I wond’r where the padded rooms are? Staying at an old mental asylum while venturing West on NZ’s South Island

Cheating on our instant coffee with some proper latte’s at Berlins cafe, we took in the beautiful views overlooking the national park, readying ourselves for the day. We were headed West towards the coast, but not before some more inland, outdoor adventures…

Getting lost in nature

First up was Nelson Creek Reserve, that begun with a river crossing over an old rickety wooden suspension bridge. We continued deeper through the forest, and found ourselves at the edge of the dam water, glistening in the sunshine and surrounded by the site and sounds of nature. Once we broke from our trance brought on by dancing butterflies overhead, we faithfully followed what seemed to be the path, before getting hopelessly lost; forcing us back the same way we’d come.

Just outside Hokitika – a seaside town famous for its driftwood festival – was Hokitika Gorge. After a short walk through some trees, the valley opened up before us; with the milky Hokitika River below. Continuing further along the boardwalk, we followed the smoothed rocky edges of the gorge, eventually coming to a swing bridge crossing the expanse of water looming underneath – a sight straight out of Indiana Jones! The final viewing platform rewarded us with dramatic views down through the gorge, at the blues and greens flowing slowly before us.

A creepy nights stay at the old Seaview Mental Asylum

When entering the reception to book ourselves in for the night, it felt like we’d gone back in time – surrounded by floral patterns as far as the eye could see. Although not unfriendly, the lady’s distant persona gave us the shivers, while she showed us to where we could park up. Something felt odd, but we became distracted by the impending sunset, of which Hokitika is renowned for…

As we sipped our wine on the beautiful beach, watching the last of the daylight disappear beyond the horizon, our reckless decision began to sink in. “No wonder this place is so cheap and there’s no-one else here!” I proclaimed, while we made our way carefully back up through the ‘Dell’ by the light of a million twinkling glow worms. After checking reviews on Wikicamps, we discovered that we’d booked ourselves in at the old ‘Seaview Hospital’, which was once a mental asylum…

The eeriness of our surroundings aside, Seaview may quite simply be one of the most unique night stays one is ever likely to experience. Incredibly, the interior, awash with retro flowery carpets, seemed unchanged since the 1960s when it was used to home the insane. This made it scarily easy to imagine what life was like here; as we wondered through the day room, down long, dark corridors, through the canteen and finally into the wards lined with beds still made up. Feeling as though we’d walked on to the set of the Shining, we unsurprisingly opted to sleep in our van that night!

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Once daylight had safely returned the next day, we spent the morning peering through the windows of the many buildings that made up the decaying facility. Failing to find any signs of padded rooms or electro-therapy contraptions, we headed East towards Christchurch, leaving Hokitika and its famous driftwood behind.

Viaducts, waterfalls and parrots while crossing Arthur’s Pass

With town names like ‘Arthur’s Pass’ on our drive East, we were confident the scenery wasn’t going to disappoint, and oh boy how right we were! Immediately after a few cheeky photos of Gandalf being ambushed by a dragon in Otira, the road took us steadily upwards towards the looming hills above.

After passing through a series of tunnels, protecting us from the perils of landslides, we continued higher as the road departed earth upon stocky concrete stilts. It was only once we’d pulled into the car park of the Otira Viaduct viewpoint that we were able to take in the awesomeness of the road we’d just travelled on – snaking between the steep slopes either side.

Before driving off we were lucky to meet our first Kea. Often referred to as the ‘clown of the mountains’, these entertaining dark green parrots are now only found in the alpine regions of South New Zealand. Having heard tales of these cheeky characters damaging cars and flying off with food and clothing, we made sure to keep an eye on it!

The town of Arthur’s Pass seemed little more than a few large car parks and buildings, lining the busy road stretching South-Eastward, towards Christchurch. However, despite its bleakness, our inquisitive nature got the better of us as we popped into the tourist information office to find out what was around. The friendly park ranger pointed us in the direction of the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl Falls’, giving us a an opportunity to stretch our legs. As we neared the end of the relatively easy half hour walk, our excitement jumped up a notch while catching a glimpse of the falling water through the trees. However, it was only once at the viewing platform we could appreciate the beauty of this 131m high waterfall, falling gracefully down from the rocky cliffs above.

Feeling right at home with Malcolm and Ann

Following another couple of hours driving through yet more unbelievable scenery, we neared out final destination for the day. Malcolm and Ann, the owners of the Airbnb we were staying at, made us feel right at home, as we chatted away while cooking up a veggie stir-fry. Originally from Scotland, hence the inspiration for calling their home ‘Cairngorms’ (after the National Park found in the Scottish Highlands), they moved over a number of years ago and never looked back. Stereotypically Ann works for a whisky importer, and Malcolm is a software engineer, (when not tending to his 200 acre farm full of cattle and chooks – chickens).

After a good nights sleep then bidding farewell to our friendly hosts, we were able to appreciate how lucky Malcolm and Ann were. Now in the daylight outside their home, we were treated to stunning 360 degree views of rolling hills and snow capped mountains beyond. Next stop – Christchurch, to pick up a familiar face who’d travelled all the way from old Blighty; Mr Sam Wilson!

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