Ghost Town

I have always been fascinated by stories of ghosts and hauntings. A few years ago, Nick and I went for a holiday to Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand, where we visited a small town called St. Bathans. I had seen it on TV, on an episode of Ghost Hunt, and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

St. Bathans was a gold mining town in the 1860s. In its heyday during the goldrush, the town had a population of more than 2000. It had more than a dozen hotels, and numerous dance halls and brothels. Today, it has a poulation of 7, a blue lake, a Post Office, and a haunted hotel.

St. Bathans lies in a tranquil setting in the middle of nowhere, and it really is like a ghost town when you first arrive there.

St. Bathans

St. Bathans

St. Bathans

St. Bathans

We were met outside the hotel by a black dog, who we later learned was called Jack. Jack became our tour guide and began by leading us down to the Blue Lake, which was formed from extensive mining, and later allowed to fill with water. The minerals in the surrounding rocks give the water its beautiful turquoise colour.

The Blue Lake

The Blue Lake

Jack

Jack

Jack then led us back to the main street and took us on a tour of the historic buildings. A pamphlet we had picked up from the hotel gave us a brief history of each one. Many of St Bathans’ buildings were made of stone or mudbrick, but unfortunately few of them remain today. Those that have survived include the old mudbrick hall, a church, the billiard saloon, the Post Office, and the Vulcan Hotel, which dates back to 1882.

The Post Office

The Post Office

Many people believe that the Vulcan Hotel is haunted by the ghost of a murdered prostitute. One night, back in the town’s gold mining days, an itinerant prostitute called The Rose rented the front room of the hotel. In the morning she was found raped, robbed, and strangled to death. Over the years, The Rose has been seen and felt by both staff members and guests at the hotel. There have been many reports of lights going on and off, doors creaking, drops in temperature, phantom footsteps, ghostly apparitions and mysterious shadows seen at the foot of the bed. Male guests in Room 1, the room in which The Rose met her untimely death, have reported feelings of being held down and throttled.

The Vulcan Hotel

The Vulcan Hotel

We had lunch at the Vulcan Hotel, which had a wonderful old-time atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The beautiful surroundings and haunting ambience of the small town linger in my memory to this day.

 

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Old Graveyards

Like Jessie, I, too, love to go walking around old graveyards, soaking up the atmosphere, the tranquil serenity, the feeling of being surrounded by history. I like to read the names and inscriptions on the old, weathered, lichen-encrusted gravestones. It is interesting to see the names that were popular in different eras, many of which are now forgotten.

The inspiration for Gum Tree Hill Cemetery in Where the Moths Dance came from two of our local cemeteries. One of them, like the one in the book, is surrounded by tall gum trees. After it’s been raining, the air is thick with the scent of eucalyptus. We used to see and hear crows flying between the upper branches of the trees, but sadly they are all gone now. My grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in this cemetery.

Park Island Cemetery

The other cemetery is on top of a hill. People were buried there between 1855 and 1917. My great-great-grandparents are buried there. The old graveyard lies in a beautiful natural setting on four and a half acres. The graves are surrounded by masses of old trees providing shade and a haven for the many birds that bring life to the graveyard. It is very atmospheric, and the old gravestones, many with barely legible inscriptions, relay tragic tales of soldiers who died in battle, lives lost in the storm of 1887, and the flood of 1897, stories of brave men who lost their lives at sea, and of the many young children who succumbed to illness and disease.

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Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

During the spring and summer, the graveyard comes to life with wildflowers and perennials.

Napier Cemetery

Most of the headstones were carved by local stone masons. Some of the more elaborate headstones, such as the marble angels, were imported from Italy. While many of the tombstones hint at the lives of the people buried beneath, others, whose families were unable to afford a headstone, lie forgotten in unmarked graves at the back of the cemetery.

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Old headstone

Several people have seen a man, dressed in a Victorian suit and bowler hat, roaming the graveyard. He is believed to be the ghost of somebody buried there. When walking through the graveyard, it is easy to believe that there could be lingering spirits hiding in the shadows of the trees and the gravestones.