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Kingseat: Abdicated but not abandoned

Our time in ‘the north’ was up. We needed to start making our way back home, though plenty of meandering to soften the blow was planned. The first was a minor detour that got added to the itinerary in an instant the night before – such is the pulling power for me of the words ‘closed psychiatric hospital’.

One of my friends had been describing where they had purchased a section of land – in a rural area south of Auckland. Past the old Kingseat Hospital. My radar started thwanging. Yes, Kingseat… I had forgotten about that place. If I was male and had a beard, I might have started stroking it in contemplation.

What’s more, she said when I steered the conversation back to the hospital, the grounds are open and you can drive in!

Dear god, it was getting more exciting by the second. That seals it, I thought, and announced we would be detouring to see it the next morning. (I glanced at Mike. There was no “oh we are, are we????” expression, nor rolling of eyes. Phew.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kingseat Hospital opened in 1932 on sprawling grounds in rural south Auckland. Buildings were progressively added and at its peak, post-WWII, more than 800 patients were being treated. This is an aerial photo from 1953.

Kingseat operated for several decades but suffered the same fate as other similar hospitals when the Government brought in its deinstitutionalisation policy. The change of focus toward community-situated facilities and services would permanently change the face of mental health treatment in this country, rendering the often remotely-situated psychiatric hospitals redundant. Kingseat closed in 1999.

Its future isn’t yet decided. This report discusses the viability of the site for other purposes – and I also found it useful for cross-checking building numbers against my photos. There is debate about whether the buildings should be saved, the arguments against relating to the legacy of mistreatment. To save is to remember, and maybe some things are best forgotten. In the meantime, several of the buildings are being rented (see last two photos below), and this has meant the grounds are accessible to the public.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once off the Southern Motorway it was a 15 minute drive through the countryside. Parts were vaguely familiar as other good friends had lived out here back in my Auckland days.

This is equine country!

This is equine country!

While not expressly signposted, it was hard to miss the hospital as the road went directly by it. We drove in and found a fairly classical sort of palm-lined road, the main hospital building straight ahead on the other side of a large grassy centrepiece which the road circled around, branching off to various other buildings.

We spent maybe 20 minutes in cycles of driving and stopping and Hayley scurrying around for photos. The place is big and time was limited so much was left unexplored, hence these photos barely scrape the surface. And it’s only the surface too: much as I love this kind of site, I will only venture inside buildings if it’s easy and vaguely permissible to do so and I can take photos that I can freely publish here.

It was a rush job but it would have to do. Tongariro National Park was beckoning!

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Janice Strong #

    This blog brought back memories of living at Waiau Pa and passing this building on the way to and from work each day Hayley. It always gave me an eerie feeling as I remembered the news items on the happenings there. Now I work with people who are in this category and with colleagues who actually did work there and who themselves were horrified at the happenings. I also had a friend who was a psychiatric nurse there and she left the profession after her experience there. So interesting to read your blog Hayley. If those buildings are to be saved then they would need a huge blessing. I think it might be more respectful for those who endured their time there that the buildings not be saved. I am being very philosophical so not preaching but so interesting to see your blog on these buildings.

    2 February 2014
    • One of the articles I found online said that blessings did take place over the years after deaths and bad events. Nonetheless, a ‘black veil’ must linger given the prolonged period of time all this took place over, and removing the buildings may not be the entire solution. Still, I agree it’s best they go. Sometimes structures are saved as reminders to never repeat events of the past, but only if they are retained as museums or memorials and that would never be the case here.

      I saw the road signs to Waiau Pa and of course thought of you!

      2 February 2014
      • Janice Strong #

        That is good that blessings did take place and you are right in that structures can be a reminder to not repeat those events of the past. But I agree it would be difficult to have these buildings as a museum or memorial. Your blog has certainly raised a lot of thought Hayley. Looking forward to the next one.

        3 February 2014
  2. There is a sinister feel to those buildings but on the other hand the grounds look beautiful. My favourite picture is the one of the year, I love the typography oh and the horses painted on the metal bin, they are great! Looking forward to hearing more about your trip 😀

    2 February 2014
    • With all that green space it had potential to be a therapeutic and somewhat peaceful place. For some, this was true. That bin is an electricity transformer box, we flew past it on the road and doubled back for a photo – they pop up here and there and I’ve decided to start a photo collection of them! Thank you, Lottie.

      3 February 2014
  3. Ali #

    Wow! A lot of history in those buildings! Nice little detour there!

    3 February 2014
    • Thanks Ali, yes I’m glad we did it. I enjoy the history even if it’s not that pleasant!

      3 February 2014
  4. Very interesting photos – with those grounds it looks less spooky than other similar institutions, but sounds like there were some horrible goings-on there.

    8 February 2014
    • Yes it does, sadly. Thank you.

      12 February 2014
  5. Very eery. Maybe because most of the movies I’ve seen don’t show these places as happy and positive.

    15 February 2014
  6. Sorry Hayley,

    I commented on the photo rather than the post – we’ve recently taken over Villas 10 and 16 for a new Paintball Field, back in October, and would have been open when you visited in Feb.

    I’m going to post your blog post up on our Facebook Page

    We would have loved to show you around the inside of the buildings that we have access to.

    Let us know if you are in the area again, we are more than happy to show people around our buildings (one of which used to be the Lockdown Ward).

    The place has a pretty sad history, even people with alcohol addictions were treated as “mentally ill” and locked up, away from their family and friends etc. We are hoping that with our venture (and the guys next door at spookers) that something positive can come out of the place.

    Thanks for the photos!

    Mike at Asylum Paintball

    16 March 2014
    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for finding the post and commenting (and the link on FB)!

      Really appreciate the offer – I hope I can orchestrate another visit at some point as I would love a peek indoors.

      I can imagine it would make a great location for your business! Congratulations on getting up and running, from your website it looks like you have an awesome set-up out there.

      I’m glad there are a few companies operating on the grounds now as it helps to raise awareness about what took place, which I think is a good thing.

      Best wishes,

      16 March 2014
  7. What a relic, those grounds are magnificent.. you can almost hear the ghosts, and echoes of voices from the past. Thanks for being a regular blog- visitor Hayley 😉

    21 March 2014
    • Nice observations – I agree. And you’re welcome, Amit.

      21 March 2014
  8. Hi Hayley. Very nicely captured in words and images! We’re inspired by this to take a look next time we head North. Cheers 🙂 Gunner

    14 April 2014
    • Thanks Gunner, I hope you do 🙂

      14 April 2014
  9. Thanks for the great post Hayley – I found it useful; I’m doing my thesis on this site (Architecture, UOA) and visited a few months ago. It has such an amazing presence. FYI My photos were almost identical to the ones you’ve posted!

    25 April 2014
    • Hi and thanks for the comment, I’m honoured you found the post useful. All the very best for your thesis, you picked a fascinating topic! It will become a valuable record should the place be demolished one day.

      25 April 2014

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