On the outskirts of Dunedin, perched high above the Otago Peninsula, is Larnach Castle. A steep narrow stretch of road snakes around the peninsula’s patchwork of green fields to New Zealand’s only castle, a late 19th century Gothic-inspired masterpiece.
Built at unfathomable expense by William Larnach as a magnificent family home, Larnach Castle had become abandoned and unoccupied by the early 20th century, a victim of the family feuds that followed William’s death.
Rediscovered in the 1960s and then greatly restored by its current owners, Larnach Castle is now a resplendent and vital New Zealand landmark.
A successful banker by trade, William Larnach moved to Dunedin from his native Australia in 1867 to manage the Bank of Otago. Almost as soon as he arrived in Dunedin, Larnach had the idea of building a grand home for his family.
The result was a fantastic Gothic castle, complete with a central tower and a single turret all wrapped with a huge classic veranda.
The beautifully restored interior of Larnach Castle
Construction began in 1871 and took more than three years to complete. Larnach spent a phenomenal amount of money to build his beloved castle. Craftsmen spent twelve years perfecting the castle’s lavish interior.
Stone for the castle was sourced locally from Oamaru and the Otago Peninsula, yet many of the building materials were imported from all over the world in huge quantities.
Slate was shipped in from Wales, marble from Italy, and glass from France and Venice. When the castle was completed Larnach added one final piece – in 1887, as a 21st birthday present to his eldest daughter, Larnach built a 3000 square foot ballroom.
A lion guards the entrance to Larnach Castle, and the castle’s only turret
The fate of Larnach Castle shadowed that of William Larnach. Despite becoming a member of Parliament, Larnach’s life would sadly take several turns for the worse. Eliza, William’s first wife and the mother to six of their children, died at the age of 38.
He later married Eliza’s half sister, Mary, in 1882. She also died just five years later. Larnach married his third wife, Constance de Bathe Brandon, in 1891. That same year Larnach’s daughter Kate (for whom the ballroom was built) died of typhoid.
In October 1898, following years of financial difficulties – as well as rumours of an affair between his third wife and his son, Douglas – Larnach shot himself in a committee room in New Zealand’s Parliament building in Wellington.
By 1906 Larnach’s surviving family had sold the castle, with most of the castles’s contents also auctioned off.
In the intervening years Larnach’s once glorious and much cherished castle changed hands several times and served a multitude of various different uses.
Initially bought by the New Zealand government the castle was used as a hospital for mental patients and shell-shocked soldiers. During World War Two the castle served as a base for American soldiers.
But in 1967 Larnach Castle was bought by its current owners, who have devoted the last fifty years to restoring it to its original unbridled glory. Once in a state of total disrepair, the castle is now a monument to Larnach’s original spectacular vision.
The castle’s interior has been painstakingly restored and many of Larnach’s original antiques and furniture have been sourced and returned to the castle.
The intricate detailing and expertise of the original craftsmen can be seen throughout, from the beautiful glassware and chandeliers, to the glorious spiraling central staircase expertly carved from Kauri wood.
A narrow spiral staircase inside the turret leads out on to the roof and the magnificent view across the Otago Peninsula, the view that once convinced Larnach that this was the place to build his extravagant home.
Outside, the castle grounds are just as magnificent as the castle itself. Seven acres of Larnach Castle’s grounds have been turned into a spectacular garden, featuring a wide variety of plants and flowers from across New Zealand and from all over the world.
The gardens are made up of several different collections, such as the South Seas garden, the Rain Forest, and the Serpentine Walk.
Several walking paths cut through he gardens, looking out at the wonderful views out towards Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.
The gardens and the fantastic restoration of the castle are both a testament to the dedication of the current occupants of Larnach Castle, as well as a wonderful tribute to the man who had the vision to build New Zealand’s only castle.
There are three different types of accommodation available on the Larnach Castle estate – the luxurious manor house Camp Estate, plus Larnach Lodge and the converted Stables next to the castle’s glorious gardens.
Also, Kate’s 21st birthday present ballroom is now an excellent cafe that serves a snack menu all day and a lunch from 10.00am until 3.30pm.
The only way to reach Larnach Castle from Dunedin is by car. From the centre of Dunedin drive south around Andersons Bay to Highcliffe Road towards the town of Pukehiki. Turn left when you reach Camp Road, from which it’s around another 1 kilometre drive to the entrance of Larnach Castle.
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