My plan was to take a week to drive around the North Island of New Zealand and then fly up to Cairns, Australia. After a couple days of snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, I was to finish out my trip with another couple days on the North Island before flying back to the United States. This story begins on the 4th day in New Zealand. After a few hours of driving that day, I was starting to get a little anxious to get out and stretch my legs. I was driving along Highway 3 when I noticed a sign that said “Waitanguru Falls 20km”. I needed to make a decision at that moment. Do I continue on so I can relax at my hotel room for the night or do I go out of my way to see a waterfall that I will probably never get the chance to see again? For anyone that knows me, this decision was easy. I swung a quick left and began the detour.
The further that I drove the more that I noticed there was no one else around me. I made it all the way to the little pull off without passing another car. I got out of my car and took a look at the sign next to the start of the trailhead. “Waitanguru Falls” “Lookout Point -> 225m (10min)” is all that it said. From what I could see, the entire hike was going to be through thick forest. I put on my jacket and made sure I had everything that I needed inside my backpack to take photos of the waterfall. It was around 5:30pm when I finally began the trek down the steps.
The combination of the tree canopy and the cloud coverage made for a very dark hike. I could see a little ways ahead of me but that was the extent of my visibility. The first few minutes went by quickly as I was going down the forest steps. As soon as I reached the halfway point, however, I got the weird feeling that something was watching me. A chill ran up my spine that lasted longer than I’d ever felt it before in my life. I looked around wildly to try and figure out what was the cause of this feeling. I could not see anything amongst the bushes and trees. I figured that my mind was playing tricks on me so I shook off the feeling and continued on.
The pathway led down to a platform that overlooked the waterfall. Upon reaching the waterfall, the entire trip was worthwhile. The waterfall was absolutely beautiful and I felt a lot better down there as well. Taking a look around from the platform, there was a possibility that I could climb through the bushes down to the pool at the bottom of the hill which might give a different perspective in my photos than everyone else that visited this place. There also seemed to be a cave behind the falls which might be cool to check out. The thing was, if I fell and hurt myself, I did not have phone service in the country so no one would know where I was.
Also, if my backpack fell in the water, all my camera equipment would be ruined. There were just too many negatives and not enough positives to validate the risk. Instead, I pulled out my phone to take a couple photos of my surroundings. I took a photo of the waterfall followed by a photo of the forest. Neither of the photos turned out very well so I began to get my tripod and Canon camera set up. After a few nice long exposure shots of the waterfall, I was content with what I had captured and decided to put my gear back into my backpack. I spent about 15 minutes down by the waterfall before starting the trek back to the car.
Just like the beginning of the hike, the first few minutes flew bye as I climbed the forest steps. All of a sudden, I began to get the same feeling as before. I looked around and noticed I was in the same spot as I was on the way down. My heart was racing and my hair was standing on end. To get this feeling once, I could understand but twice at the same location, there is only one explanation for it. There was something out there!
I quickened my pace up the steps into the early evening. Once again, my vehicle was the only one around. I placed my backpack in the front seat with me and decide to take a video for my family on my gut reaction to this experience. I turn on the car and start to drive away when I realize what I am listening to. The song was none other than The Invisible Man by Queen. For fear that there would be other creepy music on the other radio stations; I let it play until its end.
I finally reached my end destination for the evening. The Waitomo Caves Hotel was one of two hotels that I booked for my trip while still in the United States (the other being a two night stay in Cairns). From the moment I first walked into the hotel, I got a feeling that this hotel was old. I do not mean it was ancient and broken down. I mean that there is definitely history in this building. I checked in and as I walked through the hallways, all that came to my mind was the movie The Shinning. There was nothing but wallpaper on the walls and every so often, there was a small tear in it. As I walked up the stairs to the second level, I passed large portraits of the ancient Maori people. I finally made it to my room at the end of the hallway.
The room was nice! It still had that old feeling but it was a bit different. As I went back down to my vehicle to bring up my luggage, an interesting thought came to mind. You hear about places that get build on ancient native burial grounds being haunted and this place had that feeling. When I made it back up to my room with my luggage, I pulled out my laptop to research my suspicions. Seconds after hitting enter on my keyboard, link after link showed up explaining why this was the “Most Haunted Building in New Zealand”. The more that I read, the more I became curious what the staff had to say about it. I went down to the front desk and spoke to the woman who originally checked me in.
I asked the lady if there was any chance that this place was haunted. She gave me a worried look before answering me with a question of her own. “You didn’t look up the history of this hotel, did you?” I told her that I hadn’t before I arrived but had an unusual feeling upon arrival. I began my questions. She proceeds to answer all that I had and then more about the hotel. She explained how 14 people have passed away while inside the building. There are three basements, two of which the employees don’t like to go down into, third being padlocked shut because weird things happen down there. There is also a secret entrance into the glow worm caves in that third basement. The more that I heard from her, the more I started to think about what happened to me that morning in the forest. I decide to tell her my story.
