Project Puhinui: Session one – Puhinui House, Howick Historical Village

Session One: March 19th 2016 – Solo overnight vigil by Mark Wallbank

DSC05874Feb 2016, I began working on a plan to investigate further, the almost regular unusual occurrences that have been reported through the years at the grand, and much loved, Puhinui house.

puhi are the decorative plumes used on Maori war canoes; nui meaning large – Apparently relating to an incident in which a concealed canoe was discovered when someone caught sight of the distinctive plumes on its prow. There are claims the discoverers were soundly defeated in a following skirmish.

Puhinui Homestead was originally built on Thomas Morris McLaughlin’s 1152 hectare farm in Wiri, which he bought in 1845. In 1861, Thomas’ second son William built this fine piece of real estate lovingly named Puhinui, also called the McLaughlin Homestead. The family retained the house and land for many years, but after the industrialisation of that area, in 1980, the house was offered to the Howick Historical Society and moved to the village on February 12, 1982.

The 160-year-old house was cut into five pieces and shifted to the village in 1982. It was carried from its Manukau home on five trailers and, with the help of two large cranes, reassembled. Hauntings

Through the years, there has been witnessed the figure of a woman, ascending the stairs. Nothing else, just climbing, from the bottom to the top. The same women (well, its surmised its the same woman) has also been seen in the master bedroom at the top of the stairs. It is thought that the mystery woman could be William McLaughlin’s Daughter, Sarita.

An obituary in the Auckland Star, Volume LXXI, Issue 243, 12 October 1940, Page 12 reads; Many Auckland people, and particularly those connected with the older generations, will regret to learn of the death of Miss Sarita McLaughlin, which occurred at her residence in Remuera last evening. Miss McLaughlin was born on the Puhinui estate in 1870. It was while she was young that her father, the late Mr. William McLaughlin, founded the Pakuranga Hunt Club and was its master for many years. Miss McLaughlin was a fine horsewoman and hunted regularly with the hounds. A large circle of friends will always remember Miss McLaughlin’s many kindnesses. Her generosity was distributed to all classes and without thought for herself. She visited England and the Continent several times and a few years ago spent some months in South America.

Sarita Niccol McLaughlin passed away at seventy years of age.

So far the team have conducted two investigations of the village, always making time for this old gem.

But this time I wanted to focus it all on just this one house.

I wanted to keep it simple.

No other team members, minimal equipment and no one knowing I’m there.

I wanted to avoid any possible contamination or distractions.

No random whispering, coughing, footsteps, sound or movement from anyone but myself.

Just me, and the house.

During a previous investigation of the house, back in 2010, the building was in the process of some renovation and a repaint. Scaffolding surrounding most of the exterior.

One team member reporting feeling a non-specific presence within the Homestead. As the building was undergoing re-painting of the exteriors, it is believed within the paranormal communities, that construction or renovations can be a trigger which can potentially stir up ghostly activity.

Earlier in the day, prior to the team’s investigation, a ghostly encounter was reported by a painter who was working on renovations to one of the buildings on site. The painter reported seeing an apparition out of the corner of their eye when working at the Puhinui Farm Homestead building. Unfortunately the team were not able to interview this individual directly, so further specifics of the encounter could not be obtained.

During that investigation, one of the team placed a coin on a sheet of paper in the children’s bedroom and traced a circle around the edge with a pen. Then, any ‘children’ present, were asked to please come forward and move the coin. The coin was then left while the team investigated elsewhere in the house. Upon returning, the coin had indeed moved outside the confines of the tracing.

In addition, one team member reported seeing the movement of one of the curtains in the main parlour of the house. The curtain was large, at least three metres tall and made from a heavy velvet material. While it was a windy day, and the window behind the curtain had been removed for renovation (the gap left covered in tarpaulin), the movement seen appeared to be a deliberate tug, rather than movement caused by the wind.


DSC00082I decided that I would sit and write a live journal for inclusion in this book, during my night long vigil. I would also log onto Facebook and give a live account to anyone that might be up at that time paying attention.

During that time a couple of mediums came online and started trying to channel in to where I was. I had time on my hands so offered to do whatever they might like me to do, if they were picking up on anything. They had no idea where I was. Typically, and as I had expected, they both were far off the mark.

One telling me to look for a pit in on the floor which was the old cellar and that a barmaid had died there; even though I explained to one of the mediums that the building had never been a bar and had no cellar. However, they seemed adamant they were correct. I was in no space for a debate, so just let it be. Both mediums soon realised that were getting nowhere so left the discussion. If anything it gave me a smug quiet giggle to pass the time.

