King of the Castle

Larnach Castle is a real jewel in the crown of Dunedin’s and New Zealand’s heritage.  Its rich history as the former home of prominent merchant, banker, landowner and politician William Larnach has been impressively added to as a tourist attraction, event and accommodation venue, fine dining experience and spectacular garden enjoyed by thousands each year.

Heritage New Zealand has been delighted to be involved in helping owners Larnach Castle Limited in maintenance and restoration work by providing financial assistance and heritage expertise.  Since 2006 it has made available grants of just over $170,000 through the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund it administers. 

Larnach Castle (www.larnachcastle.co.nz) has been owned by the Barker family since 1967 who have passionately undertaken a programme of repair and restoration.  

The condition of the castle today is far cry from what Margaret and the late Barry Barker purchased over 45 years ago.  The property had been sold by the Larnach family to the Crown in 1906 and was used as a military barracks and hospital for shell-shocked soldiers.

The Crown eventually sold it to the Purdie family in 1927 who owned it until 1940. The castle was in a poor state and during this period the Purdies repaired, altered and restored the castle.  After 1940 the castle slowly fell back into disrepair until the Barkers purchased it.

The Barker family’s subsequent years of painstakingly achieving their vision as a successful tourism venture has been a tough road at times but has certainly paid off. 

n 1982 Larnach Lodge accommodation house was built and today more than 50 people are employed in the off-season (and up to 85 in summer) to look after guests and visitors.  The magnificent gardens have a New Zealand Gardens Trust classification of International Significance. 

Larnach Castle entranceway
The recently refurbished, magnificent tiled entrance. Image: Larnach Castle Ltdexpand/collapse

Larnach Castle, the Stables and Cupola are Category 1 places on the New Zealand Heritage List, underlining their outstanding heritage significance.  

Work on the R A Lawson-designed castle took 12 years from 1871 using quality materials from all over the world.  The ballroom wing, designed by prominent architectural firm Mason and Wales, was built in 1887.

For Larnach Castle Limited director Norcombe Barker the restoration is a family labour of love.  

“We are extremely proud of what has been achieved here at the castle over the last 47 years, but this would not have been possible without the ongoing support of the New Zealand public and latterly the help we have received from Heritage New Zealand.

“Without the contribution of the entrance fees, the restoration of the building would have been impossible. This is what makes Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s castle, a viable conservation project that the public enjoy so much.”

Heritage New Zealand has assisted the restoration of Larnach Castle through four National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund grants for:

  • The replacement and repair of missing and damaged carved items in the interior of the house 
  • The replacement (to match existing) of the chimneys on Larnach Castle
  • The preparation of a conservation plan and condition report in 2010
  • Undertaking the urgent repair and strengthening of the decorative tile foyer floor.

Heritage New Zealand’s Otago/Southland Area Manager Jonathan Howard says it is a rewarding experience working with the Barker family who clearly are committed to ensuring the castle’s future is long and successful.

“We have been and remain very keen to support the critical work that Larnach Castle Limited undertakes at the castle.  Heritage New Zealand appreciates the significant financial commitment the Barker family has made over many years and, while our grants are a portion of what’s required, they reaffirm our willingness to assist as best we can to have Larnach Castle an asset for the Barkers, wider community and visitors to enjoy.”

Heritage New Zealand and Larnach Castle Limited have finalised a voluntary heritage covenant on the property which will provide for the protection, conservation and maintenance of the Castle as it develops in the future.

Any private owner whose property is either on the New Zealand Heritage List as a Category 1 historic place, or has been notified for Category 1 listing, is eligible to apply for a National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund grant.   You can find out more about the Incentive Fund on this website.

“This is a very significant property being of not only local but national heritage importance,” says Jonathan.

“It is a complex property with a large variety of buildings and structures, with rare and highly decorative interiors and indigenous chattels.  The castle, stables and cupola all suffered severe neglect before the Barkers purchased the property. Their repair and restoration of the property has been thorough and a real credit to them.  Heritage advocates the world over are particularly thankful for the Barker family’s wonderful vision in the 1960s for what the property could become.”