Famous around the world in New Zealand: Napier Prison, walk through one of New Zealand’s most haunted buildings
Pamela Wade / Stuff
Entry to Napier Prison is genuinely prohibited.
Napier is teeming with delicacies – food, drink, architecture, scenery, history, activities – but it has dark stories to tell, and its prison, on the hill, is a fascinating and sinister place to hear some of them.
Listed as a heritage site, it is the oldest prison in the country, built in 1862 and housing reluctant hosts for more than 130 years until it closed in 1993. The site has also hosted orphans, lunatics, drug addicts and, more cheerfully, backpackers.
Today it welcomes interested visitors, who can walk around on a self-guided tour, listening to and reading stories about those who have spent time here. The building itself has changed little from its original function and still gives a good impression of what it was like to be a prisoner here.
Not all were hardened criminals: Maori leader Te Kooti spent time here, before his exile and eventual pardon.
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Because I hope this will be the only time you have a photo ID and your fingerprints taken. While this is a very serious place, there’s also some fun to be had here, including escape room challenges, orange prisoner suits to pose, and even a potential ghostly guide.
The prison is said to be one of New Zealand’s most haunted buildings and there are plenty of ghost stories to tell. The reality of prison life and the crimes of those who have been committed here are more genuinely gruesome and culminate in the Hanging Court, where four murderers were sent to their deaths on the gallows, but not quite afterwards to rest in the cemetery.
Wasted by inmates in their cells, the views from the prison are magnificent. Perched on Bluff Hill, it overlooks the ocean and the Centennial Garden. After your visit, you can take a stroll through the gardens to the beach for a natural relief to the spirits after all this grim.
On the way / nearby
For an even better view, the nearby Bluff Hill Lookout offers a 360-degree view so expansive that an artillery battery was located here during the war.
You’ll overlook the harbor on one side and the city on the other, where you’ll be spoiled for choice to keep you busy. Stroll the streets to admire the Art Deco architecture or, better yet, take a tour.
Visit the museum to learn more about the devastating earthquake of 1931. Explore the Soundshell and waterfront observation deck, naval history, mini golf, the statue of Pania of the Reef, gardens, New Zealand National Aquarium, glaciers.
Rent a bike for an easy cruise in a winery; or stay in town for shopping and dining.
Adults $ 20, children (12 and under) $ 10, family passes $ 50 and $ 60. This includes an audio device and a map, for an informative self-guided tour: either historical or ghost tour. Tours with guides may be available on request.
Best time to go
Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a good activity for a rainy day, although you’ll want to be able to enjoy the views.
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