"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Larnach Castle, Otago Peninsula

Monday, December 02, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Larnach Castle, Otago Peninsula

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Just outside of Dunedin is the Otago Peninsula. As we cross the bridge to the peninsula, we turn to take the high road. It will lead to the castle we want to see. We are early so we decide to follow the road out to a track which we can walk to a lookout over Lover’s Leap—with absolutely no intention of leaping.

The road we need to take to the track turns to gravel and as we round a bend, we see a truck stopped alongside the road. A lady signals us to stop. We see why ahead. There is a huge flock of sheep crossing the road and heading to the farm buildings down the hill. Bob puts the window down and the lady apologizes for the delay. We tell her it’s fine, we will enjoy the parade, and I get out and take a few pictures. The farmer’s wife goes back to watching to be sure that no strays try to wander up the road instead of off to be sheared for the season.

A few minutes later several herding dogs and the farmer on a four wheel ATV bring up the rear. Their morning duty of rounding up the sheep accomplished, they follow the flock through the gate. The lady turns and waves us on with a big smile. She didn’t have to chase any wayward sheep.

At the parking area for the track, there is a sign indicating that two of the tracks are closed due to lambing season. Now if you are a city girl like me you might ask what is lambing season? Apparently the farmers can control the time when the lambs will be born. I’m guessing that’s got something to do with keeping  males and females separated until the appropriate time. When the ewes give birth, and especially if it is to twins or triplets, they need time to bond with the young. During that time if they are disturbed, they might reject their off spring. To avoid unnecessary disturbance, the tracks through the fields of moms and their young are closed for several weeks during that season.

We decide to go on up to the lookout that is open. Another morning. Another uphill climb. This is getting to be a habit. Good or bad, I’m not sure.

The views are wonderful the higher we climb and we are encouraged by them to make it to the top. On our way here, as we were driving along, we had passed a jogger. Now as we look down at our car, we see him and expect him to turn and head back as he comes to the end of the road. When I look back again a few minutes later, I tell Bob I think that the jogger is coming up. He shakes his head, disbelieving. No way, he says.

As we are taking pictures at the top, we turn to see the jogger right behind us and not even out of breath. He is sweating so I feel a little better. He talks a few moments telling us he jogs up most every day and then he turns and begins his run down. How he ran down is as amazing to me as how quickly he ran up. The way down is steep. I barely trust my step and I’m taking little ones. Our jogger is still on the road as we pass him on our way to the Larnach Castle. I can’t imagine how far he must have gone—horizontally as well as vertically.

 I’m excited about seeing this castle. It has quite a history. William James Mudie Larnach was of Scottish descent but came from Australia to New Zealand to take manage the Bank of Otago in Dunedin when gold was discovered on the peninsula in 1867. He also built a very profitable career that included farming, shipping, landholding, politics, and speculation.

Larnach was a man who within one decade had to deal with the death of three family members. His first wife, Eliza, with whom he had six children, died in 1880 at the age of 38. He married her half-sister, Mary Alleyne, who died in 1887 also at the age of 38. And then his oldest daughter, Kate, died of typhoid in 1891. He married his much younger third wife, Constance, and amid rumors of her having an affair with his son, a severe financial loss, and bouts of depression, he shot himself at Parliament on October 12, 1898. After his death, there was turmoil in the family over his possessions. The basement of the castle where we begin the tour details much of this and makes for interesting reading.

The building of the castle actually took place between 1873 and 1887 and Larnach dubbed it The Camp. He moved into it in 1874 while it was being built and expanded. Supplies from all over the world were used to build it and over 200 workmen had a hand in it. After Larnach's death the castle had various other uses including a retreat for nuns and an insane asylum. In 1967 it was purchased by Margaret and Barry Barker who over the years have lovingly restored it to its present beauty. 

We explore the rooms floor by floor and eventually make our way up to the tower by way of winding narrow stone steps. Have I mentioned that going up and down narrow winding steps can make you dizzy? The effort is rewarded however with a wonderful view of the Otago peninsula and harbor area.

Back at ground level and outside, a large group on a tour of various gardens floods the outdoor garden in front of the castle. Eventually they thin out and begin to explore the several themed gardens that surround the structure. We follow suit and begin to wander through the garden walks. Bob finds a funky wishing well. I’m not sure it’s a period piece. I’m enjoying the gardens but what I’m really doing is stalling so we can eat lunch here in the cafĂ©. Something called Kumara and apple soup caught our eye. We enquired as to what Kumara is. Turns out it’s a sweet potato. Can’t pass that up. The soup is every bit as good as I’d hoped, delicate and delicious. Okay, now I’m ready for the rest of our day.

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