Bit of excitement of the day was that the Platinum coach, having served us well, was sent off back to Auckland so we got to sit in our shiny new Ultimate coach.
The trip from Te Anau to Dunedin took us over the Canterbury plains and New Zealand’s rich pastoral country. As with so much of this trip, the weather was cold and drizzly and I didn’t bother with photos. It’s not a long drive, with a brief stop for coffee somewhere, and we arrived in Dunedin around lunch time.
Dunedin is a pretty little town where you’re either going up or you’re coming down. Dave took us on a short city orientation tour, slowing down to pass the Guinness Book of Records steepest street in the world (Baldwin St). He wasn’t able to stop because the locals had become a bit tired of entitled tourists wandering around their gardens, including using them for toilet breaks.
Apparently when the Scottish immigrants decided to set up shop here, the street layout was designed in London with no consideration for the topography. Otherwise they might have considered an arrangement like Lombard Street in San Francisco, which has a series of switch backs.
Dave also took us for a brief stop at the railway station. As is so often the case, the main building was quite ornate with lovely tiled walls and floors.
The afternoon was to be spent at leisure, or we could go on one of three optional extras – a tour of the Speight brewery, a visit to Olveston historic home, or a nature tour on the peninsula where we might see fur seals, albatross, penguins and the like. I put my hand up for the nature tour (of course). But once again the weather showed us a middle finger and that tour was cancelled. Dave spoke to the operator the next day and was told the rain on the peninsula had been horizontal, so it was a good call, if disappointing.
Pete and I weren’t much interested in historic houses or visiting a brewery so we mooched around town, including a stop in a coffee shop for a toasted sandwich and a flat white, then a look around the only Scottish shop in town.
The hotel we stayed in was very interesting. It had been the central post office and since Pete and I had both worked for Australia Post, we were intrigued to see what they’d done to the building. In Australia the big post offices in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney etc have been turned into retail precincts/hotels. Here’s a newspaper article about the project. The room was great. I was particularly impressed with the shower. Instead of the usual mucking about as you wait for the water to come up to temperature, you just press a button. The water is instantly at temperature, no messing around. What a great idea.
In contrast to the miserable afternoon of our arrival, the following day was picture perfect. This morning we would be visiting Larnach Castle on the peninsula, where we’d be taken on a guided tour of the house before a high tea in the ballroom.
We stopped for a photo opportunity at a lookout. Such a shame the weather gods hadn’t played ball yesterday. But that’s life. We drove up to the house, where we were greeted by Christine, one of the local guides. It’s not really a castle – that was a nickname it acquired when it was being built. It seems William Larnach was persuaded to leave Geelong in Australia for Dunedin to help the bank he worked for process the gold proceeds from the 1860’s rush. He brought along his wife, Eliza, who he had married when she was 17 and he was 27. In keeping with the architecture prevalent in Australia, the house was built with wide verandas, but after one winter in Dunedin, glass was installed around the verandas. William spent a lot of money on his home, bringing in Italian craftsmen to decorate some ceilings and wood carvers to decorate others. He also had some pieces of furniture made for specific locations.
Christine took us to many of the rooms, telling us family history all the while. William and Eliza had six children, but she died suddenly aged 38. William was devastated – but Eliza’s sister, Mary, had joined them in Dunedin after a family scandal in Australia. He married her, much to the chagrin of his children. Before the wedding they set up a pre-nuptial agreement to guarantee the childrens’ claim.
But things weren’t meant to be happy for this family. Mary also died at 38. William, now an important man in politics, needed a wife. His new bride was considerably younger than him, beautiful, and rich. When William and his wife went off on a business trip to Britain, he took one of his sons, Douglas, with him. That turned out to be a mistake. Douglas and his father’s new wife had an affair and despondent, William shot himself.
The children had no wish to stay on the peninsula. Many of the furniture and fittings were sold and eventually the castle was left to moulder.
Then a young couple, Margaret and Barry Barker, happened by and fell in love with the place. They started the immense chore of renovation. More than that, they set out to acquire items which had belonged to the house but had been sold off. Christine pointed out a beautiful dinner set which had been sold off and now returned, and a dresser made for a bay window which had also been found.
Today the house and the beautiful gardens host weddings and parties, and offer accommodation. When our tour ended, we admired the gardens, then went and had high tea in the ballroom. George enjoyed that bit.
Next time, we’ll head off to the fabled Mt Cook, Australasia’s tallest mountain.