Scott Bainbridge, author of New Zealand Mysteries. Photo by Trefor Ward.

Ngātea Crop Circles: Did aliens visit the Waikato?


Few, if any, of the thousands of Kiwis heading to the Coromandel and Tauranga each year will know they're minutes away from one of New Zealand's greatest unsolved mysteries.

In September 1969, the tiny town of Ngātea on State Highway 2 in the Hauraki Plains wrote its chapter in UFO folklore when, one morning, a farmer discovered a mysterious circle of burnt mānuka scrub. Previously vivid green trees, now tipped with silver, had died overnight, while three deep v-shaped impressions set in a uniform triangular formation lay within.

In his book New Zealand Mysteries, Scott Bainbridge explains, “Before long, reporters, UFO enthusiasts and picnicking families began arriving in droves just to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon.”

Feature Ngatea INP

The mysterious Ngātea crop circles. Photo from Waikato Times.

Scientists at the time described the scene as “being blown up from the inside out”, and landowner and farmer Bert O'Neill's life changed overnight. Was this evidence of extra-terrestrial life?

Outlandish theories were put forward about little green men, no doubt exacerbated by the space fever sweeping the world following the Apollo 11 moon landings in July that same year.

More sensible explanations suggested herbicides blowing over from the neighbouring property, passing animals, or just an elaborate prank.

“Today, there are lots of people who think they can explain how it happened. The case is very rare. I certainly delved into whether or not there had been any previous news stories about those sorts of things, and this was a first,” Scott told Directions.

Investigators pointed out that it's hard to achieve a perfect circle through spraying, while the three grooves were root-deep and so uniform that they had to be made mechanically. Drones didn't exist then, and the case occurred years before the global crop circle hoaxes of the 1980s and 1990s. There’s also no suggestion of foul play from O'Neill. “The owner just stumbled upon it accidentally and thought it was something a little bit odd.”

Scott suggests the mystery could have been artificial or something that existed in the plants. “But it would have taken a while for the plants to get to the point that they died. This was sudden. It's a logical explanation, but the neighbours said that [herbicides] weren't the case. As for the triangular markings in the ground, I really don't know what they were. It's a fascinating story, and I remain impartial.

“In terms of New Zealand mysteries, it doesn't rank as one of the most well-known, but it's absolutely my favourite.”

Story by Ben Whittacker-Cook for the Winter 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Ben Whittacker-Cook is a freelance writer who contributes to AA Directions Magazine.

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