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A Slice of New Zealand History

Sunday 15th November 2015

semi-overcast 16 °C

Our plan for today was to drive into central Dunedin and then go on the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway. Dunedin Station is a bit of an architectural gem and so we left early so we had time to explore the building before we needed to get on the train. It was designed by a George Troup and built in the Renaissance Revival style. The building was started in 1903 with main structure in built dark basalt and the pillars out of pink granite. The roof tiles came all the way from Marseilles and the floors were decorated with 750,000 Minton tiles. It really is a magnificent building and well worth the time spent there.

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About 20 minutes before departure we went went to find our allocated seats on the train and got chatting to some Australians from Brisbane who were sitting across the aisle from us. At the start of the journey the train travels south on the main coastal line passing through the southern suburbs of the city until it reaches Wingatui junction.

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From here the train turns west across the Taieri Plains and then alongside the Taieri river and the gorge of the same name. The views were stunning and although we were aware that the shrub broom is a real problem in New Zealand, the yellow flowers covering the hillside made for it particularly pretty.

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We were able to get off the train at a place called Hindon and stretch our legs. Stalls had been set up by people selling craft and gift items although we didn't buy anything. On the way to Pukerangi the train goes through ten tunnels and across lots of bridges and viaducts.

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We were very lucky because the family from Brisbane changed carriages a short distance out of Dunedin (I think so that the older member of the family could face the direction of travel). This worked to our advantage as it left spare seats on the other side of the train so when the view was better there, as it was when we were nearing Pukerangi, it meant we could change seats. Once we reached the end of the line the engine was shunted to the other end of the train whilst we got off and had a look found the station.

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After about 15 minutes or so we were on our way back down the line and we continued to enjoy the view. As we got off the train in Dunedin there were already people waiting for the afternoon trip. We had already decided to spend the afternoon visiting Larnach Castle on the nearby Otago Peninsula. The drive took us along the coastal road giving us good views back towards Dunedin. Sadly the weather had deteriorated a bit so the scenery looked 'a bit flat'. Once we arrived we were given a guide and as suggested started on the lower ground floor and slowly made our way to the top. Larnach is the only castle in New Zealand, although it is really more of a grand house than a castle.

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It was built in 1871 by banker and politician William Larnach. He was of Scottish descent although born in Australia and was married three times. Sadly the family history is shrouded in deceit and tragedy. He and his first wife Eliza had six children but she died when she was only 38. William then went in to marry her half sister Mary, a match not particularly approved of by his children. He signed much if his wealth over to Mary thinking this would protect him from creditors, but then when she also died the money went straight to his children. By a process of subterfuge he got them to sign this back to him. Things got even worse for the family after he married the much younger Constance. There were rumours that one if his sons had an affair with Her and William subsequently shot himself in 1898 in the New Zealand Parliament building. Some years later his eldest son also shot himself after lots of family disputes over money and the estate. The house was the sold out of the family in 1906. The current owners, the Barker family, bought the house in the 1960s.

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They have spent many years restoring the property which had fallen into a very poor state of repair and this project is ongoing. Once we had looked around the house we explored the lovely gardens, home to many European and tropical plants as well as some interesting sculptures, some inspired by the story Alice in Wonderland.

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Once we had finished looking around we made our way back along the Otago ridge back to Blackhead Cottage for the rest of the evening.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:05 Archived in New Zealand

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