It’s Halloween again! I’m not a supporter of this imported festival in New Zealand. With the country having one of the world’s highest numbers of obese kids, it seems ridiculous to shower them with sugar in the form of lollies as part of the ‘trick or treat’ ritual. It would be much better to create our own festival to celebrate life after death. There are many ideas that would be fun for the kids without giving them crap to rot their teeth and add weight to their already overweight bodies. Anyway, I’ve taken the opportunity to write a blog to echo the spirit of Halloween.

Although it is a young cemetery by European standards, Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery is regarded as one of the most haunted resting places in the world.

Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery (geocaching.com)

The Northern Cemetery is just a short distance from the centre of Dunedin above the city’s famous Botanic Gardens. The first burial took place in 1871. Since then, over 17,500 people have been buried there. In fact, some of the most impressive tombstones in the southern hemisphere are found in this place thanks to the wealth generated during the gold rush years of the 1860s. The best known occupant is William Larnach, the man responsible for the iconic castle that carries his name. The founder of one of New Zealand’s biggest breweries, Charles Speight is there along with poet and journalist Thomas Bracken, the man who wrote the nation’s national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand”.


I have visited the cemetery on a few occasions while I lived in Dunedin and was always struck by the eerie stillness that made it a rather spooky place. I know all cemeteries are quiet, but there was a special ‘deepness’ to the quietness there. I was told about a particularly haunted grove nestled in a fold in the hill in the centre of the graveyard. It was a calm, sunny day when I found a little cluster of moss covered tombstones located at the top of the gloomy, tree covered grove. I noted the lack of bird song there. If I was prepared to stay for a while, I was told I would see ‘something’. Although I didn’t see anything, I did hear rustling around me. It was a perfectly still day with absolutely no movement in the leaves on the large trees that hid the sun from the area. The person I was with got spooked and demanded we leave. I must say, I did feel cold shivers and spent no time in getting out of there!

Stories abound of apparitions being seen, disembodied voices murmuring around the graves and footsteps heard on the paths that meander through the cemetery. Some believe this supernatural activity is caused by spirits of the men executed and buried at the Dunedin Prison and later moved to the cemetery in 1898.

Over the years, stories of ghosts at the Northern Cemetery have been a great incentive for students from nearby Otago University to challenge each other to stay the night. In recent years, security has been improved and the site is now locked at night with large gates to keep all ghost hunters and horny students away after dark.


The most famous and grandest burial structure in the Northern Cemetery is the large Gothic mausoleum housing the remains of the Larnach family.

Larnach Tomb

William Larnach had the impressive tomb built in 1881 for his beloved first wife Elisa. With a spire reaching 17m, the mausoleum was modeled on the city’s beautiful First Church. His other wives, along with his son and daughter and finally his own body, are all buried in the crypt under this grand structure. Over the years, it was attacked by vandals and when I last saw it, the stained glass windows were broken and some of the masonry had collapsed.  In 2010, $345,000 was raised for restoration of the tomb. It has been the largest conservation work ever undertaken in a New Zealand cemetery and the refurbished mausoleum is now an attraction for visitors who want some Dunedin chills to get their flesh creeping!!.

As a footnote, Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery is home to New Zealand’s finest collection of heritage roses with over 1000 growing there.

I have some more amazing haunted places to present in my next blog.

Ceidrik Heward


  1. I’ll let you know if I stumble across “spookiness”!
    Heading there early next year and can’t wait!

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