The Tavistock Hotel – Waipukurau

We team up with Core Paranormal from Palmerston North in a joint investigation of the historical Tavistock Hotel in central Hawke’s Bay.

Location History

The Tavistock Hotel, originally built in the late 1850’s began as a small hospitality and accommodation block and was situated a short distance from where it was later relocated to and redeveloped in 1900. After the big move, it was expanded into a two level building with more rooms added to further expand on the hospitality / restaurant business.

These days the Tavistock building now houses a couple of establishments. The Rosie O’Grady’s Bar and Breakers Restaurant.

Upstairs had been used for guest accommodation, although recently that side of the business has been shut. (However on this visit there were a few people staying in various rooms around the upstairs area.)

There are a few stories centered around this legendary building.

The Tavistock is said to still be ‘home’ to the hotel’s former matron or possibly Ma Bartram.

Ma Bartrum came to Waipukurau in 1963, having owned the Maitland Private Hotel in Palmerston North.
The Maitland had been a popular stop for the Howard Morrison Quartet when they travelled the country, and they sought Ma Bartrum out at the Tavistock Hotel when she moved, as they enjoyed her hospitality. Ma was renowned for looking after her guests, paying bills and managing finances for long-stay tenants, and even acting as a banker for truck drivers, who would leave their pay packet with her and request that she manage their money.

Ma retired to St Mary’s Rd in Waipukurau and was much mourned when she died at Waipukurau Hospital on 11 March 1986.

Ma passed away many years ago of a heart attack. She is thought to still reside in her room and takes care of guests staying at the hotel. There have been many unusual occurrences that continue to occur since her death.

Spirits are also alleged to frequent in the Breakers bar, touching bar staff and patrons and appearing fleetingly at random moments. The Kitchen areas have also seen much activity through the years.

Cold spots, uneasy feelings, movement of items, (sometimes in clear view of staff and patrons) touching, voices, smells, moving shadow forms, unusual lights, faces appearing in photographs, the sounds of footsteps, feelings of being watched have all been experienced throughout the entire building through the years by both staff and customers.

In the Rosie O’Grady’s Bar public toilets, a sad and distressed young Maori boy is said to haunt and has often been seen and heard crying.
After a murder there many years ago where a patron was stabbed by a man in an area which is now in the Breakers bar toilets, some people have claimed to have felt a sharp painful ‘stabbing’ sensation when in that particular area of the premises. This alarming sensation was in fact felt by a few team members of both Haunted Auckland and Core Paranormal during this investigation.

Haunted Auckland linked up with George, Brenda, Victoria and Catherine from Palmerston North’s Core Paranormal for a joint investigation. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner downstairs whilst waiting for the Core team to arrive at the hotel.


“I’d like to make it officially known that the Tavistock served up the best home-made Apple Pie I have ever tasted in my life! It was truly incredible and worthy of the 6 hour drive to be there.”

When the Core team arrived, unloaded equipment and settled in, we based ourselves in one of the empty rooms upstairs and headed out from there to check out the building, returning from time to time for battery changes, tea breaks and sorting equipment.


Breakers Bar

Tavistock HotelTavistock HotelIn the Breakers Bar back rooms, Matthew claimed to have seen something he could not fully explain at the time. “While standing in the staffroom behind the kitchen looking towards the staff toilet (that staff are afraid to go into), as my eyes adjusted to the dark I thought I could see a darker shadow next to the toilet. It was only 3-4 feet tall, didn’t move and didn’t have any distinct human shape to it. After spotting this shape, the motion-sensor light I had positioned facing the toilet lit up, however this coincided with Victoria entering the room from a perpendicular doorway. Checking the position of the motion sensor it was possible that Victoria may have activated it as she came into the room. After the subsequent flurry of activity I tried to allow my eyes to adjust to see the shadow again, however I was unable to.”

Looking into the stories of ‘stabbings’ in the toilet area of the Breakers Bar, a few investigators from both teams had experiences.

Matthew states – “I got a twinge in my back while standing in the women’s toilets were people feel as if they’ve been stabbed. However the low ceiling in that room meant I had to stand at an odd angle, which probably explains the twinge. Either that or it was psychosomatic.”

Kel , the team sensitive claimed to have felt a lot of energy in one spot of the bathroom. She also felt the stabbing pain. “It felt like someone had stabbed me in the lower right side of my back. I moved away from the spot and on returning felt the stabbing sensation yet again. After standing in that position for a moment I felt a strange sensation in my leg and my foot went numb.”

