Larnach Castle – Dunedin, New Zealand - Atlas Obscura

Larnach Castle

One of New Zealand’s few castles boasts beautiful gardens, grand architecture, and a history filled with family drama. 


One of only a few castles in all of New Zealand, Larnach Castle has a scandalous history, one rich with family drama, death, and a slew of ghost stories. The interior is filled with vintage furniture, striking designs, and cat artwork. This architectural oddity would be difficult to stumble across, unless you knew it was there. 

While New Zealand has a number of bustling metropolitan hubs, tucked away in the South Island is the city of Dunedin. Wandering through the streets here, you’ll find dozens of tiny shops stacked high with curiosities and vintage wares, as well as a vibrant student population during university months. Modeled on Edinburgh in style and layout (and even taking an adapted version of its Gaelic name, Dùn Èideann), Dunedin has the allure of a hidden city, the type of place that time forgot. To add to its old-world charm, tucked up on the hills of the Otago Peninsula, overlooking the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, lies Larnach Castle.

William Larnach, a wealthy merchant banker and politician, built the castle for his first wife in the late 19th century. It took over 200 workmen three years to build the exterior. European craftsmen spent another 12 years completing the manor’s interior. Larnach spared no expense when it came to constructing this late Victorian-era abode. Both the exterior and interior use extravagant stones and materials that were imported from all across the world.

Sadly, Larnach committed suicide in a Parliament building in 1898, his ruined finances and a rumored affair between his third wife and youngest son driving him into despair. The family fell apart due to legal battles over his estate. Larnach Castle passed through several hands and was eventually reduced to shambles until its current owners, the Baker family, bought it in 1967 and became dedicated to restoring it. 

The garden—which the New Zealand Garden Trust has deemed a Garden of International Significance—is in itself worth the visit. In winter, snow will likely blanket its beauty. In summer, spring, and fall, however, it is a nature lover’s wonderland, stretching all the way from the doorstep of the castle to the edge of the ocean.

Know Before You Go

Tours of the interior can be made by booking online. The staff is highly knowledgeable about the history and scandals of the Larnach Family. There are a lot of stairs, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. If you want to ascend to the spire, be prepared for some steep climbing and a tight stairwell. The views really are spectacular, so it's well worth it.The gardens are also extensive and you can easily spend a few hours wandering around. Keep an eye out for the Alice in Wonderland theme throughout.

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