In 2014 on a Urbexcentral excursion in the hills- Gunner (as per usual), saw this tower as a challenge rather than an obstacle and couldn’t be talked out of free climbing it. We waited in trepidation at the bottom, as he proceeded to knock the bastard off.
Welcome to the complete video document of Gunner’s adventures with Urbex Central at Erskine College in Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand, in the years after its closure in 2012.
Part One: Rage Against The Dying Of The Light [0:00]
Several years ago now, we visited Erskine College at night. We found our way into its pristine Gothic chapel, which was added to the college in 1929-30. It had at that time recently been operating as a wedding venue before being declared earthquake prone. We lit up the chapel once more, first with candlelight and then with halogen flood lights powered by a petrol generator. Over the course of the next three years we revisited the college and documented it as best we could, while the destruction from vandalism seemed to be advancing mercilessly towards the chapel. Today most of the college has been demolished to make way for a housing development, while the chapel remains, albeit emptied out and boarded up. We’re happy to bring you the chapel as we first found it.
Part Two: Ascension Day [5:59]
In the year following our first visit to Erskine College, tagging had visibly advanced to the choir loft at the back of the chapel. Hung high out of reach of taggers’ sharpies are the stations of the cross, the closest of which to us depict scenes where Jesus is “aided by Simon” and “stripped of his garments”. By this time Urbex Central had evolved into a highly active and — more importantly — a warm collective, as evident in moments of playful cooperation captured on video. Thankfully one of the organs was foot-powered.
Part Three: Walk Towards The Falling Water, I Will Meet You There [10:36]
In 2009, a poetic arts student wrote in chalk on top of a set of wooden shelves: “Walk towards the falling water / I will meet you there”. Construction began on Erskine College, a former Catholic girls’ school, in 1905, with a chapel added in 1929-30. In 1985 it ceased operating as a college, and in 1992 a trust was formed and given responsibility for its heritage protection. Between 1997 and 2009 it was tenanted by a tertiary art school. The chapel then reopened as a wedding venue until being declared earthquake prone in 2012.
Part Four: Acts of The Apostle [17:47]
Another year has passed, and once more the chapel is inviting exploration. We know the space well enough now to relax in the moment and capture details hitherto unseen. With explorers almost entirely absent from the frame, the gentle zooming in and out of the camera seems to capture an aspect of human experience deeper than adventure: our cyclical approaching and withdrawing from faith and/or artistry of many kinds as we navigate our lives.
Elvis was the tender age of 19 when he recorded “That’s Alright Mama” in “a new, distinctive style” on the Sun label. Many of the arrivals at this commune founded in 1973 were of a similar age, seeking to live in a new, distinctive style under the sun. A painter’s easel stands overlooking the hillside on which the communal meeting house was built, and the nearby house still contains once-cherished paintings and art books.
This former rail tunnel has sat abandoned since 1900. It is now three-quarters buried by the earth, and half-flooded. Distinctive arrow imprints on the red and brown clay bricks indicate the presence of prison labourers in its construction. Prisoners serving terms with hard labour wore arrows on their uniforms to visually distinguish them from civilian workers, and they marked their handmade bricks with arrows, as a kind of self-portrait. Finding this tunnel was a team effort involving anecdotes from rail workers, hand-drawn maps of enthusiasts, and – finally – simply groping through thick vines in search of the source of faint sounds of trickling water. The entrances are completely obscured in dense overgrowth. The thrill of finding something so untouched for so long is indescribable.
Driving rural back roads in the Waitomo region, we came across several well-worn former abodes. Interestingly to us, many a collapsing farmhouse had a companion tree somewhat alleviating its loneliness, presumably planted by its former occupants.
The current temporary closure of this commercialised geothermal area in the North Island of New Zealand allowed us to capture nature steadily continuing its activity in the peaceful absence of human occupation. According to Māori legend, New Zealand’s geothermal areas were created by two ember-bearing travellers – not on the sea, but through the earth. The two sisters of ocean navigator Ngātoro-i-rangi heard his call for their help from the midst of a blizzard at Mount Tongariro. They loaded six kete baskets with glowing embers and summoned Te Pupu and Te Hoata – the subterranean goddesses of fire – to deliver them to their imperilled brother. The goddesses dived deep into the earth and carried the baskets of heat from Hawaiiki (the Polynesian homeland) to Aotearoa. Each time the goddesses surfaced on their voyage they left a trail of embers, creating geothermal sites at Whakaari (White Island), Moutohorā (Whale Island), Rotoiti, Tarawera, Rotorua, Ōrākei Korako, Wairakei and Tokaanu. By the time they reached Ngātoro-i-rangi at Ketetahi, Tongariro, only one kete of fire remained to save his life.
A couple of old chimneys tower over an abandoned glass factory near the village of Krushevo, in the municipality of Sevlievo, in Gabrovo Province, northern central Bulgaria. Gunner thanks his generous and kind hosts, Nicola Miller and Jonathan Taylor.