Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level.
From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Maori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe.
The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet of vandalism. A 360 degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach.
Another victim of the earthquakes, this historic wartime island was once used as a quarantine station, Maori fortification and a defence against Russian attacks.
On arrival and after a short swim across to the island we navigated our way up the steep barbed wire bank. Once inside the fort we were met by a beautifully designed historic fort which included a labyrinth of tunnels with torpedo and mine stores. The two disappearing guns on the fort were completed in 1895 and were never actually used to fire a shot in their years as part of the island fortification.
We hope they can restore this unique part of New Zealand’s history once again for visitors to appreciate it.
The information I had surrounding this location sounded almost mythological, an abandoned North Korean prison movie set in Queenstown?
Since access to the mountain had been closed for the last five years, I had to go in the hard way, straight up the sheer face of the mountain! A few cuts and bruises later navigating dense bush, deer and goat I finally reached the top.
What greeted me felt so out of place, an old North Korean prison surrounding by beautiful Queenstown scenery, Awesome!
After 30 years of decay this abandoned prison camp is barely recognisable as a prison anymore, this was a quick, fun early morning explore of a prison that was closed due to 1000 prisoners being released in New Zealand under the Criminal Justice Act in 1985.