"Did you see any ghosts?"
I don't know how many times I've fielded that particular question since we came back from our weekend away in the picturesque (and famously haunted) Waitomo Caves Hotel.
The straight answer, I'm afraid, is "no." But I do have to make a number of provisos to that. Perhaps, in fact, it would be better to begin by telling you the whole story from the start ...
It was Bronwyn's idea, essentially. She was the one who came up with the notion of a weekend in a haunted house to celebrate my fifieth birthday (yes, I say it without a blush or a shudder: fifty years old today, hooray hooray hooray, you'll never be fifty years old again ... etc. etc. etc. AAAAaaagh! I'm old!!!! ... !!!)
Anyway, she ascertained that the most haunted hotel in New Zealand was the Waitomo Caves Hotel, and so we found ourselves barrelling down the highway towards it on Friday last, 2nd November.
The first sight of it from the road is pretty epic.
They don't exactly advertise, to be honest. All the way from the main road we were running into signs for this backpackers and that B & B -- but the moment you see that vista, you understand why they don't have to. Talk about the Overlook Hotel in The Shining!
[Overlook Hotel (1980)]
Actually, from the front, it looks even more like the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which was used in the filming of the 1997 miniseries (overseen by Stephen King himself, and unfortunately pretty lame by comparison with Kubrick's original masterpiece):
[Overlook Hotel (1997)]
Anyway, we followed the long snaking driveway up through the village and towards the hotel itself.
Pretty cool, huh? I have to say that the shots of the hotel on their own website simply do not do it justice.
After that, of course, it was time to explore the interior of the place. Nobody offered to carry our bags, which suited us fine, as it enabled us to snoop around the practically deserted corridors by ourselves (it was early afternoon when we arrived):
As for the view out of the window, that was quite spectacular, too.
There was a little balcony adjoining it, which we proceeded to explore:
Now, one of the most famously haunted rooms in the hotel is No. 12A (between 12 and 14 -- get it? No hotelier ever wants to label a room "Number 13" for fear of bad consequences). And here it is:
It's situated in a small alcove at the top of the main stairs, but - curiously enough - the first time we looked for it we couldn't find it anywhere! No. 12, that was there - no. 14, too, but no 12A. Later that evening, when we walked back to our room from the restaurant (also famously haunted with orbs and cold spots), we spotted it right away. Weird - or what! ...
The owners of the hotel sure have interesting taste in art. This cheerful piece was up on the wall opposite our room:
Kind of puts one in mind of this masterpiece from the original Shining, wouldn't you say?
Or even this shot from the more recent - and rather underrated - Stephen King film about a haunted hotel, Room 1408 [Get it? 1 + 4 + 0 + 8 = 13! Bwah, hah ha ha ha!:
[Room 1408 (2007)]
More to the point, though, is this rather atmospheric painting of the original discover of the glow-worm caves, which is pretty much the first thing you see when you come into the hotel:
Enough of all these atmosphere shots, though. What of the investigation? Bronwyn's already written a post on her blog about her preparations for the trip, and -- in particular -- the ghost kit she put together for the occasion.
With all due respect to her subsequent post lamenting a general absence of ghosts, I think I'd have to say that the evidence does really have to be allowed to speak for itself.
First of all (and most impressively), there's the undoubted movement of a trigger object during our first night in Room 7. As you can see below, the stone adze has clearly moved - not much, but a little - between the first shot and the second. We'd drawn a pencil line around it, and there was a perceptible shift in its position.
Now, it's true to say that it's a very old wooden hotel (the wing we were in was opened in 1910), and it creaks and groans quite a lot - and anyone moving around outside can cause the floorboards to shift ... So maybe that explains the shifting adze. But the direction of the movement was not what one would predict from the slight slope in our bedroom floor.
Also, the shift took place while I was reading out a particularly creepy version of the story of the terrible ghost Glám from Grettir's Saga. This story certainly seemed to strike more of a chord than any of the others we read aloud on either night. Certainly there was no further movement in any of our trigger objects after that first one:
Secondly, there's the series of strange coincidences that plagued us throughout the trip. Here's an example of one of them, a notice dating from 1962, the year of my birth, situated oh-so-casually up on the wall near our room. (Do remember that this was a jaunt designed to celebrate my fiftieth birthday):
And there was the fact that, when we stopped for breakfast at a cafe in Te Kuiti after our first night in the hotel, the number we were given at the counter was "50" - and there was the fact that Bronwyn got a distinct feeling of coldness and paralysis just while I was reading out a story from Lord Halifax's Ghost Book called "Here I Am Again!" which described just such a feeling in its protagonist ...
Easy enough to write off individually, but taken in aggregate, perhaps less so. Who can say? They certainly struck me as a little ... suggestive, overall.
There's no denying the beauty of the hotel grounds, and their rather neglected state just adds to the effect.
The back of the building is almost as good as the front:
The old walkway down to the caves is too overgrown to follow now, unfortunately:
Up above the hotel is an old, dried-up fountain:
and a wishing well.
It's the path leading down to the village that's really spectacular, though:
There are fine old trees ...
with strange faces visible in their bark ...
and up in their branches ...
There are strange overgrown glades ...
and a picturesque old park ...
with a great view of the hotel ...
from the balcony of the pub ...
before you have to climb back up again.
What can I say in conclusion? We didn't detect any orbs or clouds of mist (or ectoplasm) in any of our photos - but we did feel some strange twinges when we said disrespectful things about the place. Make of that what you will.
So, no, we didn't actually see any ghosts, but I wouldn't be prepared to swear that there weren't any lurking around. It's certainly one of the most atmospheric places I've ever stayed, and there is that strange detail of the moving stone adze ...