Larnach Castle History and Gardens

Larnach Castle History is interesting. Despite being located on New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula, the castle was built and owned by an Australian of Scottish descent. William Lanarch was that man and his story is a dramatic one. It was fresh in my mind as we explored the extensive castle gardens.

Larnach Castle History and Gardens is a fascinating story of Australian William Lanarch and his family

Larnach Castle History

The William Lanarch Story

In 1833 William Larnach, was born in the Australian State of New South Wales, destined to later become a Gold Fields manager of a bank of the same name – the Bank of New South Wales. 

View from Larnach Castle.

View from Larnach Castle Otago Peninsula

Why did a bank manager from the Australian Goldfields build a castle in New Zealand?

The business world of Dunedin N.Z. had close ties with Victoria in Australia, where William worked. When gold was discovered in Otago N.Z. in the 1860’s he was offered a job as Manager of the Bank of Otago in Dunedin. It was a small branch and was experiencing difficulties.

Larnach Castle Garden Chickens and Hedges

Larnach Castle through the garden trellis

Pond Larnach Castle

William Larnach in New Zealand.

William was much more than a bank manager and for a long time he prospered with multiple business interests. He became a cabinet minister for 25 years in the New Zealand government in various portfolios.

Although he was positive he could turn the fortunes of his Bank of Otago branch around, it was not to be. He became insolvent, his first wife Eliza died in 1880 and he tried repeatedly thereafter to reinvent himself.

Larnach Castle Green

The Building of Larnach Castle

William’s wife Eliza was an Australian property heiress and he had lofty dreams of building a mansion for her on the Otago Peninsula.

He spared no expense building the 43 room family home which he called simply The Camp. It was a local Newspaper that dubbed it The Castle. 

It took three years to construct and another twelve to fit out with marble, slate and glass from around the world as well as with local Rimu, Honeysuckle and Kauri timber. Only the best would do.

In a cynical twist, Eliza snubbed the grand Mansion Larnach built her, preferring to live in Dunedin.

William added a ballroom to the Castle for his favourite daughter Kate, but then was devastated when she died of typhoid. His business fortunes became tumultuous with scandals and money losses.

Williams personal life was also in turmoil. First wife Eliza died aged 38. He married her sister who also died aged 38 and there were rumours that his third wife was having an affair with his son.

William took his life in 1898 in a N.Z. Parliament building.

Legal battles ensued and the family sold his dream in 1907.

Larnach Castle History and Garden Views

Haunted Castle

It is widely believed there is at least one Larnach Castle Ghost. The ghosts of daughter Kate and her mother (first wife) Eliza are favourite contenders. The Premier of a play about Larnach called “Castle of Lies” was performed at the Castle. The play was controversial, not least because of the proceedings that night. The most outstanding thing that Margaret Barker (the current owner) remembers about the night took place during the scene where Larnach shot himself.  A huge storm raged outside and at the precise moment of the shot the room was lit by a tremendous white flash. The audience were impressed, presuming it was a special theatre effect, but it was a natural or as most now believe, a supernatural lightening effect.

Lanarch Castle Garden

Larnach Castle Garden Statue

The castle gardens are exquisite with views to match over the peninsula and ocean.  Margaret and then husband Barry purchased the property in 1967, restoring the non-existent kitchen floor and fixing the plumbing and faulty electrical wiring. Margaret took on the garden and created what we see today. She still conducts some tours.

Otago Peninsula from Larnach Castle

We visited the Castle in part three of our New Zealand Road Trip.

Made for pinning.

New Zealand Larnach Castle History and Gardens

Larnach Castle Prices

  • Adults $31.00
  • Adults Grounds Only $15.50
  • Adults November Special early and late admission $20.00
  • Visit the website for more pricing information.

The Ballroom Cafe

You can dine in the historic ballroom or outside in the garden cafe – what was Kate’s Ballroom. All food is made on site from local ingredients where possible.

Budget Travel Tips – Accommodation

Stay on the grounds in Larnach Lodge or the budget option Larnach Castle Stable Stay. Both include breakfast and free entry to the castle and grounds.

Dunedin Holiday Park, adjacent to St. Kilda beach is 12km or 17 minutes away with unpowered camper van, caravan or tent sites for $22/night.

All prices in NZ Dollars.


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