Larnach Castle. © DunedinNZ

Tohu Whenua: Larnach Castle


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Situated majestically on the jaw-droppingly scenic Otago Peninsula near Dunedin city, Larnach Castle has it all: spectacular views, sumptuous architecture and scandalous stories. 

Aotearoa New Zealand’s oldest castle was built in the 1870s by prominent entrepreneur and politician William Larnach for his beloved first wife Eliza. It took more than 200 workmen three years to build the castle shell and master European craftsmen spent a further twelve years embellishing the interior (a single ceiling in the main foyer took six and a half years to complete). 

Larnach spared no expense on his dream home which features the finest materials from around the world, including 20 tonnes of glass from Venice.

But this castle’s story is no fairy tale. Alongside the grandeur came tragedy. Rocked by young Eliza’s death, family scandal, and his great fortune later turning to dust, Larnach committed suicide in Parliament in 1898. From that point the mansion’s fortunes ebbed and flowed as it passed through many hands: to house the overflow of patients from Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, as a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers and a nuns' retreat. It fell into such disrepair that the grand ballroom was at one point used to shelter sheep.

Since 1967 the castle's new owners, the Barker family, have used tourist admission fees to save the empty buildings from ruin and assemble a large collection of original New Zealand period furniture and antiques. In their care, the castle has been lovingly restored and improved on with the addition of a garden of international significance. 

Larnach Castle offers both guided and self-guided tours, a range of accommodation, a high tea experience and castle dining for guests who stay overnight. It’s recognised by Tohu Whenua as one of our nation's best heritage experiences.

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