Aberdeenshire, Scotland following Dr. Gray (the Director-General of the Mental Health Division of the Health Department at the time) returning from an overseas trip, who felt it appropriate to have a sister hospital with the same name in New Zealand. Flower gardens, shrubs and trees were grown in the grounds of Kingseat Hospital, using surplus plants from the Ellerslie Racecourse and Norfolk Island pine seeds from Sir George Grey’s garden on Kawau Island.
Kingseat Hospital was in operation from 1932. In 1939, the Public Works Department and Fletcher Construction Company, Ltd. agreed on the construction of a two-storey nurses home at Kingseat Hospital, with the government to provide the steel for the building.
The hospital grew throughout the mid-late 1930s and 1940s to such an extent that by the beginning of 1947, there were over eight hundred patients. In 1968, certain nurses at Kingseat Hospital went on strike, which forced the administration to invite unemployed people and volunteers to assist within the hospital grounds with domestic chores. In 1973, a Therapeutic pool was opened by the then-Mayoress of Auckland, Barbara Goodman, four years before the main swimming pool was added to the hospital in 1977. The site celebrated its 50th Anniversary Jubilee in 1982.
During the 1970s and 1980s, there were many places attached to psychiatric hospitals in New Zealand where alcoholics were treated for their drinking addictions and Villas 4 and 11 at Kingseat Hospital served this purpose. In 1996, South Auckland Health sold Kingseat Hospital after government decisions to replace ongoing hospitalisation of mentally ill patients with community care and rehabilitation units. This led to the eventual closure of Kingseat Hospital in July 1999, when the final patients were re-located off the complex to a mental health unit in Otara.
We were told that more nurses died at Kingseat than patients. Staff suicide being common on the grounds, due to the high stress levels caused in working in such a physically and emotionally draining working environment.
An Article from Scoop Auckland about the hospital closure by Selwyn Manning, dated 28th July 1999.
Last Patients Moved from Kingseat Today
Today, Kingseat Hospital will be officially closed.
The last patients held in the former mental institution will be moved off the rural complex and transported to a newly refurbished secure mental health unit on Bairds Road in Otara.
The move to the Bairds Road unit is controversial with local residents having fought its establishment at Manukau City Council hearings committee meetings and in the Environment Court.
Kingseat was sold by South Auckland Health in 1996, after the Government’s deinstitutionalisation policy insisted a move away from continuing hospitalisation of mentally ill patients in favour of community care and smaller acute and rehabilitation units.
The idea is to bring mentally ill patients out from institutionalised care and place them within communities and closer to their families.
The Bairds Road unit, Tamaki-Oranga, will house 20 mentally ill patients which were identified of needing on-going hospitalisation and rehabilitation. Patient history was questioned in Parliament throughout 1997 by Manukau East MP Ross Robertson.
Mr Robertson questioned the then Minister of Health Bill English on this histories of 16 patients destined for the Bairds Road unit, but until today remained at Kingseat Hospital.
Mr Robertson asked whether any of the patients had been forensic patients as detailed under the Mental Health Act, and whether any of the patients had convictions of rape and other violent crimes. Details of patient histories were kept secret due to Privacy Act requirements.
Mr Robertson insisted that the Bairds Road site was inappropriate to hold the 16 patients as it was within a narrow radius walking distance of six schools.
South Auckland Health insists local Otara residents have nothing to fear. The new mental unit is secure. It is sited within the old Spinal Unit complex and is surrounded by electrified fences. It insists no forensic patients will be held at the unit. Although patients, once considered forensic patients but having had their classification eased into a more rehabilitative category, will be able to be housed at the Bairds Road unit.
Due to Manukau City Council consent conditions a Liaison committee between South Auckland Health and local resident representatives has been set up. Meetings have been held over the past three months to allay community fears.
Community spokesperson Sue Watts says Otara people are not against mentally ill people but rather are concerned for the safety of their families should an escape be made from the secure unit.
South Auckland Health managers say such fears are unwarranted and unjustified. It says having the patients at the Bairds Road unit allows them to b closer to their families, whereas Kingseat was isolated. The goal of the Bairds Road unit is to rehabilitate the patients and eventually to allow them to again live within the community.
After the closure of Kingseat Hospital in 1999, the grounds were initially considered as a potential site for a new prison, able to accommodate for six hundred inmates. In 2000, legal action was taken against the Tainui tribe for financial issues involving the former hospital. By 2004, more than two-hundred people had come forward to file complaints against the national government for claims of mistreatment and abuse of patients at New Zealand’s psychiatric institutions (including Kingseat Hospital) during the 1960s and 1970s.
In 2005, a television episode of Ghost Hunt featured the site of the former hospital. As of 2007, the most common apparition reportedly seen at Kingseat Hospital was the “Grey Nurse”, believed to be a former staff member, in and around the former nurses’ home.
