When I began writing my novel, Scrappy Cupcake Angels, I knew I wanted it to be set in a small town steeped in history that I could explore in more detail in future books. Although Kerrigan is a fictional town in the North Island, it is inspired by the small gold mining towns of Central Otago in New Zealand’s South Island. I fell in love with these historic towns, which sprung up during the goldrush of the 1860’s, when Nick and I took a trip to the South Island a couple of years ago.
The landscape is very different to where we live. We drove for many miles through a rugged barren landscape of tussock grasses, wild purple thyme, and tors of schist rock that covered the area like an army of stone soldiers. Dotted throughout the landscape were old stone buildings and remnants of the region’s gold mining history. We visited the historic gold mining towns of Arrowtown, Cromwell, Clyde, and Alexandra, we panned for gold in the goldfields of the Kawerau Gorge, but the highlight of my trip was a visit to St Bathans.
Some months previously I had seen a story about St Bathans on TV, on an episode of Ghost Hunt. In its heyday during the goldrush, St Bathans boasted a population of over 2000, more than a dozen hotels, and numerous dance halls and brothels. Today, it has a population of 7, a blue lake, a Post Office, and a haunted hotel.
St Bathans lies in a tranquil setting in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, we were met outside the hotel by a black dog, who we later learned was called Jack.
Jack became our tour guide and began by leading us down to the Blue Lake, which was formed from extensive mining, and later allowed to fill with water. The minerals in the surrounding rocks give the water its beautiful turquoise colour.
Jack then led us back to the main street and took us on a tour of the historic buildings. A pamphlet we had picked up from the hotel gave us a brief history of each one. Many of St Bathans’ buildings were made of stone or mudbrick, but unfortunately few of them remain today. A few, however, did survive, including the old mudbrick hall, a church, the billiard saloon, the Post Office, which dates back to 1909, and the Vulcan Hotel which dates back to 1882.
Many people believe that the Vulcan Hotel is haunted by the ghost of a murdered prostitute. One night, back in the town’s gold mining days, an itinerant prostitute called The Rose rented the front room of the hotel. In the morning she was found raped, robbed, and strangled to death. Over the years, The Rose has been seen and felt by both staff members and guests at the hotel. There have been many reports of lights going on and off, doors creaking, drops in temperature, phantom footsteps, ghostly apparitions and mysterious shadows seen at the foot of the bed. Male guests in Room 1, the room in which The Rose met her untimely death, have reported feelings of being held down and throttled.
We had lunch at the Vulcan Hotel, which had a wonderful old-time atmosphere. Although we didn’t have any paranormal experiences, the beautiful surroundings and haunting ambience of the small town linger in my memory to this day. It was a great place to visit and I hope to return again one day.