DeadHill Asylum

23 March 2018, Napier Prison Night Tour
By Sarah Cates

If you are up for something a little different on a Friday night, or fancy treating your partner to a surprise date, grab them by the hand and spoil them with a DeadHill Asylum Tour.

The tour is not supposed to be a serious history trip, there are day-time tours for that. But despite this, I learnt a lot. The experience made me think about the lives – and deaths – of those incarcerated in Napier Prison. I’m now keen to attend a ‘serious’ tour around Napier Prison with the help of daylight and the absence of zombies. But the zombies helped me into the experience in the first place, so I owe them!

History’s better when brought to life – or death in this case! Some wade through books, others watch documentaries, but experiential learners like me prefer to feel, touch, smell, even taste history. And a Napier Prison Night Tour is a full-bodied, visceral, sensory experience.

Our edgy, eleven-strong group were welcomed at the prison gates by ‘Matron’ played by Hawke’s Bay’s, multi-talented Ali Beal. Matron checked us in and gave us a brief, yet interesting history of the prison. Notably, Matron’s health and safety run down was not your usual ‘in the event of a fire’ but included signs and symptoms to look out for in the event of a haunting scenario. She also warned that we will be touched, but told us we weren’t allowed to hit back.

Matron lined us up and proceeded to march us away from the ‘meet and greet’ isolation cell. There was excitement, anticipation, giggles and hand holding as Matron took us to the hanging yard and the cemetery. She shared a little about who the inmates were – men, women and children – burials on the grounds, and how much it would have cost us to have a front row seat at one of the hangings.

This is where we left the ‘comforting’ arms of Matron and were passed on to a small cast of ‘Living Dead’ actors that brought the history of Napier Prison back to life. Playing on the ‘thrill-seekers’ natural desire for being scared, the well-rehearsed team guided the incarcerated visitors around the prison grounds. Zombie-like humans, bent and twisted – some vocal, some silent – corralled the visitors into cells, lead us through the dark corridors and, at fitting moments, sprung out of dark corners. Some of the group chuckled, some were silent, the vocal members haggled, others screamed.

The tour price is $25 and it’s well worth it. The tour would make a great start to a hen night, a birthday celebration or a group bonding experience. Personally, I would have loved to listen to Matron more. If any improvements were to be made I would suggest Matron took the entire tour and shared more of the inmate’s stories and recounted the hauntings. After all, Napier Prison is listed as one of the most haunted buildings in New Zealand. The tour is not for the faint hearted or for those suffering from any type of paranoia, but at the same time it’s not terrifying, and it gives you the chance to consider some of Hawke’s Bay’s more horrible history up-close and personal.

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