Monday, 25 May 2020

Queen of the Castle- Riverstone Castle


I'd like to say give me Lockdown back but of course I won't, although I did love catching up on my blogs & photos during the down time. We've had a busy 10 days unloading two shipping containers and sorting furniture out at our new property in Twizel. 

It was by chance and not design that we left Glenavy on the last day of Level 3. Our property settlement had been deferred a month from mid April and we had a pre-property inspection arranged on the day after we left Glenavy. Travel was allowed for home relocations during Level 3 but we still felt like naughty children as we drove up the Waitaki Valley towards our new home base. And I'm sure we were the recipients of a few scowls from passing traffic. It's very hard to blend in when you're big and brown and 14 metres long with a massive photo on your rear.

We've had three days of thick fog and two heavy frosts since we've been in Twizel- what a welcome to Mackenzie Country! We're loving it so far, we'll be here for the next 4-6 months (in between short trips away) and then it'll be back on the road fulltime. ( If you follow my photography Facebook page- if you don't already- you'll find some real frosty photos there. It's where I post current photos). 

Now, back to catching up- mid Nov 2019

Riverstone Castle
From Moeraki Boulders it was just a short 60kms to our next destination which just happened to be the Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp. Does it look familiar?

This was our lovely Lockdown Camp with super hosts Anne & Joe. Who could have imagined we'd be back just four months later and spend seven weeks lockdowned here, and on exactly the same site too. The camp is lovely, with spacious grounds, grass sites and mature trees. There's an outdoor fire,  tables and BBQ for group or happy hour gatherings along with a well appointed kitchen and laundry.

Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp
Just down the road from the camp, in the rest area beside the Waitaki River, this beautiful but broken laburnum tree was flowering. I wondered how it came to be in the rest area, it's not the usual type of tree to be planted on the roadside. Laburnum are often planted to grow over large pergolas so that the cascading yellow flower hang down underneath and form a beautiful tunnel over a walkway. Many famous gardens such as Kew & Bodnant Castle in Wales (which we've seen), have a laburnum arch.

During Lockdown we walked through this rest area regularly to access a walking track through a pine plantation alongside the river. The laburnum tree was bare and unremarkable, a tree you wouldn't give a second glance to.

Five kilometres from the camp in the other direction is South Canterbury's east coast and the mouth of the Waitaki River. The Waitaki River is a well known salmon fishery and there are three fishing villages, two on the south side of the river (which is North Otago) and this one on the north side (actually I think it's four if I include the small village behind the camp). Many of the baches/fishing huts have permanent residents, others are used during the different fishing seasons.

There's a great lookout at the end of the road just past the fishing camp. The river has a lagoon behind a long and shingle bank. Residents from the camp and other visitors launch their boats into the lagoon below the lookout, and then head down towards the mouth of the river.

They pull in just before the fast flowing waters of the river and walk over the shingle bank to the mouth of the river with their large scoop nets slung over their shoulders. It's whitebaiting season and they'll take their turns at the river mouth scooping for the tiny little delicacy that heads upstream each spring. 

I zoom in on the area where the mouth of the river is and can see that quad bikes are the vehicle of choice if you live in the fishing villages on the south side of the river. 

But fishing isn't the reason why we have stopped at Glenavy. Just five kilometres down the main highway from our camp is the award winning Riverstone Kitchen and the magnificent Riverstone Castle.

Riverstone Kitchen
We've been here before, back in 2014. We wanted to have a special meal at Riverstone Kitchen but unfortunately our timing was out and it was closed for a week for staff holidays. I added it back onto our 'must do another time' list and here we were- albeit five years later- to tick it off the list again.

Riverstone's gift, homeware & garden shops and extensive gardens
But funnily enough it wasn't the restaurant that brought us back this time. It was a date with Dot and her castle.

Three months earlier I had managed to secure tickets for a tour through Riverstone Castle. We hadn't seen it since our visit back in 2014, and back then I thought if it's ever open for visiting I'd love to have a look. Check out my blog post from the last visit for more details on Dot & the castle. 

Dot rarely opens the castle to visitors and when she does it is usually for charity events and the tickets are snatched up very quickly  I don't usually buy tickets for events so far in advance but I decided this time we'd just have to arrange to be in the area at the right time. Living on the road you never really know where you'll be from one week to the next. (NZMCA members had the opportunity to tour the castle back in early March when the National Rally & AGM was held in Oamaru).

With our precious tickets in hand we waited near the gate at the back of the restaurant's large vegetable garden for our allotted time. 

We then made our way around the edge of the lake to the entrance courtyard (the castle has actually been built on a manmade island in the middle of a manmade lake, in the middle of what once was a cow paddock).

We pass the side entrance...

...and continue around to the front of the castle where we are to wait for the next tour to start.

It was a very warm day and with no breeze nor shade at the front we took a walk along the lake edge and through the gardens at the back of the house....I mean castle, while we waited.

There's certainly a lot of work gone into the gardens, some are well on their way to be established, while others are just getting underway.

Our group of around 20 people waited patiently at the impressive front entrance for the doors to open and it was a great relief to see that our tour leader was in fact the Queen of the Castle, Dot herself, famous pink hair and all. Dot doesn't always take the tours although she tries to do a good portion of them as people are keen to meet the lady behind the dream. Unfortunately for us (but not for Dot I guess) no photography is allowed inside the castle. 

What can I say, the inside is as spectacular as the outside. So, so many beautiful things to look at and absorb; antique furniture, chandeliers, paintings and ceiling artworks, china, crockery and stunning flower arrangements at every turn along with many items you'd expect to find in a castle; suits of armour, helmets, medieval weapons, swords and banners. The large conservatory dining room was set out for a family dinner and was a visual feast with Christmas decorations on the table, around the outside and overhead.

Once we completed the tour we were directed down into the dungeon to wait for the stragglers to catch up. And from there into.....well that would be telling, but lets just say we exited out that opening in the bank of ivy on the left (above).

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Dot was a very gracious host. And contrary to his initial protests about not needing to tour the castle, David also enjoyed the visit. So much so that he gave Dot a little thank you speech as we were all gathered upstairs around the grand staircase. She was a little taken back that someone had thought to thank her for opening her amazing home to all and sundry. 

Afterwards I walked to the far side of the lake to take a few photos looking across the water...

...just as the fountain began to play. I am so pleased we made the effort to check out Riverstone Castle. 

After our tour, we made our way to Riverstone Kitchen where we had a booking for lunch and we finally ticked that off our bucket list......not just the once either.

During Lockdown Level 3, Riverstone Kitchen opened for takeaways so of course keen to have someone else cook dinner for a change and wanting to support a local business, we called up and ordered Butter Chicken & Slow-cooked Lamb for dinner. The meals were excellent although I had to do a little preparation beforehand.

The next time it was for my birthday dinner and I decided that there wouldn't be any preparation on this occasion so we ordered freshly cooked fish & chips (sole) with no preparation needed! And it was delicious.


  1. Thanks Shellie. We went through the Castle at that time also. You have taken some amazing photos. Wasn't Dot a wonderful hostess! She must have been worn out after all our groups through

    1. Thanks Nganow, pleased you enjoyed the blog and photos. And yes, she is a wonderful host. She must get very weary by the end of the tour season.


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