New Zealand is a country blessed with tremendous natural beauty, laid back peaceful people, and my personal favorite: no snakes. But for all its riches and blessings, New Zealand has only one castle – Larnach Castle just outside of Dunedin on the south island.
Larnach is a large estate set majestically atop a ridge of the Otago Peninsula.
The castle was commisioned in 1871 by wealthy merchant baron/politician William Larnach as a gift of love for his wife Eliza.[Modern men – take notes!]
The smitten rich man spared no expense for his wife’s dream home – it took over 200 workers three years just to build the castle’s shell. It took another 12 years for all the interiors to be delicately finished by European craftsman. Only the finest materials were used – imported from around the world.
The castle was designed by local architect Robert Arthur Lawson who was known for his other Gothic style buildings in colonial New Zealand.
The end result was a stunning 43 room estate complete with a massive detached 3,000 square foot ballroom which was presented as a gift to Larnach’s daughter Kate on her 21st birthday.
But love and delight did not last long at Larnach Castle.
Tragically, daughter Kate died at the age of 26 from typhoid fever. Her young, anguished ghost is said to still haunt the ballroom her father had built for her.
In the year 1880, Larnach’s beloved wife Eliza passed away. He went on to remarry two more times in the hopes of filling that empty void, but his second wife died a couple of years into the marriage and his third wife was rumoured to have cheated on him with his own son.
Larnach was bereft and began referring to the castle as “The Camp”. He was also undergoing some financial troubles and the life he was living became too much for him to bear. Ever the dour Scotsman and dark romantic, William Larnach committed suicide inside New Zealand’s Parliament Building in October of 1898.
You just cannot make this stuff up.
Larnach Castle was all but abandoned in the years after William’s death while his surviving family members fought over his estate.
The castle was eventually sold in 1906 and was utilized over the next few decades as: “a lunatic asylum”, a hospital for “shell-shocked soldiers” and a “nuns’ retreat”. The grand ballroom was once even used to hold sheep! [source]
The year 1967 was a turning point, however, as the declining castle was bought by a restoration minded couple – Barry and Margaret Barker. They spent millions over the following years to bring Larnach Castle back to its original splendor.
The Barkers also assembled a massive collection of New Zealand period furniture.
They graciously opened their home to the public throughout the restoration process and continue to do so to this very day.
Admission fees are in effect, but every dollar goes back into the ongoing preservation efforts.
The facilities are also rented out for weddings, charity balls, and conferences.
The castle grounds are 35 acres of superbly landscaped gardens which have been rated by the New Zealand Gardens Trust as a ‘Garden of International Significance’.
Reportedly, owner Margaret Barker does much of the work herself!
Life has come full circle for Larnach Castle.
Built as a monument to love and devotion, it is now one of New Zealand’s most cherished venues for weddings.
Ah love ~
But it is not all roses and sunshine for guests at the castle. Many paranormal experiences have been reported; everything from “cranky spirits” to “groping” and various “odd occurrences”.
It seems there are some unsettled spirits who aren’t ready to give up their place at the castle. The crew from Ghost Hunters International even filmed an episode at Larnach Castle.
But ghosts aside, it is one spectacular home.
ps…. if you are not familiar with New Zealand, you can take a 7 minute fly-over tour of the gorgeous country and listen to New Zealand’s national anthem as well:
The first verse is in the Maori language (NZ’s indigenous folk) – a wonderful touch and respectful nod to the first peoples.
(And special thanks to my Kiwi mate Rory B. for telling me all about New Zealand’s only castle!)