Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle, and it happens to be located near Dunedin. Technically on the Otago peninsula, which is part of the greater Dunedin area. The castle was built by some of the first settlers to the area in 1871.
While technically designated as a castle, it is more like a mansion/estate than what I think of when someone says ‘castle’. Don’t expect to see any stone battlements or fortifications here. There were, however, many incredible gardens on the estate.
While the castle itself is beautiful and a fantastic piece of history, I do feel slightly sorry for the guy who built it, William Larnach. He had a fantastic life and was the banking manager of Bank Otago in Dunedin, which serviced the extensive gold fields in the area. His affluence is part of how he managed to build the castle.
However, his first wife died when she was only 38. As he wanted to provide a mother to his youngest child, who was still an infant, he went on to marry his wife’s half sister. She, too, unfortunately died at the age of 38.
Larnach took a break from the married life for a bit before eventually marrying his third wife, who was told she was cursed to die on her 38th birthday. With the death of his eldest child, much of his family relocated back to England, leaving him alone in his large castle in New Zealand.
The castle was eventually purchased by the Barker family in 1967. They have done a significant amount of work to the grounds and castle, undertaking an enormous restoration project to bring the castle back to its former glory.
They have done much research and work on the castle, bringing original decor and furniture back to the building. The grounds themselves are meticulously mainted as well, with the garden listed as a “Garden of International Significance” by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.
We had initially thought that we might be able to drive up, snap a few pictures of the exterior, and content ourselves with that until we had seen more of New Zealand. No such luck. There is a gate on the driveway and you are required to pay before being able to even catch a glimpse of the building or grounds.
The entry to the castle and the grounds is quite expensive. We got lucky and snagged a 70% off voucher from local discount website GrabOne. We waited until spring so that all of the flowers would be in bloom and the gardens would be at their best. Although we ended up a couple of weeks too early for some of the flowers, it was still beautiful.
The architecture and craftsmanship that went into the initial building and subsequent restoration are simply stunning. A gigantic marble bathtub sits at the top of 7 stories, which would have needed to be carted up by hand. The staircase itself is also a unique cantilevered stair that runs straight up the middle of the house.
We spent about an hour in the castle reading all the signs and history and then about 2 hours exploring the many extensive grounds and gardens. My favourite was the somewhat whimsical Alice in Wonderland garden. If you go, make sure you search for the Cheshire cat!
We also splurged a bit and treated ourselves to tea and dessert from the cafe. Fantastic food and drinks. Their Chai Tea latte was delicious and they even had gluten free desserts!
Hey, so this week’s post is going to be a bit shorter unfortunately. Real life has taken over!
We will get back to our regular posts soon hopefully. Look out for posts about our adventures with Larnach Castle, Penguins, Albatross, Chocolate, and more in the near future.
For now…a brief interlude in our lives.
Andrew has been promoted to Sous Chef at the Ratbags kitchen, partially as a result of the other chefs in the kitchen quitting. He is enjoying the new responsibility. He says that it is fun getting to help design new menu items and having minions…I mean other employees to help him out.
I have also been given a little bit more responsibility at the holiday park. Jack of all trades, master of none! I believe my job title is now assistant manager, but the job varies from day to day. Some days I am IT support, other days a laundry maid or cleaner, a receptionist, or actually the manager on duty. It’s been fun, but a little hectic and crazy. I thought I was done with 12 hour days when I left the oilfield.
Otherwise…it’s nearly Christmas! So what have we been doing to get ready for Christmas here in Dunedin?
Enjoying the beautiful summer weather of course!
The Dunedin Santa Parade was a lot better than I expected it to be considering how small the city is. There were probably about 60 floats, a few marching bands, and the big man himself.
After the parade they had a concert in the central octagon with live music, carols, and lots of treats. One advantage to living in the same city as the Cadbury chocolate factory…free chocolate at almost every major event!
You may recall that our ‘tree’ last year was cobbled together with twine and hedge clippings. This year Andrew and I decided that we wanted a ‘real’ Christmas tree.
While they do sell real trees (many of them in pots so that you can plant them outside afterwards!), many trees in New Zealand seem to be of the artificial variety.
I picked up the cheapest one that I could find (only $10 at the warehouse) and got a much nicer tree than I anticipated. We picked up a $3 set of lights, a $13 pack of decorations and have a rather nice tree! We added our special decorations from the last 2 years and are quite happy to have a bit of Christmas spirit in our house.
We’ve also done a bit of baking, but haven’t had time to make more than a single batch of fudge and a batch of sugar cookies.
New Zealand is small island…I should be able to see it all in a week, right? Unfortunately not. Although relatively small compared to other countries like Canada, Russia, and the United States, there is a surprising number of things to do in New Zealand.
Once you take into account the ferry crossing and the narrow, winding roads, it can take upwards of 30-40 hours to drive from the north to the south, for all that the distance isn’t that great. Of course, you can always drive east to west in as little as 5 hours, with no town in New Zealand being situated further than a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest ocean.
