|Subject: 2000 South Island Travelogue No. 4|
Day 6 - Dunedin.
Another glorious day, barely a cloud in the sky.
Today was a full on day, visiting Olveston House first thing in the morning,
seeing as many sights as possible off the Portobello Road and finally,
in the afternoon, join the Taieri Gorge train excursion.
Before visiting Olveston House, we decided to book the train trip. Just
as well we did as all the 1st class carriages were already full.
We arrived at Olveston House and as luck would have it, we had only to
wait a few minutes for the next conducted tour. We had time however, to
wander through the garden.
Family History: Commenced in 1904 and completed in 1906, Olveston is set on a gently sloping acre of ground. The property adjoins the tree-covered town belt. David Benjamin married Marie Michaelis in 1879 and one year later the couple sailed from Melbourne and settled in Dunedin. By 1881 they were living in a house, part of which forms part of Olveston's present site. In 1885 David Benjamin resumed, by deed poll, the surname of Theomin, that his father had discarded, many years before, in England. David died on the 15 July 1933, aged 82, after many years in local politics and Marie died on 24 July 1926, aged 71. She will be particularly remembered for her interest in the Plunket Society. David and Marie, bore two children, a son, Edward Theomin, born on 29.1.1885. and a daughter, Dorothy Theomin, born 24.12.1888. Sadly Edward died at the early age of 44. Dorothy, on the other hand, lived a full and fruitful life, and died on 11 October 1966 at the age of 78. Dorothy loved the outdoors, she was a keen golfer, horse riding, and as a member of the N.Z. Alpine Club, she regularly climbed and tramped in the Southern Alps. Upon her death, Olveston House was willed to the people of Dunedin.
We arrived back in the house just in time for the tour. This house conveyed an impression of grandeur as we entered the main entrance at the base of the tower. Originally guests would have been met at the front door by a butler and ushered into a well furnished cloakroom. This can still be seen today in its original state. The collection of weapons, in the vestibule, took my eye immediately. They appeared to be Japanese in origin. This was confirmed by the tour leader, who also pointed out two marvellous 17th Century Moorish flintlock pistols. Next we were ushered into, which was probably the most impressive room of the whole house, 'The Great Hall'. A focal point of the house, this was the centre for receptions and for meeting the entertainment needs, especially for the young adults. From the pink velvet wallpaper, to the dark stained timber work, and the oak staircase leading to the upper rooms, this room oozed opulence. The wallpaper, by the way, is still the original that was hung when the house was built. On the floor there is a massive Turkish carpet which would have nearly covered the entire floor area, had it not been rolled up to protect it from the thousands of feet that pass through every year. There was some very nice pieces of furniture in the Great Hall , but the two that caught my eye were the revolving mahogany bookcase and the 18th century grand-father clock. In the clock was a small fully rigged sailing ship which seemed to pitch its way across a timeless ocean. The Drawing Room was in complete contrast to the dark oak of the Great Hall, with its emphasis on fine lighter woods. This was a place where the lady of the house presided over afternoon tea. Music obviously played a very important part in this room, as at the far end stood a beautiful, early 20th century, Steinway grand piano. It was pointed out to us that this room has the only decorated ceiling in the house and the wallpapers are light and watercolour paintings predominate. Apart from the piano the beautiful ornate fireplace really dominates this room. Also in the Drawing Room there are some very nice pieces of brassware, glassware plus a sterling silver tea set. The Dining Room has rich dark wallpaper on the walls, looking almost like embossed leather. Again this wallpaper is original. The furniture in this room, while elegant, is very simplistic in its design. The high backed chairs are functional rather than being ornate and just for show. An interesting feature is the main light above the table which is able to be raised or lowered. The dominance of oil paintings in this room is more appropriate than the watercolours in the Drawing Room. The Kitchen and Scullery are of an ample size for a number of servants to work efficiently. There was an ingenious internal telephone system, for its time, that linked all floors, which allowed the family and staff to converse with one another. There was also an elaborate servants bell call system on the passage wall outside the kitchen. One of the group noticed how white all the wooden benches are. Apparently regular scrubbing with sand soap and water by the servants ensured these surfaces kept their white satin finish. The surfaces are still kept clean in this manner today. The beautiful oak staircase led to a gallery, on to which the private family rooms open. These rooms were on the small side and furnished quite simply. The is a strong contrast between the simplicity of the private rooms and the richness and grandeur of the reception rooms. The Billiard Room had to be large to accommodate the table, which measured 12ft 6ins by 6ft 3ins. Steel girders beneath the floorboards supported the two tonne table. The height of the lights above the table could be adjusted and the louvers in the ceiling could be opened for ventilation. Off the Billiard Room was an exquisite little card room, with its own fireplace. It was an ideal resting place for those not interested in the goings on in the Billiard Room. There was an opening which overlooked the Great Hall. This was known as a 'Juliet' window and the tour director explained to the group that it was there to keep an eye on the younger generation in the Great Hall. Although we did not visit the top floor, we were told that this is the private domain of the servants. Because this house has only been owned by one family, and passed on to the city virtually intact, and except for some minor refurbishment, no major re-building has been necessary. If you are in Dunedin, I would rate this as a must see.
