Live life like a lord in New Zealand's only castle
Unless you’re a bona-fide British blue blood, Madonna or one of the Beckham soccerball clan, it's unlikely you can boast, "Hey plebs -- y’know, I stayed in a castle last night, huh?"
Well, to that roll call of riches, go ahead and add yours truly if you would: I’ve just joined the crenellated club by staying at New Zealand’s finest -- Larnach Castle in Dunedin.
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While most of us have likely visited a castle while traveling, especially in Europe, we’d normally leave at the end of the day.
For me, however, nightfall means my experience is just beginning.
Keeping it real
Sitting high over the Otago Pensinsula only a 20-minute drive from Dunedin city center, Larnach Castle is the only castle in New Zealand.
The first thing I notice are the friendly staff -- all kilts and Old World charm that bring a sense of Scotland to the Kiwi scene.
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Construction began on the castle in 1871, when Australian William Larnach broke the turf for his first wife, Eliza Jane Guise. It was completed in 1887, with the final addition of a ballroom as a 21st birthday present for his daughter Katie.
The current owners of Larnach Castle, the Barker family, bought the castle in 1967 and developed the tourist side of the estate while restoring both castle and grounds.
Pick whether you want to stay at the lodge or in the stables. The stables cost NZ$155 per night and are cozy, although bathrooms are shared.
The lodge, which is right across from the stables, features 12 rooms at NZ$260 per night each, all decorated in period style.
I'm staying in Katie's Room, which has a lovely country cottage vibe.
One reason William Larnach picked this site to build the castle was the view of the Otago Peninsula, which takes in the farms below, the water and mountains. It's easy to pull up a chair and watch the day pass by your window.
While guests can explore at will, visitors can pay to stroll the gardens and castle. To see both, tickets start from NZ$10 for kids.
The castle covers three levels. It's best to start the tour underneath the main entrance on the ground floor with a short background film and a sneak look into the Gun Room.
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On the first level are the living areas and Music Room -- said to be William Larnach's favorite -- to which I plan to return in the evening.
The Dining Room is nearby and features Tasmanian Blackwood paneling and Italian marble fireplaces. The Main Foyer is a spectacular sight, with a Venetian glass wall and mosaic tiles on the floor.
Walking up the creaking staircase, I find the bedrooms on the second floor. The Master Bedroom and North Bedroom occupy the majority of the floor, but don't miss the small chamber featuring the wedding dress of Constance, William's third wife, and other Victorian clothing.
One of the most impressive features of the castle is revealed by walking up a narrow spiral staircase leading to the battlements.
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It's worth the climb. From 320 meters above the sea, the view commands a panorama from Dunedin, down the harbor past Port Chalmers to the Heads, and then along the open coast and its inlets.
A major plus to staying the night at Larnach Castle is that you can take your time wandering around. There‘s no rush to see everything. Once you’re done, you can take advantage of the gardens or retreat to your room.
On the downside, unless you have a car, you might be stuck for mealtime options. During the day, there is a café in the ballroom but after 4.30 p.m., you’re on your own until evening.
At night, for NZ$65 per head, diners have the rare opportunity to eat and drink in the castle, perhaps in the same areas where the Larnach family once dined.
I take that option and end up dining in the Music Room with 15 others seated at a large table. As a single diner, it's a good chance to meet visitors from a range of countries.
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With an extensive wine list and the chance to dine on local produce, I feel the evening meal, just like the stay itself, is well worth the money. I'm honored to have both slept and eaten in William Larnach's grand former home.
For non-resident visitors, the castle is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; the grounds stay open until 7 p.m. from October to March.
If staying overnight, there’s an online booking service, or call the castle at (+64) 3 476 1616.
A car is useful for getting to Larnach Castle, with routes and maps available online for driving from either Dunedin city center or the airport.
If you’re without a car, there’s also a range of tour operators running transportation to the castle. More information on the Larnach website.