New Zealand | Dunedin, Otago Peninsula and Larnach Castle

Dunedin was recommended to us by a native Kiwi as having a ‘cool vibe,’ so even though it was all the way on the other side of the island, we decided to check it out. The city itself felt very European, with lots of cafes and shops and a younger scene. Since we missed seeing the yellow eyed penguins along the Catlins, we tried to see them at a refuge/ breeding center on the Otago Peninsula. Unfortunately, they closed before we arrived…we just barely missed the last tour. Instead, we drove up a mountain, along hairpin curves, until we reached Larnach Castle.

IMG_3399 Built in the late 1800s by a rich banker, the family only lived in the ‘castle’ for a short amount of time before the father died, and quarrels over the property ensued. At some point, all the furniture was sold off, and the castle was sold to the government who used as an insane asylum, a retreat for nuns, a livestock pen, and a sort of soldier barracks. Over this short amount of time, the castle was vandalized, and faced demolition. In the late 60s, another family purchased the ailing castle and spent their life restoring it to its current state. It now has a hotel on premise (the converted stables), as well as a ballroom-turned-cafe, awesome gardens, and is available to rent for weddings and events. The story of the Larnach family is pretty interesting, if not somewhat tragic – the father remarried his wife’s sister, his kids hated the castle because it was so far from society, and the father eventually committed suicide. It’s also supposedly haunted.


The word “castle” should really be in quotes – it’s not really a castle in the medieval sense of the word. I was expecting something a little bit more Lord of the Rings, but this was more like a Victorian house nestled within stone walls, with an expansive garden, greenhouse, servants quarters, libraries, a sweeping enclosed balcony, ballroom, etc. We were only allowed to take photos in the gardens and outside areas, so use your imagination. For a ‘castle’ the rooms were extremely small, plainly dressed, and there was a bee population living in the skylight. But it did have a dungeon…


As the sun set and the fog rolled in, the castle started to take on a new, somewhat eerie and melancholy personality. We got lost in the gardens, and then the neighborhood around the castle trying to find a less steep/hair raising way back down the mountain (there wasn’t one). Finally, we made our way down and drove along the Otago peninsula, watching the sun set. Something about this area reminded me a lot of a San Francisco or a Vancouver – European / Victorian influence, surrounded by natural beauty, rolling hills, gorgeous views of the water, and a certain buzz to the city.


In Dunedin, we walked around the city trying to find an inexpensive dive place to eat, but we found everything around the town center too pricey or fancy or gourmet for what we were wanting that night. And once again, even in the city, many places were already closed. Do people not go out to eat dinner in NZ?We roamed the streets, half exploring, half in search of food, and stumbled upon an Izakaya! SCORE! And, it was open (although just barely). We gorged on food and then stopped in a 7-11-type store to buy ice cream, that we ate while walking around the streets at night. There were so many cool places here that I wish we had more time to explore – the Cadbury factory and the old train station to name a couple. At that point in the evening, we decided we’d rather hit the road again and drive all night to the other side of the island until we got to Queenstown, rather than stay the night/spend the following day driving. Yet another long and crazy drive with multiple twists and turns, with about a zillion bunnies hopping around on the side of the road. Poor Sly.


A note on this sign (and others like it) – Kiwis have this thing with creating or messing with signs in a way that is very tongue-in-cheek, making you do a double take. However, I’m not sure that was the exact intention of this alteration (probably some dumb tourist in this case).

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