Love affairs, bitter accusations and family dramas: it’s the content found on pages of a romantic novel or film script.

But behind the thick stone walls of Larnach Castle, on Otago Peninsula, it was reality.  

Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated with the castle and the stories linked to those who occupied it all those years ago.

I’d imagine how original owner William Larnach and his six children dealt with the grief of losing their wife and mother, Eliza, when she died at 38.

I’d conjure up scenes of how the children reacted when they discovered William was to remarry Eliza’s sister Mary, and then Constance, a much younger woman when Mary died, coincidently also aged 38.

A cold blast stings my cheeks as I stroll the castle grounds; despite now 20 years older, my mind is
still running wild.

I’ve ventured to the frosty south to drive the Otago Peninsula and I’m excited to be back. The castle is my first port of call and I’ll stay a night in Larnach Lodge on the historic grounds.OtagoIP

Fresh snow has fallen the day I arrive. Mountains and treetops shimmer under a dusting of white powder. I’m taken aback by the birdsong; tui are chatting away at full throttle. Two resident ducks brave the cold to have a dip in a fountain pond. I can almost see the hesitation on their faces as they linger on the edge before they plop in. The horn of a ship in the harbour blasts in the distance.

The following morning dawns clear and I reluctantly pull myself away from picturesque harbour views in my room. I hear the walk to Lovers Leap cliff is a stunner on days like this. A landslide has closed Camp Road, the quickest route from the castle, so I drive the scenic way through Broad Bay. In the village, I stumble across Broad Bay China.

The small shop is brimming from floor to ceiling, corner to corner, with vintage crockery.

I drive on, following Hoopers Inlet Road, a thin, track tracing the harbour’s edge like a delicate ribbon wrapping a gift. Pale yellow sunlight filters through the car windows and warms my bones.

The silky water resembles a mill pond and the silhouette of black swans fishing for breakfast on the water’s edge is cast out across the mud flats.

My tranquil pace is suddenly interrupted as I come nose-to-nose to a road roller. Am I supposed to be driving this route? I don’t recall seeing a detour sign. There’s no room for either of us to give way so the driver puts his heavy machine into reverse and continues to back up for about half a kilometre until it’s safe to pass. I’m nervous he’ll be angry at the inconvenience, but as I move past, the driver leans out his cabin, extending a friendly wave. “Mornin’ love,” he says.

Turns out it’s not my only road block of the day.

Winding higher towards Lovers Leap, a fork in the road confuses me. I pull over and ask a farmer for directions. I just need to keep driving straight, he tells me, but there’s a small problem: his cows are being moved to a neighbouring farm and are on the road.

I smile as I jump back in my car and slowly follow the hundred-odd herd of cattle. ‘You’ll never get this in Auckland,’ I think.

I’m ready to stretch my legs by the time I arrive. Tussocked hills frame dramatic ocean vistas and pools of emerald waters hug the curved coastline. What’s revealed at the end of about a half-hour walk is raw beauty; the sheer 200-metre drop at Lovers Leap exposes plunging cliffs and moody seas. If it wasn’t for a rumbling tummy and a craving for coffee, I could happily perch and look at the ocean all day.

At Penguin Café in Portobello, a delicious selection of ice cream flavours catches my eye. Perhaps I’ll try one as a treat on my return later this evening. Now though, I settle onto the sunny front porch with a homemade pie and hot drink. OtagoIP2

Once refuelled, I wander through the village, browsing galleries of handcrafted jewellery and beautiful art.

I’ll need to make it to Taiaroa Head before the chill sets in for the evening.

The Royal Albatross Centre at the end of the peninsula is where you’ll find the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony.

Strolling along Pilots Beach, I’m on the lookout but don’t see any today. But I’m lucky to spot hundreds of New Zealand fur seals blobbing on rocks and, even more impressive, a blue penguin huddled away from the harsh winds. On a wildlife tour with Natures Wonders, guide Martin shares the importance of protecting and preserving land and wildlife. He takes groups across some of his family’s land in 4WD vehicles, revealing the history of the area, and giving us the chance to marvel at cute creatures. All wildlife on the property lives in natural environments, not man-made hutches or shelters. Animals aren’t tagged or handled for any tests; it’s as real as it gets and it’s special to see.

Dusk has set in by the time I get back to the car and I have Portobello ice cream on my mind. Tracing the water’s edge back down the peninsula, past brightly painted bus shelters and private boatsheds complete with rickety jetties, I pull up for a second time at Penguin Café.

The doors are shut and the woman who served me earlier is now vacuuming after a day’s business.

My heart sinks. She sees me standing by the door.

I tell her about my craving and she welcomes me in, insisting I try the raspberry and white chocolate.       

I appreciate her kindness, as I do every mouthful of delicious ice cream on my journey home.

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Winter 2016 issue

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