It’s a place that draws me back year after year. For the past decade I’ve made the pilgrimage to a particular spot on a Dunedin hill to drink in the view.
It’s just a 10-minute stroll through farmland accessed from the back door of Camp Estate – you’ll know when you’re getting close to the spot when you see the turret of Larnach Castle’s tower rise high amongst the trees to your left. A few steps further and the majesty of the Otago Peninsula opens out at your feet. Too vast to take in with a single glance – it’s a breathtaking panorama of softly undulating hills, volcanic cones, the blue water of Otago Harbour, faraway beaches across Hoopers Inlet and out to the ocean as far as the eye can see.
It’s a magical spot for solitary contemplation or for a picnic, and because there are just five rooms at Camp Estate the chances of you having this spot to yourself are high indeed.
Staying at Camp Estate (which scored 9.7 out of 10 from booking.com in 2015) is a nurturing experience as well as wild and romantic. The stone country house is imposing yet elegant; mist often envelopes
it in a mysteriously thrilling cloak at night. Its neo classic interior is black and white, yet bathroom underfloor heating and crackling fire make it warmly inviting.
Camp Estate was part of the original Larnach Castle estate, now reunited after a period of private ownership, which means this sensational view and experience is accessible to guests at Camp Estate.
Each beautifully appointed spacious room has a fireplace, not to mention dreamy beds. In the evening a good place to hunker down is fireside in the shared lounge with a glass of wine or port from the self-serve honesty bar. Or you can dine at the castle, which is 500 metres away. Camp Estate provides transfers to and from the castle for dinner, which in the pitch dark and/or mist is preferable, yet the walk can add to the magic of the experience.
Limited capacity means the three-course dinner (with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options) served in the castle dining room is offered only to guests of Camp Estate or Larnach Castle Accommodation (there is
also accommodation at the Lodge on the Castle grounds).
The night we dined I chose grilled halloumi with fresh rocket, walnut and orange salad; beef fillet on truffle mash with roast beetroot and a blue cheese and mushroom dumpling; and a cheeseboard of local Evansdale cheese with mead jelly, marinated prunes and crackers. (Though the orange steamed pudding with pistachio crumb and cinnamon anglaise was tempting!)
It is a thrilling experience to dine in the castle, surrounded by the history and mystery of the place. It’s also very convivial getting to know other guests with whom you share the huge dining table.
Back at Camp Estate, which is essentially a B&B, breakfast options include an extensive continental and cooked breakfast. Tasty options include house-made baked beans with chorizo, feta and poached egg served on sourdough and soft herbs; or the grilled Portobello mushroom stack.
With all this food, a stroll around the Larnach Castle grounds is a good option, as is exploring the castle itself, which is complimentary for guests.
Built by Scottish Australian banker William Larnach (who purchased the land in 1870), it took 200 men three years to build the shell and then 12 years of work by European craftsmen to embellish the interior. After several owners it fell into disrepair following WWII. The castle and grounds have since been lovingly restored by Margaret Barker and her family – a work in progress since they bought it in 1967.
Today, the gardens are rated by the New Zealand Gardens Trust as a Garden of International Significance, thanks to the carefully manicured grounds – from the Serpentine Walk to the South Seas Garden.
Once you’ve explored the property, lunch or high tea (gluten-free on request) is on offer in the beautiful ballroom, which is available to hire. In summer, tables spill from here into the garden with views of the central fountain and down to the pergola. In William Larnach’s day the estate was self-sufficient, with vegetables, poultry, dairy cows, stone fruit, grapes and berries. Oats were also cropped to feed the 12 bloodstock carriage horses that Larnach kept for trips to town. Keep that in mind when choosing your route from the city (both are scenic) along Highcliff Road or Portobello Rd; that trip by carriage must have been quite something!