My journal below is as I wrote it at on the night. Nothing has been added. Please excuse my semi-train of thought and attempted semi-poetic ramblings.


Well, here I am again, thirty something years on and I’m again sitting in the dark in the lounge room of Puhinui house, at the Howick historical village, looking for ghosts.

I did this at ten years old and I’m still doing it.

I love this shit, I really do. It’s something that not many truly understand, until they give it a go themselves.

Just sitting in a quiet old room, no distractions. Minimal lighting and no noise.

Just you and the old house.

Soaking each other up and talking to one another in a weird, two-way conversation consisting of two differing languages.

House, and human.

It’s dark, around 9pm and I’ve just finished setting up some equipment for tonight’s solo vigil at Puhinui.

I’m using a four camera IR DVR system. Small and compact.

There’s a camera aimed out into the lounge room watching me sleep, one aimed into the dining room, one up in the master bedroom aimed towards the bed and one at the bottom of the stairs looking up.

Plus two video cams on tripods. One in lounge aimed down hallway, one in study.

Motion and vibration sensors will hopefully alert me to anything roaming the halls or stairwell, outside of my vision. Motion and vibration sensors on the stairs. A motion sensor in hallway outside kitchen.

Whilst doing this, I am continually aware of movement around me. Fleeting shadows on the peripheral. Also sounds. Not the typical house shifting type sounds. These are more than just the dull old creaks and pops of an old house as the night rolls on. Scuffing, movement. But down low.

  • 9.45pm: Someone’s just let off some fireworks nearby.

20 degrees Celsius outside and 21.6 inside where I’m sitting. Feeling relaxed and comfortable. There’s kinda that weird, ‘being watched’ feeling. But it doesn’t worry me at all.

  • 10pm and the old chiming clock is dead on time!

Tells me the hour, on the hour. Things sure were built to last back then.

Watching a few You Tube clips on the tablet to pass the time.

I keep spinning around. So many noises behind and to the left of me that don’t sound like house creaks.

These are more like movement scuffs and swishes, not cracks and creaks. Coming from behind me and to my left and loud enough to cause me to spin around in my chair to look. I’ve already gotten up to check, but there’s nothing there. Its like there’s something just around that corner. Hiding or doing something. I’m thinking a rat, but cant see one.

Went and sat on the stairwell for a while.

This is where the grey lady is often seen; always ascending.

It’s weird. If you stare at a bunch of shadows long enough, they start to merge together and move. I’m looking at the shadows cast onto the stairwell wall.

The spaces, if you stare for a while, seem to fill in and open again.

I know it’s my eyes playing optical trickery and perhaps I’m a bit tired into the mix. But when you’re in a place like this, alone, with bugger all lights on, this kind of shit can really mess with you!

  • 11pm: On to my second Moro Bar and second bottle of water.

There’s coffee in the kitchen, but I don’t really want to get too wired.

Prefer to keep it natural and let my body do what it needs to do.

If I get tired, I’ll sleep.

Then again, perhaps a little sleep deprivation might add a little ‘zing’ to the night?

Still hearing sounds. Just light, random scuffles.

Like the sound when wind blows a tree’s branch swiftly across a window.

Yet there are no trees nearby and none touching the house anywhere.

Also, the sounds are down low; floor level.

By the front door and at the bottom of the stairs.

Perhaps even in the dining room. Hard to tell at this point.

Its those bloody invisible rats again!

  • 12am / Midnight: It’s 19 degrees outside and 21.6 inside. So quite comfy.

There’s a lonely Pukeko somewhere out front of the house calling for his / her mate. A sad crying sound with a desperate, yet melancholic tone.

OK, that was interesting. Got up to go to the toilet.

Mid stream, I hear what sounds like footsteps on the wooden floor following after me. I hold, listen. It stops, I carry on urinating.

There would’ve been about five steps. In succession and in a convincing walking rhythm.

Getting harder to think rationally, when things are sounding like what they sound like.

  • 1am: 18 degrees outside, 20 in here.

Temperatures slowly crawling down with each passing hour. Can’t stop yawning. It’s been a long day!

Just tried a communication session on the stairwell.

After asking a few questions, I heard that shuffling sound again. This time coming from upstairs. I called out “Is someone there?”and went up to have a look. Couldn’t see anything out of place.

