The historic Napier Prison. © Napier Prison

Get spooked at Napier Prison, New Zealand's oldest penitentiary


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Set on suburban Bluff Hill, Napier Prison would once have had impressive sea views, but more than 150 years of housing dangerous and violent criminals has infused the site with dark history. 

Originally built in 1862 as an army barracks, Napier Prison was operational until 1989, then used as a remand facility until it closed in 1993. It was resurrected as an alcohol treatment centre, a backpackers and now you can visit for an audio tour of the grounds. 

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The imposing front wall welcomes you at Napier Prison

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It’s a bleak and creepy site. Cracked asphalt in the yard bears the faint remnants of a painted basketball court. Angry gang insignia and graffiti covers what’s left of bunk beds inside the tiny dark cells. Loops of rusting razor wire still spiral along the top of the perimeter walls.

Unsurprisingly said to be haunted by several ghosts, the prison has attracted many paranormal experts and hopeful TV crews over the years. It also has resident ‘ghost cat,’ Basil, an elderly tortoiseshell who lives on site and apparently resembles former prisoner.

If daylight apparitions and unmarked graves are not enough to creep you out, the prison also offers a nighttime R16 DeadHill Interactive Scare Tour. Held once a month, you’re guaranteed to bump into some present-day ‘inmates’ in the narrow corridors.  

Napier Prison also offers a lighter side, with Hawke’s Bay’s only escape room challenge. Choose between two themed rooms – Earning your Stripes or The Prisoner’s Dilemma – where you must puzzle your way out of incarceration.

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