Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital


Legend has it that at an infamous junction, “you turned right to Tokanui if you were mad, and left to Waikeria [prison] if you were bad’. Neither, though, were desirable destinations”.

Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital opened its doors in July, 1912 and operated up until 1998. The site is located fourteen kilometres from Te Awamutu, New Zealand. In the beginning, the site was entirely self-sufficient as it included its own facilities; a farm, clothing manufacturers, laundry rooms and onsite accommodation – to name but a few. The hospital had capacity for over one thousand patients; the majority of whom came from areas such as Wellington, Porirua and New Plymouth. By the 1980’s, however, New Zealanders’ attitudes to healthcare underwent a shift towards deinstitutionalization, moving instead towards ‘community care’, and accordingly the large psychiatric sites were gradually mothballed. A number of medical practitioners travelled over to the UK during this time, to evaluate the measures being implemented in place of out-of-date practices. Even during these times, though, attitudes to such changes in the UK were heavily opposed for a significant period of time. New Zealanders’ mind-sets were also divided, especially in view of the fact that many patients had spent the majority of their lives at institutions, to the extent that these sites had effectively become their homes. On the other hand, there were many patients who had been admitted to these institutions under more forcible circumstances and they often developed clinical depression, anxieties and OCD as a consequence. Many simply felt isolated from their friends and families; many found it difficult to maintain contact due to the considerable distances between cities in New Zealand. Fortunately, for those who required continuing care, The Hospital Board had ring-fenced a financial allowance to make revised provision; principally for those who were intellectually disabled and chronically mentally ill. As regards the hospital’s past, it is reported that many claims of child abuse have arisen since its closure, insofar that people have been horrified by some of the stories which have emerged. Nevertheless, people are being encouraged to speak out against the physical, emotional and sexual abuse that occurred, so communities can acknowledge what happened and learn from the irreversible effects of such mistreatment.

Since its closure, Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital has remained, for the most part, intact despite some minor demolition of staff facilities. Many of the buildings are now considered too dangerous to enter owing to large amounts of asbestos being contained inside. A memorial stone now lies at the site of the former cemetery, where over five hundred Maori and European patients are buried. The cemetery was decommissioned in 1968 and patients were instead given pauper graves at the Te Awamutu general cemetery. The farm continues to operate and is currently owned by the Ministry of Agriculture. Some metal theft has occurred, unsurprisingly, but a good proportion of the medical equipment had found use elsewhere. Even so, the site is still patrolled around the clock by Waikato Security Services.

Our Version of Events

After spending a pleasant night parked up by a lake in the middle of nowhere, because someone insisted on sleeping in a hammock which allegedly required two trees to be specifically set apart by a certain distance, we arose early to continue on to Tokanui – which is also positioned in another bit of New Zealand’s ‘middle of nowhere’ region. For some reason, despite being in an environment that’s certainly not short on trees, we spent half the night driving to find two. Needless to say, the ones we did find were two fine specimens indeed. The next morning our problems weren’t over though, for just as we were set to move on it became evident that the car battery had decided it was all at once incapable of holding any power; not good when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, as we kept calm and carried on, we managed to jump-start the car. Onwards we proceeded! Upon arrival it was decided that we would take the long route onto the site, on account of the 24 hour secca onsite. We managed to get into Tokanui without any problems and set about exploring as much as we could fit in; ducking and taking cover occasionally as the security made their rounds. Unfortunately, while there is a morgue located in one of the buildings, we deduced that it was inside the one with the security guard HQ point outside. Rather than spending all morning and afternoon trying to get inside we decided collectively to move on to other explores that lie waiting. Although this is a good explore, there’s an overshadowing sense of sadness to the place; one that I’m unable to elucidate on.

Explored with Nillskill, Zort and Dylan.

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