A man’s home…
Of all the things and places toured by visitors to New Zealand, a castle is one of the most unlikely. This is a country of natural wonders, of breathtaking scenery, of environments so unique they can never be truly captured by word or image. Castles…well, Europe is stuffed to the gills with ’em, and some pretty damned impressive ones as well. What could this far-flung corner of a far-flung country possibly offer in comparison?
A long, tragic, and occasionally scandalous history, for one thing…which is appropriate enough. Larnach Castle isn’t going to make anyone forget, say, Warwick, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion for a morning’s visit. The rooms are nicely restored, showing a level of historic extravagance that seems even more out of place (given its remote location, far from what would have passed for “civilization” in those days) than does the castle itself, and there are some entertaining decorative details: “sans peur (without fear),” the original owner’s family motto, is paired on an elaborate stained glass window with…those with an affection for puns can see it coming…several cats. Lodging and meals are available, though one has to book far in advance.
However, it’s the grounds that are the real draw here. Not only is the castle itself situated in a high point of the Otago Peninsula, providing (especially from its upper turret) wonderful panoramic views of the peninsula’s hills and harbor, but careful work has been done to make the grounds a showpiece for local plants and flowers. Neither Theresa nor myself have ever been particularly moved by matters botanical, but between yesterday’s hike and this morning’s excursion, we’re developing more interest than we’d ever imagined. In one especially artful corner of the grounds, with sheep covering the far-below valley floor like little maggots or grains of wiggling rice, a massive stump has sprouted a cleverly-carved door; something straight out of (or to) Narnia. (Unfortunately, the magical aura is a bit dampened when one peers behind the door; it turns out that it’s just a storage closet for gardening supplies. Mr. Tumnus is nowhere to be found.)
…is around his neck
We partake of a latish lunch, feasting from yesterday’s leftovers, including the Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough), which is greener and leaner than it was the day before, showing more lemongrass, lime, and lemon thyme than the tropical notes it had sported previously. It’s still quite fun, though.
Driving east along the harbor, we pass an abandoned whaling station, a series of picturesque huts on elevated piers, and the rather depressed Maori settlement of Otakau (after which the peninsula is named), before climbing up the steep promontory at the end of the peninsula to Taiaroa Head. Far below us, waves thunder against ocean-etched cliff walls, with tangled colonies of bull kelp oscillating in the water’s relentless approach and retreat. A lonely lighthouse dots the tip of the peninsula, but what we’re here for is just a little bit inland.
On the rocky shore known as Pilots Beach, people congregate around a wretched stench. Blending into the rock are several dozen sea lions…many behind a protective fence, but some unconcernedly napping just a few feet from a curious public. They’re adorable, but wow does their waste smell horrible. And all around them, no doubt adding to the stench, are the crushed and rotted carcasses of unwary seagulls. We do spend some close-up time with these blubbery snoozers, but eventually the stench overwhelms us, and we scale a long path to a rather crowded car park. Anyway, it’s time.