Was hoping whom ever might be there would attempt some wall tapping, or come sit beside me for a chat. Nothing this time round.

Then again, I haven’t yet reviewed any of my footage, so who knows what might turn up. Maybe they did find a way to make themselves known.

The wind is picking up outside. I’m expecting the frequency of creaks and clicks to rise now.

Oddly enough they aren’t.

  • 2am: The noises seemed to have stopped now.

I figured the wind outside would cause more than what I was hearing.

If indeed the sounds were being caused by external natural forces, onto the house, then surely I’d hear more wooden creaking and clicks as the house was blown.

Even revisited the toilet for a follow up pee. (on to the third water bottle now)

This time no one appeared interested in my bladder release.

Have to say, one of my less satisfying urinations. Is it weird to be hoping that someone will be watching you doing it?

Lets just quietly say, on this occasions I was kind of hoping it would go that way.

  • 2.30am: Decided I need sleep. Eyes are starting to water. I’ve been staring at this damn laptop too long tonight and its been a long day.

Will leave everything running and get comfy on the floor.

Have to be up and out by 8am as there’s a ‘live day’ at the village.

Would be rather embarrassing to wake to find a group of kids milling around me thinking I was some bizarre historical recreation.

  • 3 am: Ok, its just after 3am and something just happened. I heard a bang, which woke me up. Wasn’t sure what it was. Just a bang like something had fallen or been knocked over.

Thought it might have been a poorly balanced camera and tripod falling over.

It’s a torch I had upstairs sitting on a chair. It’s now down the stairs. Not sure how.

Can’t get my head around this.


The journal logging ended there, as I needed sleep and was dazed and confused like the walking dead. I didn’t know what I had captured, or experienced, until I got home and replayed the video. I knew when the incident happened so just skipped through to that very moment.

It was then I realised that the activity had happened 25 minutes after my head had hit my pillow and played out for around 12 minutes. What follows is a series of noises that suggest a heavy cabinet being dragged across a wooden floor, perhaps draws being slid open, scuffing and sliding sounds, what could possibly be footsteps and a couple of loud clunks very similar to that made by a metal bucket. Then there’s the physical and visual action. A small, unknown moving ‘object’ is seen casting a shadow, through the stair railings onto the stairs. It appeared to be blocking the light behind it.

Then the grand finale; my torch flying sharply down onto the stairs, seemingly with some force behind it. At a first and second watch, the footage looks pretty impressive, however I find myself in two minds about it.

I know I should be very excited about this capture, but something just doesn’t feel right. Nothing seems to make sense. The building layout, the distance the torch moved, the angles, the force, the types of noises then there’s the fact; to which I’ll probably spend eternity kicking myself for. That there’s no camera aimed at the torch to capture that money shot!

I’m not yet saying I’ve been pranked. Even that could’ve been a far stretch for someone to pull off. Too many variables. Too much risk for them, and again, everything didn’t make any sense or fit any probable scenario. I really don’t think it was someone in the house with me. Every footstep and every move I made in that house was amplified loud and clear by floor board creaks. You just couldn’t move a step without causing a commotion. Anyone upstairs would’ve had to have been levitating to get around. The noise I made just going up the stairs to look, was ridiculous!

The team has spent a few weeks now analysing and discussing the footage in an attempt to break down the incident as much as possible, to try and shed some much needed light onto it. So far we are reaching dead ends.






In the next few months we will endeavour two further overnight solo vigils.

I want to experiment with variation of people in these situations.

Three Haunted Auckland team members, with differing skills, beliefs, strengths, personalities, ethics and preferred investigation equipment.

I’m interested to see what similarities might occur. Any patterns in activity or personal emotion.

I also want to see how team members cope in these conditions. Not everyone can endure this type of environment.

Would the imagination take over leading to paranoia and fear? Or would a strong thinking mind stay firm and work it through to the end?

In the end though, there isn’t really any right or wrong way of doing this. But it sure is one hell of a crazy roadtrip finding out!

The video clip of session one of The Puhinui Project, can be found on You Tube here.


  1. Pingback: Matukutureia (or McLaughlin's Mountain), Clendon, Auckland | Paranormal NZ

  2. Helen Thompson

    Read the book and have now viewed the 2016 investigation of Puhinui homestead online. Fascinating! Re Mark’s overnight solo investigation on 19/03/2016, just curious as to what your ultimate conclusions or thoughts are about the 12 minutes of strange noises and activity and the torch-tossing episode.

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