The Ghosts of Kerikeri: Dig to See What You Can Find

Kerikeri is home to two of New Zealand’s oldest buildings and a historic Maori settlement. The Stone Store, Kemp House, and Kororipo Pa are literally homes to history, and potentially a few ghosts. Our insider, Sandy, went to find out if the rumors are true.


Photo © Sandy Myhre

A three-hour drive north of Auckland will land you in Kerikeri. This small town is known for its citrus fruits and avocados, and early Maori knew how productive the soils were – hence the name, which means “dig dig”.

Kerikeri is also known for many good wineries and eateries, but dig a little and there is more. Much more.

The Stone Store

Back in 1832, this Georgian-style store was built as a trading post and to hold supplies and wheat from mission farms.

The stone, which was imported from Australia, offered greater defense against some of the local militant Maori who lived in the Pa (village) site across the road.

The builder was Australian convict, William Parrot, aided by a team of Maori. Although there were some Maori who didn’t accept the British presence, there were others who gladly co-operated under what was the very early phase of colonization.

In fact, this store was built eight years before the treaty between the British and Maori was signed in 1840.

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Kemp House

New Zealand’s oldest building is Kemp House, next door to the Stone Store. It was built by Reverend John Butler in 1820 as part of the mission station and pre-dates the store by several years.

The wooden home stayed in the Kemp family for 142 years, until Ernest Kemp donated it to Heritage New Zealand. Inside you’ll find early furniture and personal items, outside the quintessential English-style gardens, have heritage trees with DNA going back to the original plantings.

The Stone Store, Kemp House, and Kororipo Pa are a huge part of New Zealand history, but what about those ghosts?

Wander Back in Time

You’ll find 19th-century replica goods like candelabra, gardening tools, bed linen, baby clothes, and old wooden pegs inside the store.

Guides dressed in costume walk you through both buildings. The white (Pakeha) guides wear colonial garb, while Maori guides wear traditional flax skirts (piupiu).  

One Maori guide has a traditional moko (tattoo) on her chin, and although this practice essentially died out from the turn of the 20th century it’s becoming increasingly fashionable among Maori women once again.

The old store within the Stone Store, Kerikeri. Photo credit: Heritage New Zealand

Intriguing Tales from the Guides: Ghosts and Gardeners

One of the guides said an Australian tourist took a photo showing what looked like the face of an old man wearing a white shirt, looking out of a top floor window.

Staff suggest it could be Tamihana ‘Tutu’ Maitarahanga, who had been enslaved by a Maori war party in the early 1820s, before being taken in to become the mission’s gardener.

Late one night, a year or so back, two large rocks “spontaneously” dislodged from a retaining wall. Staff said Tutu wasn’t happy with the placement, so they were shifted and, spookily enough, there’s been no problem since!

One man told staff he saw a woman with grey hair standing in the upper window of the store at night when it was shut. He said the figure looked at him, then moved away.

Gertrude’s Alarming Presence

The Kemp Family lived next door for nearly 140 years in what is now New Zealand’s oldest wooden building.

One guide said she was taking a group around and commented that one Kemp woman married, but her sister, Gertrude, did not.

“With a name like that it’s no wonder,” she quipped.  With that, the alarms went off upstairs – impossible with a two-pad system with different codes, she said.

“It was just Gertrude making her presence felt, so I apologized to her and the alarms stopped ringing.”

A Man Walking into a Tree

Next to the car park and a short walk up a hill is the site of the old Kororipo Pa (Maori village).  One visitor told Stone Store staff she’d seen a naked, tattooed Maori man disappearing into the bush, “like gliding into a tree” was how she described it.  She asked if this was ‘normal’. Many who work here, quietly say it is.

Originally, the site of what is now St James’ Anglican Church (across the road) was home to one of the region’s most prominent Maori chiefs, Hongi Hika. Could he have been making his ethereal presence known from the Pa

Do You Believe?

A group of ghost hunters’from Auckland were invited to stay overnight in 2015, and arrived armed with ‘spirit detection’ technology. Their verdict? Nothing sinister in the Stone Store, but Kemp House? Yes, most definitely haunted.

Kemp House in Kerikeri, haunted according to a group of Auckland ghost hunters. Photo credit: Heritage New Zealand
Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out our podcast. We talk world-class diving, blood-pumping adrenalin, and road-tripping in a camper van.

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