With that being said, New Zealand remains a very popular tourist destination, with many people taking days or weeks of their hard earned vacation to visit.
So, what should you do on your vacation?
Stick to a single area. This is enough time to fully immerse yourself in one city. Many places in New Zealand have so much to do in a single city that you just can’t see it all!
Rotorua is frequently considered the Vegas of New Zealand. Geothermal activity and Maori cultural experiences abound, along with one of the best opportunities to see a kiwi bird in a sanctuary.
Andrew and I spent a fair bit of time in Rotorua, both as a couple and with a friend. There’s just so much to do that you could almost spend an entire week here!
Here’s some of our highlights and favourites, along with some that we missed last time but would love to do if time and finances allow!
Queenstown-the adventure capital of the world! If you are looking for adventure in New Zealand, then look no further than Queenstown. The city that invented bungee jumping, they didn’t stop there when they were handing out adrenaline fuelled activities.
For those from Canada, think a large Banff with an over abundance of adventure activities. For those from the USA, think a really small Denver.
Highlights of things to do in Queenstown include:
The Bay of Islands is stunning in its beauty and amazing in its weather. Temperate year-round, the sun shines most days with temperatures in the 15C-25C range year round. Visit the historic capital of New Zealand, see where history was made, or soak up the sun with some time on the water.
While this isn’t enough time to explore the entire country, it does open up a bit of flexibility. It is possible to explore both islands in this time frame if you are open to flying between destinations. The Intercity bus line is also a useful and cost effective way to get around New Zealand.
Suggested itineraries include:
Auckland-Hot Water Beach – Rotorua
This itinerary starts off in Auckland. Most international flights land in Auckland, which make it the logical starting point. In Auckland, explore the maritime history, volcanoes, and check out the many museums and parks.
Hop on the bus and head off to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, taking a stop at Hot Water Beach. Dig your own pool and enjoy the crashing waves and a natural hot spring at the same time.
From here, take the bus down to Rotorua for some adventure. Hop in the Zorb, experience Maori culture, and see a Kiwi.
Rotorua – Hobbiton – Waitomo-Raglan
From your departure point, fly or bus to Rotorua. Explore the area for a couple of days, then get a transfer to Hobbiton. Enjoy the movie set with an afternoon tour or a sumptuous supper, then take the bus (or hitchhike) to Waitomo.
Spend a day or two exploring the glow worm caves. There’s something for everyone from wheelchair accessible tours to epic underground adventures.
From Waitomo head to the surfing capital of New Zealand for some beach time. Check out Raglan’s unique shops, horseback ride on the beach, and catch some waves in the warm Tasman sea.
Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown
Experience the beauty of the South Island with a trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. See the rebuilding of Christchurch and the raw power of this earthquake-prone area. They don’t call New Zealand the Shaky Isles for nothing!
Venture across Arthur’s pass and see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Take a guided tour up the Franz Josef Glacier and then warm up in the hot pools afterwards.
From here, head down to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Ski, Paraglide, or try bungee jumping in the place that invented the sport. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and spa’s for those who want to simply relax and unwind.
It is recommended to have between 10 days and 2 weeks at a minimum if you wish to explore both islands. You can choose to do either an in-depth look at one island, or skip around and see both islands. If you don’t have a day to spend on the ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, it is advisable to fly instead.
Add on to the suggested itineraries above, or create your own. Some suggestions include the following options.
Rotorua -Hobbiton – Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Lake Taupo – Waitomo-Raglan
Take in everything that the Rotorua to Raglan itinerary mentions above, but enjoy New Zealand’s best single day hike on the way. The Tongariro Alpine crossing takes you through stunning volcanic and geothermally active terrain, much of which was used in filming Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai. Take in the area by horseback or do the 20km hike, both are spectacular.
Head south to Lake Taupo, a lake formed in the crater of a once-active volcano. Enjoy some sailing, beach time, or skydiving at New Zealand’s largest lake.
Then head back up towards Waitomo and Raglan, rejoining the itinerary mentioned above.
Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown-Dunedin-Oamaru
Start the trip the same, but continue on to see more of the South Island. Take the bus to Cromwell and ride the 150 km Otago Rail Trail to Middlemarch (you could drive as well). From there, take the train through Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.
Experience all that Dunedin has to offer, from great surfing beaches to the Cadbury Factory to the world’s only mainland albatross colony.
From here, head up to Oamaru with a stop at Moeraki boulders. In Oamaru take in the steampunk museum, the Victorian shops, the penguin colony, and the Rainbow Confectionary.
Time to settle in and truly explore! This is enough time to see the highlights of both islands. Simply combine several of the suggested itineraries above, or contact me for more in-depth advice.
Explore Milford Sound, take in a great walk, wander around Nelson or Napier, or head out to the farthest reaches by exploring Cape Reinga in the North or Gisborne to the East.
If you would like assistance setting up a custom itinerary that suits your time, interests, and budget, as well as cost saving advice and other benefits, then please feel free to check out my travel consultations!