In 2009, the owning company of the former hospital claimed it would proceed with plans to disconnect the water supply of residents within the local region, leaving many to either pay large fees for a different supply or to install new water tanks. In 2011, ideas were proposed to grow the area in the Kingseat suburb tenfold for the area’s equine industry. This involved propositions of re-zoning to residential a majority of the land around Kingseat Hospital although certain buildings, structures and plant life on the former hospital site were protected due to historic and cultural value.
In 2013, a property developer revealed a plan to transform the site of the hospital into a countryside living estate with four hundred and fifty homes. The plan sparked debate over which buildings and their park-like surroundings should stay as a reminder of its past, with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust requesting better protection of heritage values of buildings and plants. But some residents insisted that the complex represented a sad past and shouldn’t be highlighted as heritage.
In 2005, the haunted attraction Spookers opened in the area of the former hospital in the former nurse hostel. Many of the special effects and props used at Spookers were created with assistance from Weta Workshop.
In 2010, New Zealand filmmaker Dale Stewart shot his horror film Compound at the former hospital property after receiving permission from Spookers, the current owners. Spookers were finalists of the year’s Tourism Industry Awards.
An obstacle race involving zombie attacks and known as “Run for your Freak’n Life” was held by Spookers on 15 April 2012, in a “Fun Run” in celebration of being open for 6 years, 6 months, and 6 days on that date. The three quantities of 6 (years, months, days) are a reference to 666, the Number of the Beast.
Taken from an online journal of a former staff member at Kingseat
I worked here as a teenager, it was a horrible hospital with dinosaur thinking and a lot of what they say is true.
How they treated the elderly and mentally handicapped people back then was horrible..
It was horrible learning when suicidal people got out and caused accidents..
The road around the hospital is probably haunted from traffic accidents caused by people living there. It was horrible living in the nurses “home”, it was horrible working in the huge main kitchen and it was worse working in the separate units. The eating halls looked like a disaster swept through after each feeding..
There was never enough hands to help the extremely handicapped eat, no medications to avoid being scratched or attacked nurses or kitchen or laundry staff a like-if having to go past the residents to clean up or stop them attacking each other.
We could use the hours between meals to just clean up the dining rooms.. I cried with relief to learn this hospital has closed. The gardens were kept beautiful with its tennis courts and pool, but what was behind closed doors sucks.
if there are ghosts it would not shock me, when people where really sentenced to life behind a mental hospital door people did die here. Some of the criminally insane people did really bad stuff but how they were treated was worse.
I hate the nursing staff for not telling us younger people so we could decide for ourselves to be exposed to some of the crap these inmates said to us. I found out from my own mother what some of these people did to their victims, she worked there to for many years.
Yes some had murdered, I hope God forgives anyone whom stayed here as a patient. I cried looking at the elderly dement people being held here, their only crime was not being of sound mind and having no living relations..
The Kingseat Investigations – Part 1 – Saturday 17 November 2012
Former Nurses Hostel Walk-though
This was done by Mark and Matthew.
Following a meeting Mark had with Beth, one of the managers of Spookers, the two were shown the entire building from level to level, section to section to plan ahead for the upcoming investigations.
Mark – The thing that dawned on me as we wandered the maze-like corridors and interconnecting levels, was how deceptive the building is from the outside. Sure, the looming brick structure looks somewhat monolithic standing outside looking up at it, but once inside you can literally spend hours wandering around blindly, sometimes in circles, sometimes missing whole sections with disorientation due to lack of bearings in the dark and randomly discovering them a second time round.
Another thing I noticed was that certain rooms felt different to others. Even those rooms that branched off the same hallway. One room would have a whole different ‘feeling’ to the one right next to it. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself ‘sensitive’ (not that I know of, anyway) and aren’t able to ‘feel’ what the two Medium / Sensitives in the group are able to sense at times. But, in this building there are definitely detectable levels of difference within each room.
I am as yet undecided as to whether or not this would be due to natural causes or even something unnatural. Some rooms I entered had an instantly noticeable icy cold chill in them, whilst the one next to it was warm and felt normal. Some rooms had a ‘heaviness’ that was instantly noticeable on entering. Like there was an invisible cloud that I was walking into. The air felt heavy and thick to walk through. Whatever the causes, there were certain rooms that didn’t simply feel like normal everyday, empty rooms.
Matthew – Of course the building is decorated as a “Haunted” attraction, so dark, with props and fake cobwebs etc. Structurally it reminded me of some of the buildings at the old Waipukurau Hospital. The horror décor is designed to provoke certain reactions, however in the “backstage” corridors it felt much like an old hotel or dormitory similar to Tavistock Hotel, but with a less “lived-in” feel. Definitely felt like a place that was only occupied at specific times of day.