Hair Raiser Tours

Dunedin i-Site Visitor Centre, Dunedin

10/01/2007 - 12/01/2007

Production Details

Devised by Andrew Smith

If you think ghosts don’t exist, think again. Andrew Smith’s Hair Raiser Ghost Walk (tel. 03/477-2258; might convince you otherwise. Get behind the city’s beautiful architecture and discover the truth behind many famous ghost sightings, the wandering habits of the supernatural, and The Octagon fires. Based on fact, not fiction, it’s not for the fainthearted and there’s no guarantee of a good night’s sleep afterwards. No garlic or crucifixes allowed. Tours leave from outside the visitor center Wednesday and Friday at 6pm and cost $20 per person. No credit cards.

Wed & Fri at 6pm.

Guide: Nick Duval-Smith

Theatre , Promenade ,

A spellbinding ghost hunt

Review by Terry MacTavish 12th Jan 2007

How to entertain youthful nephews from out of town when even the pantomimes have closed down for what we laughingly refer to as the New Zealand summer? Desperate to impress with some evidence of Dunedin’s thespian delights, I was fortunate enough to stumble onto Hair Raiser Tours, a small but dedicated outfit that has hit on the perfect way to exploit the city’s dramatic Victorian Gothic architecture.

This sort of walking tour, combining entertainment with education, has long been popular in cities like London and Edinburgh, which have the advantage of centuries of ghoulish tales to draw on. Andrew Smith has done his research well however, and Dunedin’s old centre, around the Octagon and Moray Place, boasts more murders and disasters than I had dreamt. Michelanne Forster could have seized on any one of them to craft an in-depth exploration of motive and consequence, but what we were up for was a ghost hunt.  

The small audience waited nervously as the Town Hall clock chimed eight, wondering how we were to recognise our guide, when a dark-suited figure materialised from beyond St Paul’s Cathedral and strolled down towards us, his eyes on his book, and his long black cape billowing behind him. With his whiskers and top hat he had a genuinely Victorian appearance, evoking all those Sherlock Holmes mysteries, perhaps even Jack the Ripper. Thrilling.

It must be said that without a convincing performance from the actor/guide, this interactive theatre could easily fall very flat and embarrass audience as well as guide. But local actor and artist Nick Duval-Smith struck exactly the right note. Mesmeric blue eyes and quietly compelling voice kept us spellbound, and he delivered his script without cynicism or histrionics.

We began right beside the Town Hall with the tale of the unfortunate Grey Lady and then moved off at a relaxed pace to visit seven or eight mysterious old buildings rumoured to be haunted since some tragedy had occurred. The true stories were mostly from the romantic past of gold rush days, though it was a surprise to be reminded of the letter bomb that killed lawyer James Ward within more recent memory.

My favourite ghost however was the poor girl jilted on her wedding day, who had run from lovely First Church to throw herself off the cliff behind the church and drown in what in those days was the harbour. Such girls are known as Silkies, having met their doom still wearing their silk wedding gowns. Nick assured us that in 2003 a group like ourselves swore they had seen the little white Silkie walk the length of the cliff. Yes, well. Apparently they all adjourned to the nearest pub to get over the shock…

My teenage nephews relished the last stop – an appallingly black dungeon, deep below the old library, where some miserable tramp had expired. Here, of course, the torch flickered and failed, while we were encouraged to relate any supernatural experiences of our own. Audience participation that never fails, I suspect. The boys, braver than I, were rather fascinated by the idea of the Graveyard Tour, which commences at midnight, but even the promise of a hot toddy wouldn’t tempt me to that.


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