Why staying in a former mental clinic isn’t ‘creepy’ or ‘scary’

After yesterday’s long drive from Wanaka to Fox township, with all the little viewpoints and walks in between, we got up with the idea of driving from Fox to Greymouth, stopping at Franz Josef Glacier on the way. About half way in, and our second day driving up the west coast of New Zealand and we reach a small town called Hokitika, which is about an hour before Greymouth. We’ve decided to stop and visit the national Kiwi centre, where we stroke some giant eels and watch the Rowi Kiwi bird, the rarest in New Zealand, being fed. It was a lovely experience and we would highly recommend it to anyone passing through. We decide that we can’t face the extra bit of drive after being woken up by the air raid sirens last night and we check our Campermate app for the nearest campsite.

If you want to stay in Hokitika and you’re looking for a tent site there is only one choice on this app: Seaview Lodge. The campsite had all the facilities we need so we checked out some of the reviews to see if we would be happy there.

The first review we read alluded to the fact that the site the holiday park is on was once used to be a ‘mental asylum’ and that it’s a really ‘creepy place to stay’. The second review mentioned the same thing saying that it was ‘scary to walk round at night’. Most other reviews talked about the hot showers, the great kitchen facilities and the free high-speed wifi (something you do not get a lot of in rural New Zealand). Convinced by the good reviews of the facilities and slightly intrigued by the others, we drive up to the site and book our space. It was an absolute steal at just $15 per person per night, and the views out onto Hokitika beach and the Tasman Sea are incredible.

Walking around the many facilities on offer I start to get slightly annoyed. I don’t understand why anyone would call this place ‘creepy’ and then I remember it’s because we’ve being conditioned, by horror films, stories and the media, to believe that places that used to care for people with mental illnesses are something to be scared of.

One review read “This is not really a campground, you just stay on a parking place and use the old facilities of a mental clinic. Really creepy place, especially at night”.

Another read: “The building is nice and big but the whole campground is creepy, especially at night and the fact that it was a mental clinic makes it even scarier. I’m glad that I chose the tent site as I wouldn’t have wanted to be alone inside the building at night”.

And another: “We stayed five minutes, really creepy”.

In fact, more than half the reviews comment about the campsite being creepy or scary.

Inside the campsite facilities at Hokitika

Inside the campsite facilities at Hokitika

That’s just not right. And it’s not OK to say that places that once cared for ill people are anything to be afraid of. This just hits home that the stigma around mental illness still remains, if this had been a hospital that treated people with broken legs, would people be leaving the same reviews? I don’t think so.

Sure, the décor hasn’t been updated since the 60’s or 70’s and an antiques dealer would have a field day with the furniture. But it has hot showers, plenty of sofas and I just cooked a banging chicken pasta in the kitchen that comes fully equipped. The place I’m staying in tonight is simply a home for travellers, just like it was once a home for people who needed care. I see no difference in that and we should challenge others who do.

Seriously, the only thing that’s ‘creepy’ or ‘scary’ about tonight is that I’m drinking white wine instead of red.

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