New Zealand Mysteries: Intriguing South Island tales revealed

If you like a good mystery, you're in luck. Author Scott Bainbridge has turned his attention to detailing some of New Zealand's most enduring tales.

He's previously written about cold cases and disappearances, but in New Zealand Mysteries outlines some of the country's well-known legends, and some lesser-known, but equally-intriguing tales.

“There was a fantastic book written by Robin Jenkins back in the early 1970s, which covered quite a few of the really old pre-European mysteries. I wanted to write about mysteries that people today would remember like the Kaukoura Lights and the South Canterbury Panther,” he says.

Bainbridge includes some unsolved murders that interest him, as well as unnerving ghost stories and tales of UFO and exotic animal sightings that have baffled New Zealanders for generations. A recurring stylistic issue for him writing the book was whether to hypothesise and try to solve the mysteries, or simply describe what had been reported and let his readers decide.

In the end he left it to readers to determine what actually occurred and let the mystery and tension remain.

His favourite mystery is the Ngatea Mystery Circle, when public UFO awareness boomed during months of circle sightings in 1969.

“This one day in September 1969 a farmer went down an area of his farm that he very rarely went down to and found his tea trees were burnt and dead and in was in a perfect circle and in the middle of that circle there were triangular indentations," he says. "He thought that was rather unusual and went down and told a few people and within a few days local journalists were down and every man and his dog was down.”

Crop circles started showing up around the country afterwards. Those investigating the original circle in the Waikato were divided between speculation on the possibility it was the result of a UFO landing to whether it was a mysterious type of fungi infection. Bainbridge says it was determined by an expert that the trees had been exposed to radiation.

The Kaikoura Lights is another mystery the book delves into. On December 21, 1978, UFOs were seen over the skies above the Kaikoura mountain ranges by the crew of a Safe Air cargo. The objects appeared on the air traffic controller radar in Wellington and on the aircraft's on-board radar.

A week later 30 December 1978, a television crew from Australia on the flight to Christchurch recorded unidentified lights, which were again tracked by Wellington Air Traffic Controllers. One object reportedly followed the aircraft almost until landing. The cargo plane then took off again with the television crew still on board, heading for Blenheim.

The crew claim they encountered a huge lighted orb that tracked them for almost quarter of an hour, while it was being filmed.

A government inquiry suggested the lights were directed from the sea, but this was contradicted by the fact that radar had picked them up, he said.

“It was clear that there was some object that was following them… it wasn’t a figment of their imagination or a trick of the light.”

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The South Island’s ‘Burmuda Triangle’ is another feature of the book.

Several aircraft have gone down in rugged South Island terrain between Milford Sound, Mt Aspiring and Haast and never been found

Ryan Moynihan, 23, was flying from West Melton, in Canterbury, to Haast in his Cessna in November 1997 when he vanished on his way to an area known as New Zealand's Bermuda Triangle.

Despite extensive searches no trace has been found of pilot or aircraft.

“About 28 people have disappeared. One of the aircraft disappeared within months of 1978, same year as the Kaikoura Lights… How I’ve conveyed it in the book is I’ve looked at the files of the accidents and it seems that the universal thing that links them all is that the weather is just so changeable down there.

"You can land at a certain place and the rain and the fog came down so suddenly that it just disorientates the pilots, and that’s what’s believed to happen.”

Reports of the Nelson Street Ripper are revisited and new information unearthed. On 28 September prostitute Frances Marshall was brutally stabbed in Upper Nelson Street, Auckland. The unsolved crime sparked fears of a New Zealand ‘Jack the Ripper’.

“She had 72 stab wounds, she was basically ripped to pieces,” he says. “There were also smaller articles about another death of another prostitute in the same area. She was found floating in the water just off Freeman’s Bay, which is in very close proximity to where Francis Marshall was murdered.”

Bainbridge researches the murders during that time using primary sources. He managed to get hold of the original papers of the deaths through the police national archives and the second prostitute had stab wounds when discovered, something not reported in the media at the time.

“It suggested that they didn’t want the public to know that Alice had died more of a violent death, because of that frenzy of “was there a Nelson Street ripper”.

 

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