The Antipodean Eden

Dunedin — Celtic for Edinburgh — means ‘Eden among the hills.’ They got that right. We’d been in New Zealand for 8 days and, though we had to skip Napier, I enjoyed it all. Beautiful countryside and interesting cities and towns. Dunedin’s population is around 127,000. Not many compared to the 40 million sheep! The oldest kiwi city, it’s the seat of the country’s oldest university. Captain Cook arrived in 1770, and whalers and sealers came in the 1820’s. But it wasn’t until 1848 that Scots settlers who belonged to the Free Church of Scotland arrived, escaping religious discrimination back home. In 1861, gold was discovered in Center Otago (this region) and the New Zealand Gold Rush began. More about that later. Meanwhile, some shots around town:

The Flemish Renaissance-style Railway Station.

The sign on the front says ‘H. M. Prison.’ Her Majesty's ‘free accommodation’ is no longer used for that purpose. I think that’s a bank in back of it.

Lots of hilly streets and attractive albeit funky houses.

Some work to be done.

Back to the Gold Rush: One person who rushed to the goldfields was Australian native William Larnach. He was the gold company’s finance guy, going from gold camp to gold camp with a horse, a gun, and a strong box. He later went into banking and eventually made his fortune in land speculation, farming and timber. Yesterday my shore excursion group visited his home, ‘Larnach Castle,’ high in the hills above Dunedin. Larnach had several wives and a couple of children who weren’t interested in maintaining the property, so they sold off all the furnishings and abandoned it. The castle fell into disrepair. Sheep and pigs were living in the fireplaced Ballroom Café where we enjoyed tea and scones. ​

​After years of ups and downs, a family named Barker bought the estate and, in 1967, began restoring it to its former glory. It is still their private home — visitors like us provide the funds to keep it up. I’m sure many of you have visited great houses in the U.K. and châteaux in France that are in exactly the same financial situation. The Barkers had to search internationally for the furnishings the heirs had sold off, and buy them back. Here are some of the Castle bits and bobs I liked:

The Castle took 15 years to build. One of these ceilings took two men 6 years to create.

Larnach Castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and stunning views.

Back in town, our second on the ‘Great Houses of Dunedin’ tour was Olveston, built in 1902 by a well-to-do merchant named David Theomin. His son died at 42 and the house was left to his daughter, Dorothy. She never married and, upon her death in 1966, the home and all its furnishings became the property of the City of Dunedin, who maintain it to this day. Photos weren’t allowed inside — but I snuck one. Mr. Theomin loved inventions and the house had every modern appliance as soon as it came on the market — electricity, telephone, refrigerator, portable electric heaters and so on. The family traveled extensively, and the house is filled with Turkish carpets, Japanese swords, Chinese objets, etc.

Now I have three days ‘off.’ We’re heading west on our way into the Tasman Sea en route to Melbourne, 1427 nautical miles from Dunedin. That’s 1642.162 land miles. It’s been very rough since we set out... what the Captain calls ‘a rocky road,’ with 15- to 17-foot swells. Should be clearer tonight and smoother sailing tomorrow, he says. The dishware in the buffet line has been shimmying around all day, and all the wine glasses have been removed from the tables. Because they’re glass. But it probably would be a good idea to stay off the wine until the road smooths out. #

©2017, 2018 Susan Nash/PassePartout
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