As I recited the events, I could see a stunned look on her face. The further I got into the story, the more I could see it weighing on her. She did not know what to say at first when I finished explaining what had transpired. As her thoughts came back to the present moment, she turned to me and asked if I had any photos or videos of the forest. I hadn’t checked my camera photos yet but I did take a photo on my phone. I pulled up the photo of the forest. I noticed nothing, at first. After zooming in to the middle right portion of the photo, a blue face became visible.
Thinking back to some of the research that I did on the hotel earlier that day, I remembered reading, “Waitomo Caves Hotel is situated upon a naturally high-point in an area of limestone rock honeycombed with natural caves and underground streams. Many of these caves are regarded as Tapu (sacred) by the local Maori and are said to be inhabited by Taniwha, guardians or predator beings that live in deep pools in rivers, dark caves, or in the sea, and the Patupaiarehe, who according to Maori folklore are pale-skinned spirit beings that live in deep forests and mountaintops in New Zealand and who are said to lure people to their doom.” I decided to look up what a Patupaiarehe looked like.
The only picture that I could find online of this creature was a stamp. It depicted a being with many of the attributes of man but with one difference. Its skin was blue. My blood ran cold. I looked over at the front desk girl and I could see exactly what I was feeling expressed on her face. As we attempted to learn more about the Patupaiarehe, the more we found there wasn’t much information about them. At least, we couldn’t find any recent information. It was tough to sleep that night with everything that I had learned but I managed to get a little bit of rest.
I woke up the following morning, packed up my stuff, and check out of the hotel. As I was having my breakfast, I had a decision to make. For the couple days that I had remaining in New Zealand after snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, do I go back to Waitanguru Falls and try to find whatever was out there with me? The issue with this option was that I still do not have phone service. If I get attacked by whatever I photographed out there, no one would be able to help me. Also, if I don’t get the same feeling that I did while walking through the forest, then the trip would all be for nothing since I already captured a great photo of the falls. The second option was to go to Rotorua which has a large Maori population so that I could ask questions about the Patupaiarehe.
Upon landing back in New Zealand a few days later, I had made up my mind. I would be driving down to Rotorua. Three hour later, I had arrived in the small lake town. I signed up for a Maori cultural experience for that evening. The cultural experience was amazing. We got separated into groups so that we could visit each of the different stations that were set up there. At the first station, there were a couple young Maori women that taught us about the games that their ancestors used to play to work on agility. At the end of their demonstration, they asked if we had any questions. I asked how much they knew about the Patupaiarehe. They both gave me a shocked face and responded by saying they knew a little bit. Since my group had no idea what I was talking about, and because our time at that station was over, they all started walking away. I told the girls that I had a situation with one a few days before and I had a photo of it. Since my group was leaving and another group was approaching, I told the girls that I would talk to them later about it and then I went to join my group.
The next station was led by one of the Maori men. He began talking about the weapons that their people used to fight with. As I was listening to him, I felt someone grab my arm. It was one of the two girls that I had talked to at the last station! She told me her sister and her grandmother wanted to hear my story and see the photo that I had taken. As I told them the story, their eyes began to get bigger and bigger. When I had finished and showed them the photo, they told me they had never seen a photo taken of a Patupaiarehe before but this definitely was one! I spoke to them for a short bit longer and then re-joined my group because the third station we had the opportunity to learn a bit of the Haka!
The fourth station was what I was waiting for. The Chief and his cousin were finishing up their explanation on how their culture fits into the world today when they also asked if we had any questions. Once more, I asked how much they knew about the Patupaiarehe. The Chief’s cousin responds by saying he knew a decent amount. Just like I said to the two girls, I told him that I had a situation with one and I thought that I have a photo of it. Again, my group starts to walk away. The Chief stood up and said we should talk over by the side. I began my story once again. When I had finished recounting the events, he began telling me a situation that his uncle had gone through with the Patupaiarehe. He then called over his cousin and asked me to tell him my story.
To my disbelief, when I had concluded my story, the cousin did not have a look of shock like all that had heard the story beforehand. Instead, he only turned to me and said, “So there is a couple things. First, you are lucky to be alive. The Patupaiarehe do kill people. Second, you are lucky to have had this experience because most Maori people will never have an experience like this in their lifetime. So I do know the area that you were in. I also know that waterfall. The waterfall drops into a healing pool. When the Maori warriors came back from war, they would bath in that pool. All of the elders would circle around the warriors and pray for them.
The cave behind that waterfall still holds the remains to some of the ancient Maori people. If you were to stay any longer, or went down and disturbed any of the sacred land, the Patupaiarehe would have come after you. Also, the Patupaiarehe put off fear as a warning before attacking. This might explain the feeling you had as you were walking down and back up from the falls.” I could not believe what I had heard. Even after everything that I had researched, I still had doubts on everything that I went through that day. I had come across a Patupaiarehe in the wild and survived.
So, that was Rob’s experience. If you want to have a look at the photo he took, you can find it on this episodes page on the podcast website at www.walkingtheshadowlands.com. The photo is a little pixilated due to only having been taken by a cell phone. I’ll leave it up to you, to decide what you see, or do not see there! Thank you so much Rob, for taking the time to both reach out to me to share your story, and especially, for allowing me to share it with all our listeners. It is a most interesting experience. So thank you Rob.