From Olveston House we proceeded to drive along the scenic and picturesque 'Portobello Road'. This road follows the coastline along the Otago peninsular. There are many sites that can be visited off this road, including, Larnach Castle, Albatross Colony, Yellow Eyed Penguins, Fort Tairoa, Glenfalloch Gardens, Fletcher House, to name but a few. This area along the Portobello Road is serviced by the pretty, sleepy little town of Portobello, with its art and craft establishments, hotel and the very well received '1908' restaurant.
Our first visit was to the 'Glenfalloch' Gardens. 'Glenfalloch' is Gaelic meaning Hidden Glen and the house and gardens are situated in a very beautiful and peaceful spot overlooking Otago Harbour. The garden are chock full of lovely trees and plants, e.g. azaleas, rhododendrons, Flowering Cherries, Magnolias, Chestnuts, spring flowering plants like daffodils, as well as tulips. I understand that the Maples and Silver Birch trees are quite spectacular during the Autumn months. We went on a short, but quite spectacular, walk amongst the plant growth, passing a huge tree, which we found out later to be a native Matai. There was utter silence all round us, apart from occasion call of the native tui's and bellbirds. The majestic white homestead is still in use, the first floor is a private home and the ground floor is available for hire.
From Glenfalloch we toured Larnach Castle. It was still a glorious day, unfortunately the sun was behind the castle, making it very difficult to get a good photograph. We decided to tour the gardens before entering the castle. The lawns were manicured like a bowling green, and the gardens were absolutely exquisite. We entered the castle and was handed directions for a self guided tour. We followed the long enclosed veranda and entered the music room. Musical evenings and small parties would have been had in this room. Above the fire-place there is a painting of what Dunedin Heads and the harbour would have been like in 1889. There was an original chandelier in this room and I noticed taps at the its base. I later found out that an ingenious method was used to light this chandelier. Stable manure was drained into a building, somewhere behind the castle, made into methane, and from there it was pumped, with a foot pump, into the castle. The taps were used to turn the methane gas on and off. One piece of furniture in this room, that caught my eye, was a beautiful carved small robe, but the piano was particularly impressive, not so much the piano but the timber it was made out of. We were later told that it was made out of Totara Knot and that it was the only one of its kind. This knotted form of Totara is extremely rare. Totara is a giant native tree, used by the maoris for their canoes. From the music room we crossed a domed foyer and entered the family dining room. Larger entertaining was done in this room. The ornate panelling in the ceiling is oak, with flowers, birds and butterflies carved into it. Also the ceiling has plaster work depicting grapes and vines . The sideboard in the recess under the window is original and is a real work of art, but functional with it. In the centre of the highly polished table stood a sterling silver twin candle stick holder. We then went out to the main Foyer. This area has some of the finest wood panelling, in my opinion, that you are ever likely to see. The ceiling alone, took three tradesmen six and half years to carve this magnificent ceiling. The room off the foyer is the ladies drawing room. Here ladies drank tea and entertained their friends. There are servant ropes on either side of the fireplace, they would be summoned to stoke the fire. This room also has a notable ceiling, but this one is of delicately coloured plaster work. The furniture in this room, e.g. nine piece suite, the chiffonier, a tall cabinet, were also made and carved out of Totara Knot. The floor is polished Rimu. The library is on the opposite side of the foyer. This was considered a man's domain and it was where Larnach entertained all his important friends and business colleges. The tall bookcases with hand tooled leather dust covers are originals. A photograph of Larnach Castle hangs above the roll top desk. From the library we climbed the magnificent stair case. Ahead of us were a bunch of high school children and I overheard the tour director inform them that if they looked up they will see the only Georgian hanging staircase in the Southern Hemisphere. I did not know what that was but when I looked up the centre of the stairwell to the top floors, the staircase did appear just to hang there with no visible means of support. The carpet on the stairs is a deep red and the balustrades are carved out of solid mahogany and the hand rail carved from solid Kauri. All the bedrooms are much more luxuriously appointed than are their counter parts in Olveston House. Further up the staircase is the nursery floor where the children and their nanny slept. Opposite the bathroom, which has a marble bath weighing one ton, is the spiral staircase to the battlements. From here great views over the harbour, the heads and to the open sea with their 200 metre cliffs are to be had. Back down stairs we carried on through the souvenir shop and out through the main entrance. Apparently down stairs is a gun room, which we did not see, as we were not aware of its existence.
