Es­tate a re­treat from mod­ern life

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

Lar­nach Cas­tle, un­til re­cently New Zealand’s only cas­tle, is among Dunedin’s most dis­tinc­tive land­marks.

Where/what is it?

The his­toric Lar­nach Cas­tle is sit­u­ated on the Otago Penin­sula 20 min­utes’ drive from cen­tral Dunedin. Vis­it­ing for a spe­cial event, high tea or a pic­nic in its pris­tine grounds feels like a lit­tle hol­i­day from mod­ern life.

Wend­ing your way to­wards the grand, cir­cu­lar drive­way, you’ll pass macro­carpas planted by Wil­liam Lar­nach him­self. Lar­nach, a banker and politi­cian hail­ing from New South Wales, built the cas­tle for his first wife, El­iza, in 1871. The ex­te­rior took 200 men three years to con­struct; the fitout and fur­nish­ing of the cas­tle’s 43 rooms took an­other 12.

A trip to the cas­tle is pretty much manda­tory for any­one liv­ing in or vis­it­ing Dunedin, even if you don’t fancy your­self as a lo­cal his­tory buff. It’s a favourite des­ti­na­tion for wed­dings and balls, but also well worth ex­plor­ing.

Wan­der­ing through the rooms, painstak­ingly re­stored to their late 19th-cen­tury glory, of­fers in­sight into the Lar­nachs’ wealth and at-times­fraught fam­ily his­tory (he had three wives and six chil­dren). It’s also a chance to learn about the Bark­ers, who bought the cas­tle in 1967 and have spent the decades since restor­ing it.

There’s also on-site ac­com­mo­da­tion at Camp Es­tate, a blue­stone, fivebed­room manor house 500 me­tres from the cas­tle en­trance, or in the four-star Lar­nach Lodge rooms in­side the cas­tle it­self. Guests are served a three-course din­ner in the din­ing room around a shared ta­ble.

On the way/nearby

The Otago Penin­sula is home to the re­gion’s most at­trac­tive wildlife. The fa­mous al­ba­tross colony, up the road at Ta­iaroa Head, is the world’s only main­land breed­ing colony of royal al­ba­tross and best en­joyed on one of the cruises op­er­at­ing on Dunedin Har­bour (I rec­om­mend Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours), and there’s a lit­tle blue pen­guin colony at Pi­lots Beach. There are also plenty of walk­ing trails of­fer­ing views of and ac­cess to stun­ning beaches on the penin­sula’s sea side. Of­ten, sea lions can be spot­ted on the white-gold sand.

How much?

For ac­cess to the cas­tle, grounds, and gar­dens, it costs an adult $31 and chil­dren aged 5-14 $10 (free en­try for chil­dren un­der 5). A fam­ily pass for two adults and two chil­dren costs $74. En­joy­ing the grounds and gar­dens on their own costs adults $15 and chil­dren $5 each. Guided tours cost an ad­di­tional $125.

In­sider tip

Buy a gar­den pass and en­joy the cas­tle grounds year-round as a pic­nic des­ti­na­tion with fam­ily and friends. The passes, which cost $25 for adults, $15 for chil­dren, or $65 for a fam­ily, make great gifts for lo­cals. The gar­dens are one of five in New Zealand to have been deemed ‘‘Gar­dens of In­ter­na­tional Sig­nif­i­cance’’.

Best time to go

Any time – it’s open 365 days a year – though win­ter’s when ma­jor re­fur­bish­ments tend to hap­pen and best avoided if you want to lan­guish out­doors for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. High tea, served daily at 3pm, is the per­fect way to end a visit – book 24 hours in ad­vance. Some dates in Novem­ber have dis­counted en­try rates. See lar­nach­cas­ for fur­ther in­for­ma­tion. – Britt Mann

The writer was hosted for high tea by Lar­nach Cas­tle.

The din­ing room, where guests stay­ing in the cas­tle’s lodge share meals in the evenings.

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