Castle on a Cloud

New Zealand is the loveliest and one of our favorite places to visit. Our cruise on the Seven Seas Navigator has taken us there, and Dunedin is the sixth and final stop in this wonderful country before we head north to Australia.

When we arrived in Dunedin, the morning was clear, cool and beautiful. We hired a car to take us out in the country to Larnach Castle. It is the only castle in New Zealand and was built in 1871 by William Larnach, merchant, baron and politician.

He was born in 1833 in Singleton, Australia. His father came from a large family in Scotland and was a large property owner in charge of nearly 100 convicts sent to Australia. William began his career path in banking with the Bank of New South Wales and opened lots of branches in the Goldfields of Victoria.

In 1866, William and his wife Eliza sailed for London where they met influential people and visited fine homes. The London directors of the Bank of Otago (formed to profit from Otago gold) appointed William the bank’s chief colonial manager. In 1867, William sailed to Dunedin to take up his new position

He and his 9-year-old son Donald were out walking on Otago Peninsula. Donald ran up a hill and saw a most wonderful view of the Pacific and Mount Charles, the entrance to Otago Harbor, Port Chalmers and Dunedin. In 1870, William bought the land.

For the next 16 years, Larnach was to oversee the building of the Palace of his dreams, destined to become the finest home in what was then Australasia. He hired R. A. Lawson, the Scottish architect for the Castle. The Gothic revival style, then fashionable in Britain, was used for the castle. But this style, moving from one side of the world to the other, underwent a sea change. Larnach’s baronial stone homestead was surrounded by delicate iron lace-work verandas in the Australian fashion. This melding of styles from the old and new world established Larnach Castle as the finest and iconic “New World” building.

Skilled craftsmen came from the “old country,” including English wood carvers and carpenters and Scottish stonemasons. Larnach imported two plasters from Italy. Materials were brought to the site from around the world. There was slate from Wales, bricks from Marseille, mosaics from Belgium, 20 tons of glass from France and encaustic tiles from England. Stone from Oamaru was used for the chimneys, window surrounds, corbels and other embellishments. Other stone used for construction was quarried on the peninsula. Exotic timber was shipped from Europe, Australia, North America and the Tropics, and kauri from the North Island of New Zealand.

William and his wife, Eliza had six children. Eliza died suddenly of a stroke in 1880. Two years later, William married Eliza’s sister Mary, who died in 1887 at age 38. In 1891, on his 58th birthday, William married his third wife Constance, who was 37. Soon after this marriage, there were strong rumors that William’s son Douglas was having an affair with his stepmother. In 1898, William shot himself in the New Zealand House of Parliament. He died without a will.

In 1901, the land and household contents were dispersed. The empty castle was sold to the government, which used it as an asylum. The ensuing years have too much to tell here and now. What is important is that in 1967 Barry and Margaret Barker were holidaying on the South Island when they chanced upon Larnach Castle, which was unknown to them. They bought it on the doorstep and immediately set about a 50-year restoration project that we had the pleasure of seeing and enjoying.

New Zealand is the most isolated country in the world and has the most primitive plants and animals; it is a strange place. The uniqueness of New Zealand’s plants is shown by the fact that 81 percent of the species found here are found nowhere else in the world.

The next day, we sailed into Milford Sound, which is awesome. It was a damp, misty, moody day as usual. The sound is a winding maze surrounded by steep hills, waterfalls, no human habitation, just the occasional errant sheep on a mountain side waiting for a sheep dog to herd it home to safety. It is an out-of-body experience.

We left the sound and were in the Tasman Sea for a day before reaching the coast of Australia.

And then there was Sydney! It is such an iconic destination. We sailed into the harbor, under the bridge that the most adventuresome pay to climb. They get into a harness and climb the vertical iron ladder to the top and then walk across the very top and down the other side!

Brad did it in 2000, the year the Olympics were in Sydney. I watched what looked to be very small ants crossing the very top. I think I held my breath for what seemed hours before I saw him safely on terra firma!

Thank heaven he got that out of his system and this year the most adventuresome thing we did was to visit friends who live next to the bridge. We had met them on a world cruise several years ago. They picked us up at the ship, and we went to their wonderful apartment that has a glorious view of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Since it was Shrove Tuesday, our hostess served us pancakes and tea, an English Shrove Tuesday tradition. After catching up on news, we went to a wonderful restaurant for fish and chips. It was located right next to the iconic clown face that is the symbol of the Luna Amusement park.

After lunch, we went into town, browsed the shops and visited our favorite Victorian mall, which is the Queen Victoria Building. It occupies a city block and is three stories tall with a huge central atrium with balconies. A wonderful classical pianist was playing a grand piano on the second floor mezzanine. Brad was happy because the piano lured me out of the shop with the $500 beach cover-ups! Really! $500!

Then it was back home to the Navigator and we set sail for Brisbane. On our day at sea, Brad talked the chef through biscuits with sausage gravy for breakfast the next day for a table of our friends. What a hit!

In Brisbane, we toured the city with a population of 3 million by double-decker boats. It is a lovely place to live or visit. In some respects, it is rather like a Venice with skyscrapers. We boarded old fashioned tour boats and were served a seated luncheon as we sailed the residential canals.

After touring Brisbane, we boarded the ship and settled in for two days of cards, games, lectures, sitting by the pool and reading. VT