Larnach Castle is the only castle in the country of New Zealand, and visitors to this stunning land must stop to experience all that the castle has to offer. Located on the Otago Peninsula in picturesque Dunedin, the castle is a modern tourist hotspot thanks to its rich, yet scandalous history, and its gorgeous gardens and Gothic Revival architecture.
If you are visiting the South Island and want to see a famous New Zealand landmark, a day at Larnach Castle is a perfect choice.
William James Mudie Larnach built Larnach Castle in the 1870s. Larnach, who was of Scottish descent, was a man with a vision. Born in New South Wales, Australia in 1833, Larnach had an illustrious career in banking for many years, and he began his work in Melbourne.
Eventually, Larnach moved to the Australian goldfields during the gold rush, and while in Ararat, he became the manager of the Bank of New South Wales. At the time, this bank was only a simple tent with a gun, guard dogs and strong boxes.
When gold was eventually discovered in Otago, New Zealand, Larnach was called upon to be the manager of Dunedin’s Bank of Otago, which served the new goldfields in the area. He and his wife Eliza and their children arrived in New Zealand in 1867. While in Dunedin, Larnach made his fortune through a series of good investments including buying and selling farms and land speculations.
Larnach was also involved in shipping, politics, farming and landholding. This made him a well-known figure in the Dunedin area, and as a man with a great vision, he wanted to create an eye-catching estate for his family. Thus, the idea of Larnach Castle was born.
According to legend, Larnach discovered the site for his grand home while horseback riding with his son. Visitors to the area can immediately see why Larnach chose the site, as it has panoramic views of locations such as the Otago Harbour, Dunedin, the Pacific Ocean, and the Peninsula. Larnach hired R.A. Lawson to design the mansion and construction on the enormous home began in 1871. There were close to 200 workmen used to build the main part of the structure, and no expense was spared. Larnach imported material for the home from around the world including bricks from Glasgow, marble from Italy, cobbles from Marseilles and blackstone from Cornwall.
Most of the stone for the home was local basalt, which was mined from a local quarry. The materials were only part of the extravagance of Larnach’s home; the interior was also a stunning example of his wealth, and much of the original features, such as the intricately carved ceilings, are still visible today. The exterior of the home took about three years to complete, and Larnach hired European craftsmen to build the interior, which took about 12 years.
An addition to the house, a 3000 square foot ballroom, was built in 1887 as a gift for Larnach’s eldest daughter, Kate’s, 21st birthday. When complete, the estate had 43 rooms and a staff of 46 servants. There were 35 acres reserved for general grounds, which included a vinery, and there was a 300-acre farm on the property, which housed 300 cows.
Larnach and his wife, Eliza, had six children. Eliza died at the age of 38 soon after the birth of their youngest child, Gladys. Larnach further experienced tragedy when his eldest daughter, Kate, died while in her 20s. His five remaining children were sent to England for schooling, so the large estate became a lonely, quiet place.
This time was further devastating to Larnarch as his business dealings in New Zealand began to fail, and eventually, he became insolvent. The castle was spared, however, as it was still in his Eliza’s name. Soon after the death of his wife, Larnach re-married, this time to Mary Alleyne, who was the half-sister of Eliza. He was married to Mary for five years until, she too, died at the age of 38.
Larnach then married Constance de Bathe Brandon, a much younger woman. The only bright spot in Larnach’s life was his political career. Though he had dabbled in politics before, in 1882, he returned to politics and won the Peninsula electorate. By 1885, he was chosen as the Minister of Mines. Though he lost the 1890 election, he affiliated himself with the Liberal Party, and once again became a Member of Parliament in 1894.
However, later that year, Larnach once again found himself on the brink of financial ruin and began making mistakes in his political career. There were also rumors that his wife, Constance, was having an affair with his youngest son, Douglas. This was all too much for him, and in 1898, he locked himself in a Parliament committee room and shot himself. The surviving family fought over his estate, including Larnach Castle, for many years, which divided and destroyed the Larnach family.
After many years of disrepair, the castle was near ruin in 1967 when it was purchased by Barry and Margaret Barker. There was no furniture left, the grand ballroom was being used as a sheep pen, and many of the architectural features were missing.
Over the decades, the Barkers have restored the castle to its original glory, and today, almost all of the original 43 rooms have been returned to the standards that William Larnach envisioned more than a hundred years before. The Barkers have also restored the grounds of the property, and today there are paths, trees, flower beds, vistas and hedgerows, and the New Zealand Gardens Trust has named it a “Garden of International Significance.”
