Standing tall in commanding grandeur atop Otago Peninsula (also home to the royal albatross) is the regal Larnach Castle, the only castle in the Southern Hemisphere. Unconnected to royalty, the castle was built by a highly successful Australian-born merchant and banker and Kiwi politician, William Larnach to impress his French nobility wife and house his six children. No expense was spared utilising the most elegant Italian marble, the finest Venetian glass, New Zealand woods and best of English tiles, complete with palatial furnishings. Fitting with William’s eventful life, Eliza Jane died of apoplexy before completion.
His second wife and half-sister to Eliza also passed away before his third wife had an affair with his eldest son(sounds like a good storyline for a TV series). In a wild state of mind, William took his own life heartbroken at the treachery of his third wife, dying intestate. The regular family tussles and dramas created a complex settlement of the estate forcing the eventual sale.
Larnach Castle lived multiple lives as a nunnery, soldier’s retreat, asylum, salesroom for antiques and World War II signal post, before being bought in a state of ruin by the Barker family in 1967. Their life passion has been to lovingly restore Larnach Castle and reinstate this fine castle to its former glory making it a family home,a living museum and an important reminder to Dunedin’s heritage. This has been an impressive feat with the ballroom being used as a winter shed for animals, the gardens completely overgrown and all furniture having been removed.
Over the years the castle has been returned to its former resplendent state with much original furniture being rediscovered. While there are no internal photos allowed, the rooms are free of ropes and barriers giving it a far great sense of homeliness. It is intriguing to wander from room to room imagining life for the Larnachs and their innumerable servants. (Some interior photos are available on the Larnach Castle website).
Ghost stories aboundwith Eliza apparently making occasional appearances near her bedroom while Larnach’s favourite daughter who died of typhoid shortly after her 21st birthday haunts the separate impressive ballroom (now the café). Ghost hunters trip from around the world to luxuriate in splendid tales of silent spirits and eerie apparitions.
The castle is chock full of reminders of stately Victorian life with its strict rules, impractical clothing and overwhelming sense of etiquette but the highlight of the castle is the spectacular panorama from the turret which spans from central Dunedin along the impressive harbour to the ocean. Gardens (and twittery birds) surround the castle from neatly trimmed lawn areas to rock gardens, a rainforest and a tribute to Alice in Wonderland.
Known as the Edinburgh of the South, it seems appropriate that New Zealand’s only castle sits imposingly just outside Dunedin with its tumultuous history, juicy tales and a superb vista. Enthusiasts can stay on-site in Larnach Lodge or the old stables while visitors are free to roam the gardens and enjoy the ostentatious castle rooms.
Larnach Castle offers both castle/garden tickets (NZ$28) and garden only tickets (NZ$12.50) and is open every day of the year.