Barbara – “I think there is residual energy in the downstairs (stabbing) bathroom and that there is very possibly one or two ghosts in the building.”

Mark – “Since everyone else was feeling things, I was keen to get in on it. I stood on the spot and waited. Nothing. I then decided, that seeing as this ‘man’ was a cold-blooded murderer, he could handle a little taunting. So I aimed a stronger tone at ‘him’ and told him to “come on, stab me”… Mainly out of frustration at not feeling what the others were feeling. Still nothing happened. As it seemed like a regular occurrence there, I was disappointed that I didn’t experience it. At this point I concluded that it was perhaps the ‘power of suggestion’ at play here, as George had told everyone as we approached the area and entering the room, that this is the place that a person was stabbed in the back and pointed to the very spot of the incident, also mentioning that many who stand in that spot will feel a stabbing sensation.”


Upstairs Hotel

In Ma Bartram’s room, number 31, Matt and Mark sat for a bit doing an E.V.P session and monitoring the environment.

Tavistock HotelIt was in this room that 3 team members (2 from Haunted Auckland and a couple from Core Paranormal), all reacted rather intensely to an alleged pungent stench that was apparently thick in the room. So intense was this smell to them (a couple of members described it as being similar to rotting meat, but much worse) that they could not come near the room and reacted with near vomit spasms. Whilst in the room, Mark and Matthew could not smell anything at all.

Barbara states – “Initially Ma Bartram’s room seemed fine but upon my return to the room I was overwhelmed by a rancid/rotten body odour stench! I was unable to stay in the room because of it. Tavistock HotelHonestly, there are no words to describe that smell. Try the worst body odour you can imagine, then multiply that by 100 and add an overpowering rancid fat stench to that. It honestly had me heaving and my eyes running!!!”

Mark states “Whether this was another case of hysteria or suggestion, I’m unsure at this point. It was certainly an unusual experience as I couldn’t smell it at all and to see Kel and Barbara gagging and running off in sheer sickened horror was quite unnerving. I have theorised for now that this odour was in fact a residual artefact that may have been accessible only to those of a sensitive nature. Those open to higher energies perhaps. Both Barbara and Kel are ‘sensitives’, whilst Matt and I are not, so this might part explain some of the incident. More time and research would be needed in a more controlled session to further try to document the alleged phenomena.”

“Another theory that comes to my mind is that the smell of rotting flesh could be in fact a residual spiritual ‘odour’ of a decaying Ma Bartram who was found dead in the room but wasn’t discovered until a few days had passed. Perhaps the odour is a spiritual ‘imprint’ left behind in that room, of her decomposing body?”

Also in Room 31 whilst Mark and Matthew were there, a low but very clear growl was heard, perhaps in response to an EVP question that was asked.

Matt comments – “It may have been the guy in the next room, but it sounded a little different to his coughing.”


Upstairs Kitchen

Tavistock HotelBarbara recounts – “As Kel and I entered the upstairs kitchen, Kel sensed that something approached us and came right up to Kel. It gave her a fright. I felt it was a young man named Ralph.”

Some of the residents and staff were happy to share their stories and thoughts with us.

Matt recounts some of their tales: “A young Indian chap that lived upstairs (don’t know if he was staff or just a resident) said that he used to have someone knock on his door at around 3am every morning, and there was no one there. It went on for a week and when he waited up one night in the hallway to catch who was doing it, it happened again, but there was no one there. He switched rooms after that.”

“A lanky guy in thick glasses and colourful sweater (again, a resident, not staff) claimed there was no ghosts there. He said he knew this because the ghosts used to talk to him all the time when he was in hospital, and they don’t talk to him here.”

Barbara – “A resident we talked to in the kitchen (he was in the room next to Ma Bartram but didn’t know it) told us that he has knocking at his window but when he looks to see who is there, he sees no one. He also told us that his 6-year-old son stays in his room some weekends and won’t go to the toilet by himself in the middle of the night because he insists that there are people in the corridors. Downstairs, in Breakers they talked about bar patrons sitting at the bar next to another patron and looking back to find that there is no-one there. In the back storeroom a staff member told us of staff smelling bad smells. The smell was described as a “death smell”. Also, a large bag of salt was knocked over in the storeroom and footprints were seen in the salt even though no-one else was there.”