Visitors to Larnach Castle can choose to take self-guided or guided tours through the garden, grounds, castle and outbuildings. As of 2016, there are four tours to choose from:
The Gardens Season Pass grants access to the castle’s garden area and cafe for a full year. With this pass, visitors can explore the gardens on their own.
This is a self-guided tour that grants the visitor entry to the grounds, gardens, historic stables, ballroom café and outbuildings. Each visitor is given brochures and maps, which help during the tour, and point them in the direction of various points of interest.
This self-guided tour grants visitors entry to the castle, including the tower, gift shop, ballroom café, grounds, gardens, stables, and outbuilding. Visitors are given an informative brochure to help guide them along the tour.
Guided castle tours are also available, and this is the opportunity for visitors to hear the full history of the castle or the creation of the gardens. This tour requires advanced booking and is led by an expert in Larnach Castle’s history.
Visitors to Larnach Castle may choose to visit the castle, gardens and grounds for a day or may decide to stay on the grounds overnight. There are several accommodation choices available to meet any budget.
Visitors may choose to stay in the historic stables, which have been converted into guest rooms. This 140-year old structure is registered as a historic building, and sits next to Larnach Lodge on the grounds of the castle. There are six guest rooms available in the upper area of the stables, and the lower part features a guest lounge, breakfast area, Internet access and laundry. The rooms in the stable are smaller than other accommodations on the grounds and have shared bathroom facilities, but is a good option for a traveler on a budget. Each stay includes breakfast, entry to the gardens and castle, and the opportunity to dine at the castle for dinner.
Another accommodation option at Larnach Castle is the Larnach Lodge. This structure was built beside the historic stables and stands on the foundations of the original farm buildings. This lodge was designed with a colonial farm building in mind and has views of the ocean, harbor and peninsula. The rooms have a Qualmark 4-star rating, and each room was designed with a Larnach family or castle theme in mind including Enchanted Forest, Sea, Goldrush, and Kate’s. All rooms feature free wireless Internet, fridge, phone, heaters, iron, coffee and tea, and laundry. Guests may also schedule a time to dine at the castle for dinner.
The Camp Estate is a luxury accommodation option that is situated about 500 meters from Larnach Castle. This is a gorgeous country house with a glamorous interior that is focused on guest comfort. There are five bedrooms in the estate, and each features a fireplace and lovely views of the countryside. Breakfast is cooked daily, on-site, and guests of the estate are invited to dinner at the castle. Complimentary entry to the garden and castle is included, and this is an ideal option for groups or large families.
The Peninsula Experience is an accommodation package available in the summer months. This package includes premium lodging, a standard Elm Wildlife Peninsula Encounter tour, late check-out and a bottle of wine and antipasto platter delivered to the room. The package also includes a full cooked breakfast in the stables, and a self-guided tour of the grounds, gardens and castle.
For overnight guests of the castle grounds, there is the option of dining inside of the castle. The dining room is not a conventional restaurant. Instead, the operators present a three-course meal in the historic setting with all guests seated together at one table. The menu features a traditional New Zealand meal, and all vegetables and meats are local. There are also several New Zealand wines available.
Whether you are visiting the castle grounds for a couple of hours or spending the night, there is much to do and see at Larnach Castle. There are special events held throughout the year, too, and the castle is open 365 days a year, including on Christmas Day.
There is a café on the grounds that is open in the summer, which allows you to dine for lunch, and high tea is available for interested guests. Special offers and a schedule of events can be found on the Larnach Castle website, and guests can schedule accommodations and tours online.
With a history marred with sadness and scandal, and a modern reputation as one of the top tourist destinations on the South Island, a visit to Larnach Castle is one that you will not soon forget. This award winning destination has been standing for more than 100 years, and the current operators hope that it will be around for at least 100 more. With the stunning gardens, restored castle, and accommodation options for any budget, you should certainly plan a visit to Larnach Castle when in the Dunedin area.
Need transportation to make the most of the area? View our full range of affordable Dunedin rental cars and explore the best of Dunedin at your own pace.
Check out our blog for more New Zealand travel and holiday advice.
All of our branches are operating as usual and we will continue to adhere and provide where possible less contact, and with cleaning, and sanitisation as our main focus. We ask you to maintain the social distancing requirements at the branches and follow our signage when queuing.