261 Days on the Road
New Zealand isn’t just a land of mountains, dolphins and Middle-earth magic. Like everywhere, the country has a dark side too. Today, we’re going to be checking it out at New Zealand’s oldest prison!
After a morning of op-shop hopping, getting new tyres, and trying to avoid the rain, we find ourselves driving up Bluff Hill in Napier. You would never know it from the main road, but nestled behind stands of tall palm trees is Napier Prison. The road up to the prison is easily missed, so after making a u-turn and slowly plodding up the drive, we approach the towering walls of Napier Prison topped with barbed wire. Written on an archway containing a set of wooden doors reads: “HM Prison 1906”. We press a buzzer to be let in, only to be met by a lady sliding a window in the door open.
The stories of Napier Prison whispered in our ears
Marion, one of the owners of the Napier Prison Tours, leads us to through a courtyard, passed a fingerprint station and mugshot setup into reception. We are welcomed to the prison by a guy wearing a particularly funky pair of sunglasses. Sunglasses guy, Thomas, hands over some audio devices for the audio tour around the prison, as well as a map, and explains how to use the audio devices. They’re easy enough to use – just press in the number of the point of interest you are at and listen to the story behind it. That way, you can explore the prison at your own pace.
Deciding to leave the mugshot photo opportunity and fingerprints until the end of our tour, we get straight into it, following the map to point number one and listening to an introduction of Napier Prison.
We listen about the prison’s beginnings in 1862, to being an orphanage, psychiatric unit, the set of various TV shows (including Ghost Hunters), and even being a backpackers. Each audio commentary starts of with the sound of prison cell doors opening and slamming shut. Then a lady’s voice echoes in our ears as if she is talking to us from within an empty cell block. It definitely adds to the eeriness of the place which just gets spookier and spookier as we go on.
Solitary confinement (and getting locked in cells)
The first block we check out it one for solitary confinement. A dirty padded cells with rips in the fabric gets the imagination racing. Even if the audio guide is telling us some less spooky facts about this cell, we can’t help but make up stuff in our own mind. With that, Robin finds it hilarious to lock Laura inside the cell when she bravely (but perhaps stupidly) goes in for a closer inspection.
TO listen, to read, or to see?!
Being able to walk around the prison at your own pace really comes in handy when there are various display cases and literature to read in each room we visit. We look at old knives and toothbrushes with a piece of string tied to them, learning that the inmates would lower these “weapons” through their pants’ leg and let them drag on the floor to sharpen them.
When it gets to the Mess Hall, where the inmates would have meals, its a battle between listening to the audio first or the list of “Interesting Facts About Prisons” pinned up on the wall. There are some pretty bizarre stories to read about prisons from all around the world that keeps you shamelessly hooked like a BuzzFeed article. We also read “10 Selfies That Got People Arrested” and “The World’s Most Famous Gangs”.
While some of the inmates live in solitary confinement…
Funky aromas, Famous criminal stories, and gang drawings in the cell block
The moment we have been waiting for finally comes, checking out the long line of cells in a cell block. With a distinct aroma of bodily fluids that have been clinging to the walls for decades, we look inside the open cells (Laura falling for getting locked up a few more times on the way) to see what’s left of beds attached to the walls.
Our audio guide tells us about high-profile prisoners from the Maori guerrilla leader, Te Kooti, who led a mass breakout of a prison on the Chatham Islands, to “Mr Big” who was one of the most significant drug lords of his time. We also listen about sightings of ghosts and about the New Zealand gang members who have been locked up here leaving drawings of their gang symbols behind on bed boards which we can still see today.
There are actually a lot to learn about the gangs of New Zealand, a whole room is dedicated to them complete with more bed boards containing their drawings, both creative and a little messed up.
A pitch black maze
As we make our way out toward the prison garden, a pitch-black room made up of what appears to be some sort of maze entices Robin in and freaks Laura out. We slowly navigate our way through the dark only to find a toilet at the end. Well, we suppose there would be some situations where you would be pleased to see that.
The hanging yard to the mugshots
There are lots of little side rooms to explore too, like “The Cages” and a room which appears to actually have someone or something living in it?! (There is a fresh poo in the middle of the bed – check out the 360 image below for evidence). We walk back out into daylight at the hanging yard, the wooden platform where criminals’ feet would have once stood still intact.
Finally, we loop back round to the beginning ready to get our mugshots done (complete with costumes!). We have way too much fun dressing up and Robin getting stuck in a pair of handcuffs so that he has to ask at reception to be released… Oh, the shame!
Escaping from Napier prison
After what has been probably the most spooky (yet highly interesting) activity we have done in New Zealand, we head on back to our accommodation at Archies Bunker hoping that we won’t have nightmares tonight.
Join us tomorrow for a complete contrast in activities (one of the many things to love about New Zealand) when we go white water rafting on the Mohaka River!
Have you read the yesterday’s post about stand-up paddle boarding and wine tasting in Hawke’s Bay? How about these articles:
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See you tomorrow!