Overnight in Larnach Castle, New Zealand

Larnach Castle
New Zealand’s Larnach Castle has a rich history.

arnach Castle is a most unusual hotel. Perched 1,000 feet (350 m) above Otago Harbour and the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s only castle is steeped in indulgent excesses, melodramatic scandals, tragic deaths and ghostly visions. Completed in 1883, the hotel, located on the Otago Peninsula of New Zealand’s South Island, has had many owners and uses, including a magnificent residence, an insane asylum, a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, a nuns’ retreat and a derelict ruin sheltering sheep ― so, fancy a good night in?

New Zealand
The castle was converted froman asylum to a hotel.

As with any first-rate castle, talk of ghosts and curses abounds. Hotel guests are given a complimentary tour of the castle (complete with turrets and landscaped gardens) to learn about the legacy of William Larnach, a man of great self-importance who spared no expense to construct his Gothic Revival castle.

But while Larnach managed to build a monumental house that was the envy of all his peers, his dream became a melodrama. After his first wife Eliza’s lonely death of a stroke (she’s said now to haunt her old bedroom), he married her half-sister, only for her to die five years later. Then just months after his third wedding to a much younger woman, Larnach’s daughter, Kate, died of typhoid (she’s said to haunt her beloved ballroom). In 1898 Larnach’s life took a final tragic twist when the scandal of his young wife Constance’s love affair with his favorite son, Douglas, drove him to suicide. With arguments over Larnach’s unsigned will, the family was forced to sell the castle and Douglas lost everything, shooting himself 12 years after his father’s suicide (he is said to haunt most rooms).

Today, the castle is the home of the Barker family, which has spent more than 35 years restoring the building and re-creating the beauty of the 35 acres (0.14 square km) of gardens and grounds. 

Although guests do not get to sleep in the troubled castle itself, they are provided with accommodations in 12 individually decorated bedrooms in the colonial farm building of Larnach Lodge. Bordering on bizarre, the rooms’ motifs include The Enchanted Forest, The Gold Rush and New Zealand. If you have ever fancied sleeping in a wooden wagon, complete with wheels and coachman’s seat, while gazing at murals of open plains, this may be your only opportunity. For the less flamboyant, there are six bedrooms, which share bathrooms, housed in the old stable block. Old-fashioned banquet-style dinners are held for guests only in the castle’s dining room. While the service and food are excellent, the castle’s dramatic style demands a more dramatic effort to be made perhaps an aperitif beforehand in the conservatory, followed by a brandy and a smoke in the drawing room or billiard room. The sense of engaging with a bygone era is just not exploited enough close but, quite literally, no cigar.

Wagon bed
This room boasts a wagon bed and is one of the of the many themed rooms available at Larnarch Castle.

With the waves pounding relentlessly against the cliffs below and the austere hotel high above the ocean, there is a sense of the otherworldly, especially when the thick Otago mist rolls in at night and you cannot see your (or maybe somebody else’s?) hand in front of your face. It is like being in some ancient fabled Highland castle or the setting for a ghoulish novel — and I can promise you it is an experience not to be missed.

If You Go

Larnarch Castle is a 15-minute drive (with well-posted signs) from the Scottish-influenced town of Dunedin (meaning Edinburgh) on the Otago Peninsula. The city’s staunchly protected Victorian and Edwardian heritage can be taken in on a morning’s leisurely walk from the heart of the city, called the Octagon. The steep hills and the mountains beyond endear most visitors to the area, and the Otago Peninsula is renowned for its royal albatross colony.

Castle tours are held daily (except Christmas Day) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults NZ$ 18 (US$ 12.61), Children ages 5-14 NZ$ 8 (US$ 5.60).

Accommodations: Lodge rooms from NZ$ 200 (US$ 140), stable rooms from NZ$ 95 (US$ 67); price includes breakfast and a castle visit.

Meals: The castle dining room prepares dinner especially for the guests for NZ$ 50 (US$ 35) .

Scenery at Larnach Castle
Beautiful scenery surrounds the castle

Larnach Castle

145 Camp Road

Otago Peninsula

P.O. Box 1350


New Zealand

Phone: + 64 3 476 1616

Fax: + 64 3 476 1574


Tourism Dunedin


New Zealand Tourism Board


Tourism New Zealand