It was a bit like falling down a rabbit-hole. One minute we were driving through the rugged landscape of the Otago peninsula; the next we were walking across the manicured lawns of a Scottish mansion. This was Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand.
I shouldn’t have been surprised: I had already seen Scottish place names, schoolgirls in tartan skirts and Presbyterian churches in this part of New Zealand. And Dunedin is known as the “Edinburgh of the South”. So perhaps the castle wasn’t out of place at all.
The Only Castle in New Zealand
“You’ve got older castles at home,” said the man in the ticket office. It is true that Larnach Castle – New Zealand’s only castle – was built as recently as 1871. And, despite the battlements on its roof, it was built as a family home and not as a means of defence.
But what it lacks in age, it makes up for with a dramatic and turbulent history. Inside the house we read the story of family strife, financial ruin and the eventual suicide of the first owner, before the castle fell into a long period of disrepair. Although the building is now restored it is said that the troubled spirits of the first inhabitants still reside there. We were not disturbed by any ghostly presence as we explored the house, walking through the Art Deco veranda and up to narrow stairs to the roof, but the ghosts continue to attract visitors, including several paranormal investigators!
Formal Gardens and Native Plants at Larnach Castle
Back outside, we walked around the gardens, past the patch of imported purple heather and the petanque court, and through the rose arch. Some previous owner must also have felt the incongruity of the place, because we came across a statue of Alice wielding her flamingo croquet mallet, and around the corner were stone figures of the King and Queen of Hearts!
But there were reminders that we were in New Zealand. The lions by the door were flanked by cabbage trees, and a native plants trail ran behind the castle. We had our picnic in the South Seas Garden, a hillside planted with all manner of Pacific plants, and overlooking an unmistakeably New Zealand vista.
Later we returned to Dunedin and stopped outside the museum to read a poster on the wall. It said, “The Scots were an odd bunch of adventurers, travelling over 10,000 miles to reach a new land only to fill it with stuff just like the place they left behind.” That seemed to sum up my experience at Larnach Castle!