Our first stop was Dunedin on the Otago Peninsula.
Documented by Captain Cook when he was looking for fresh water, it was fist visited by whalers and sealers. Unfortunately some of them met their fate not knowing about the indigenous population's cannibalistic practices! However it was soon settled by a group of Scottish missionaries led by the nephew of the famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns.
The name Dunedin comes from the word Dun for hill and Edin for Edinburgh.
Soon after their arrival gold was discovered and the area boomed.
I was surprised by the beautiful architecture in such a remote area. Apparently gold was very good to the area while it lasted. The huge churches and beautiful buildings are strewn throughout the town.
The main square is surrounded by large churches and in true Scottish tradition, a statue of Robbie Burns.
We found out that the reason so many beautiful buildings abound is that it is illegal to tear them down and many of them have been empty for over 25 years!!!
I still have difficult understanding much of the local artwork. Check this out! Yes, it is a set of molars! These little beauties cost the town $35,000!
After a spin around town, we went up to what is considered New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle.
Although much more like a stately home, it is the closest New Zealand gets to a castle and is currently surrounded by a stunning garden.
Built by a financier named Larnach in the mid 1870's, it took 14 years to build and contained stunning workmanship. Beautifully carved wood from a variety of trees, gorgeous plaster work, Venetian glass and beautiful handmade tiles are found throughout. Larnach brought workers to build him home from all over the world and imported much of the materials.
His personal story wasn't as attractive as his home. He was married with several children when his wife abruptly died at 38. He promptly married her half sister who also died at 38. He had put all his money and estate in her name for legal reasons and when she died it passed to his children who were then living in England in boarding school. He had them all sent home and had them sign a document signing everything back over to him, ordering them not to read it!
He then married a woman 22 years younger. Unfortunately she ended up having an affair with his son while he was serving in politics in Wellington. When found out, she was shipped to England and the child adopted.
Larnach later purchased a gun and took his own life.
The moral of the story: Money does not buy happiness AND always marry age appropriate women!
Although the house is now surrounded by a gorgeous garden, it originally stood on a stark hill, no trees or flowers. The wraparound porches were originally open and the place was absolutely freezing.
Speaking of freezing we learned one last bit of information before we left. This is a college town and once a year they have a contest naming the coldest student apartment. The winner gets a year supply of beer so the kids really try hard to win. They leave the apartments unheated for days and even spray water into the rooms to create icicles!! The local newspaper prints pictures of the finalists and the whole town finds it great fun.
One of the prettiest buildings is the old train station. Surrounded by flowers in the summer, in the winter they plant vegetables and the students are free to take what they need which was a very charming, local custom.
There must be some money left in this town! Check out this gorgeous Jaguar limo!
Next stop Akaroa and Lord of the Rings!