History of the Castle Construction was commenced in 1871. Approximately three years were spent on the shell of the castle, by 200 workmen and 12 years the interior. The estimated total cost was $250,000 in the days when the going wage was 10cents a day. It helped that Larnach received a dowry of $170,000 when he married Eliza de Guise. The style of the building is Gothic Revival which was the height of fashion at the time in Europe. The whole building was hand-made using the best of materials plus the best craftsmen that were available at the time and the only extensive use of nails was in the floors. There is 40,000 square feet of floor area and 46 servants were employed in its heyday. Not only was Larnach responsible for the building of this fine building, but he was a very successful business man and an equally successful politician. Although he was married three times, his six children were all from his first wife. His personal life was not as successful and he took his own life in 1898. After his death the children sold the castle to the government in 1908. Until 1918 it was used a mental hospital for soldiers. After this the castle was abandoned until 1927 when it was purchased by a Jackson Purdie. The castle was restored and completely refurbished. Due to ill health the Purdies sold the castle and the contents were sold separately. Again a period of neglect followed and soldiers from the second world war were billeted here. After the war the building was again abandoned and at one stage the Ballroom was used for the holding of sheep. In 1967 the Barker family purchased the castle and spent may years lovingly restoring this great building. The castle was in a shocking state, holes in the floors, the roof leaking and generally great damage done to the interior. Well worth a visit.
We returned to the Portobello Road and headed for the penguin colony. The yellow-eyed penguin colony is situated just before Taiaroa Head. The tour is over private farmland, through camouflaged walkways to the penguin colony. The yellow-eyed penguin is the world's rarest penguin and you can often see the birds waddling up the beach to their nests. We got a great photograph of a pair of these birds. A visit to the Yellow Eyed Penguin Colony is highly recommended.
A mad dash was made back to the Dunedin railway station where we arrived with just 20 minutes to spare for the Tairei Gorge excursion. This excursion commenced at 2.30pm and finished at 6.00pm. It was a 78km journey, at first travelling through suburban Dunedin, onto the fertile farm land of the Taieri Plains and finally through the Taieri Gorge famous for its shear cliff faces and the sudden ravines that plunge into the usually tranquil Taieri River. I could not help but wonder, as the train hugged some cliff face of the gorge, how someone could construct a railway through such difficult country. We travelled over many viaducts, one of which was the longest wooden viaduct in New Zealand, some 26 metres above the stream below, and through many tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago. The train stopped at the beginning of the 'Deep Stream Viaduct' and allowed the passengers to wander across the structure. The train then moved slowing across the viaduct and allowed to passengers to take photographs of the on coming train. At this stage I thought how wonderful it would be if the engine was driven by steam rather diesel. I found out later that there will be steam engines on the line sometime in the near future. Another disembarkation point was at a red one roomed shack, laughingly called Reefs Hotel. Some great views was had at this point, looking straight down the gorge. Both of us got some great shots, both video and still, while standing on the platform between the carriages. A fully licensed buffet is on the train. We arrived back at the railway station absolutely bushed, ready for a good nights rest. More Later........
Regards, Richard Bloomfield.(New Zealand)