Possible Explanations?


Tavistock HotelMatt – “It definitely felt colder out in the staff room behind the kitchens, however this is likely due to a high ceiling, large windows, and a skylight in the adjacent storage room which was letting out most of the heat. People claim to see shadows in the Breakers Restaurant area, however with large windows facing the main road, and all the chairs stacked up on tables, I can easily see how shadows can be thrown about. Also, there were illuminated signs on the bar which were not turned off after hours, while these did not appear to give of a lot of light to look at them, they were surprisingly bright enough to cast shadows as people walked in front of them, and the fact that the light from the signs was diffuse meant that the shadows were indistinct.

Feelings and Personal Views

Matt “I think the stories of Ma Bartram have probably been exaggerated a bit. I think parts of the building have that classic “haunting” type atmosphere, but I think a lot of it is just the staff passing on stories and getting worked up over it. It’s a grand old hotel, although the renovations done to put in the Breakers restaurant detract from its historic flavour a little. I would have liked to have to seen it in its day.”

Barbara – “I got a feeling that there was someone in the upstairs kitchen. I think there may have also been something/one in the Irish Bar but this was just a feeling. I did not feel comfortable in the “crying boy” toilet. I also did not like the managers flat. I must admit I’m wondering if the Tavistock Hotel is a bit of an “Urban Legend”.. Someone stabbed to death in one of the men’s toilets, a sobbing boy in the other toilets, a dead prostitute who lay dead and decomposing (although no-one knows for how long) upstairs, patrons who appear and disappear. Perhaps it’s not haunted, but I think there is residual energy in the Breakers men’s toilets and maybe a couple of ghosts in the building (as would be expected of a building of that age).”

Mark – “It was an interesting place for sure. It certainly had a very haunted atmosphere going, but I didn’t feel, see, sense or smell anything for myself at this investigation to lead me to believe there was anything paranormal at the Tavistock Hotel. Personally, I would have preferred going in without any prior knowledge of the alleged paranormal activity at Tavistock as I felt the detailed descriptions of the alleged activity that was shared prior, played a major part in influencing the ‘experiences’ of the night.”

The Haunted Auckland team would like to sincerely thank George and crew of Core Paranormal for inviting us to join them on this investigation. It was fascinating, friendly and definitely fun.

We hope to work alongside you guys again soon!


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  2. These stories of encounters at the Tavistock Hotel are greatly exaggerated , I have managed and lived at the Hotel for 7 years and was present during your visit.
    Local legends relate all sorts of stories of past occupants and owners to us, we have yet to experience anything unusual in any of the rooms upstairs, or in the kitchen area. If a restless spirit did exist I am sure it would be in our Managers flat area where ther once was a stairway for servants down to the oldest part of the restaurant, now a cupboard – nothing unusual has been seen there.

    1. jean McDavitt

      I worked for Mrs B over 6 years between 1967 and 1973 as receptionist, payclerk, office assistant etc. She was one of the best bosses I ever had and although we had a few words in our first few weeks together we had a warm and trusting relationship as did all who treated her fairly.
      She had no time for fools! Although she owned the hotel, her husband, Paul Bartrum, an x fly boy and a heavy drinker had his name over the door as the licencee. When asked why she put up with him, her reply was – ‘He makes me laugh!’ She had a hard life and deserved what laughs she could get. Jean McDavitt Wanganui

    2. Anonymous

      I agree the 1 st Tavi was 2 or 3 room shanty, The present one built in 1916” Sandra in my Pops time steam engines had a hell of a problem moving it,

  3. Rachel Neal

    This is correct information about my great aunt.
    Ma Bartrum came to Waipukurau in 1963, having owned the Maitland Private Hotel in Palmerston North.
    The Maitland had been a popular stop for the Howard Morrison Quartet when they travelled the country, and they sought Ma Bartrum out at the Tavistock Hotel when she moved, as they enjoyed her hospitality.

    Ma was renowned for looking after her guests, paying bills and managing finances for long-stay tenants, and even acting as a banker for truck drivers, who would leave their pay packet with her and request that she manage their money.

    Ma retired to St Mary’s Rd in Waipukurau and was much mourned when she died at Waipukurau Hospital on 11 March 1986.

    1. Anonymous

      Thanku my f parents were close friends to the grand lady Ma also set up budgets for many workers And with house fires of patrons sent taxi loads of grocerys with no name

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