Larnach Castle: a haunted castle high on a hill
Larnach Castle, one of only two castles in all of New Zealand, has a rich history, spotted with family drama, death, and a variety of ghost stories and, given the facts, It’s unsurprising then that its owner’s ghost is said to be a bit tetchy.
The interior is filled with vintage furniture, beautiful designs, and cat artwork. However, this architectural oddity would be difficult to stumble across, unless you knew it was there.
Hidden in the South Island is the city of Dunedin. Wandering through its streets, you’ll find dozens of tiny shops stacked high with curiosities and vintage wares, as well as a vibrant student population during university months. Modeled on Edinburgh in style and layout, and even taking an adapted version of its Gaelic name, Dùn Èideann, Dunedin has the allure of a hidden city, the type of place that time forgot. And, to add something else to its old-world charm, hidden on the hills of the Otago Peninsula, overlooking the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, lies Larnach Castle.
William Larnach, who was a wealthy merchant banker and politician, built the castle for his first wife in the late 19th century. Born in the Hunter Valley and schooled in Sydney, he got rich speculating on real estate after taking up the role of general manager at the Bank of Otago in Dunedin, in 1866. In 1871, he commissioned Robert Lawson, one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent 19th-century architects, to build him a weekend escape of scope and grandeur never before seen in the colonies. It took over 200 workmen three years to build the exterior, while European craftsmen spent another 12 years completing the manor’s interior. Its owner spared no expense when it came to constructing this late Victorian-era abode with both the exterior and interior made with extravagant stones and materials imported from all across the world.
But things went bad for Larnach soon after moving into the castle. One by one, he stood by and watched as his daughter, first wife and second wife died from assorted illnesses and, if this wasn’t enough, in the years that followed his bank went bust and Larnach was accused of “dishonourable dealings”.
His tragic end came in 1898 in a Parliament building, with his ruined finances and a rumored affair between his youngest son and his third and much younger wife. So really not such a great time, and Larnach put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.
Moreover, the family fell apart due to legal battles over his estate.
“The Camp”, as it was originally known, passed through several hands and was eventually in a shambles following successive stints as an insane asylum, soldiers’ billet and private residence, until its current owners, the Baker family, bought it in 1967 and became dedicated to restoring it.
Either way, Larnach Castle is one of the New Zealand’s most popular attractions: every year, 100,000 people drive up from Dunedin to explore the building and stroll through its award-winning gardens, which the New Zealand Garden Trust has deemed a Garden of International Significance.
But to really get a feel for the place, one must spend the night and eat at the castle.
Offered exclusively to guests of the 12 Victorian-themed rooms, the three-course d’hôte menu is rich and delicious with think Southland venison, salmon terrine, mushroom tart and date and orange pudding, strictly served house-party style by candelabra-wielding waiters who narrate the tragic story of the castle’s builder, William Larnach.
Images from web – Google Research