Alice tumbles into an antipodean wonderland
25 Mar 2010
While Alice in Wonderland fans are flocking to cinemas to relive Lewis Carroll’s literary classic, a New Zealand tourist attraction has put a new twist on the legendary tale.
Larnach Castle, perched high on hills near Dunedin in a garden designated ‘of international significance’, is where Alice could have ended up if she’d actually fallen right through the earth - as imagined
Now, in a timely development of a strong link with the Alice in Wonderland story, New Zealand’s only castle has launched a children’s book following Alice’s adventure through its own antipodean wonderland.
And while she may be alarmed to find herself in another time and another place at the bottom of the world, Alice is amongst some very familiar characters and icons as she tries to find her way home.
Alice at Larnach Castle
Just released, the tale of Alice’s Adventures at the Castle is written by Dunedin author Diane Miller with illustrations by P G Rob.
The new book provides an intriguing extension of the old story - based on the fantasy of what might have happened had Alice really fallen beyond the rabbit hole and emerged in the Antipodes, as Carroll suggested.
"I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies I think… but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?" [Lewis Carroll, 'Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland']
New Zealand wonderland
The New Zealand story picks up where Alice drifts off and lands in the wonderland of the beautifully restored Larnach property with its 19th century Gothic-style mansion and extensive gardens.
With panoramic views of Otago peninsula and harbour, the castle was built for Australian-born banker William Larnach during the 1860s Otago gold rush.
One of the six Larnach children was called Alice, and the Lewis Carroll classic was very much in fashion when the family was growing up.
While there is only speculation at any direct connection with the classic, the castle and grounds are full of material links.
Since the 1930s Larnach Castle garden has featured statues of the Duchess and Knave of Hearts inspired by the original Tenniel drawings, and the Alice in Wonderland theme carries on today through at least 12 other links, including a throne and curious door.
Owner Margaret Barker, who was not afraid of embarking on her own adventure in 1967 when she began the enormous job of restoring the rundown, overgrown property, is a self-confessed Alice in Wonderland fan.
"When we came here we found the figures of the duchess and knave," says Barker. "I have always loved the story of Alice in Wonderland ever since I was a child and it was wonderful to discover these statues amidst the overgrown garden."
Icons and characters
With the new book, visitors can trace Alice’s castle adventure in reality as they walk through the ‘tunnel of gold’ leafy archway, sit on the bright pink Queen of Hearts throne, explore the ‘curious door’ in an ancient tree, and discover delights like the wishing well, Cheshire cat, Knave of Hearts statue, Sans Peur, caterpillar hedge and pool of tears.
Barker says the Cheshire cat, carved from nearby Oamaru stone, grins cheekily from a fairly obvious vantage point but has caused consternation amongst some visitors.
"We have had overseas visitors, including memorably a girl from Cheshire in the UK, beg us to tell them where it is, frantically rushing around trying to find it before their coaches leave - and laughing as it is obvious where it should be."
The bright pink Queen of Hearts throne, a focal point in the rainforest garden, is visible from the castle tower. Margaret Barker designed the throne, armed with the original drawings from her own treasured Alice in Wonderland book.
Local Dunedin craftsman Stu Robbie, who is responsible for a number of creative projects around the castle, transformed the drawings into a seat fit for a queen.
Alice’s adventures also take in a ‘curious door’ which Margaret Barker says recently appeared in a tree trunk in the South Seas garden.
"After the Mad Hatters tea party Alice discovers a door in a tree. We thought it would be fun to include this idea in our garden. The door is actually the original from the tower that we discovered when we bought the castle in 1967.
"It has tremendous character and really looks the part of the curious door of Wonderland. Unlike Alice’s door this one does not open and lead into the long hall, but silently sits there, perhaps waiting for some magic words or a spell to lead the visitor into a different world," she says.
A bronze sculpture of Alice, which takes pride of place on the Alice lawn, was installed in 2007 to commemorate the 40th year of the family's guardianship of the castle.
Margaret says the sculpture by Christchurch artist Stephen Glesson has become a focal point. It has featured in various Alice-themed children’s events, including the launch of the new book.
Larnach Castle gardens
Larnach Castle grounds comprise nine different gardens created out of what was a neglected and overgrown property when the Barker family moved in.
Despite their contrasting designs and planting, the gardens merge seamlessly, and range from rockeries and perennial borders to deciduous azalea beds and a rainforest.
The raised lawn patterned garden, laburnum arch and green room have the formality of European styling but visitors are reminded of their southern hemisphere location with the lush rainforest and South Seas garden.
Native plant trail
Larnach Castle’s native plant trail, which meanders throughout the 14-hectare property, identifies 17 examples of New Zealand’s unique native species.
New Zealand is one of the most isolated countries in the world and 81% of plant species are found nowhere else in the world.
Larnach Castle is one of four New Zealand gardens that have earned the title of 'garden of international significance’ in a quality ranking created by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.
Four gardens gain international rating
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