DOT’S DREAM CASTLE

“If you don’t have a dream in life, then you never can achieve it, can you?”

When 70 year old Dot Smith decided it was time to have her childhood dream come true, she got to work and after 2 years of construction and support from her husband and two sons, Riverstone Castle now sits on an island surrounded by a man-made moat, 20 minutes from Oamaru in North Otago.

Riverstone Castle

Known as “Queen of Riverstone Castle”, Dot Smith has put years of thought into creating every aspect of her impressive castle. “Neil and I wanted to leave something for future generations and so that’s why it’s built so solidly. It’ll  stand there hopefully for a few hundred years. The two-storey castle, with 1150 square metres of floor space includes two large decks and sleeps six people.

OTAGO’S OTHER CASTLE

Dot was possibly inspired by William Larnach who, in the 1870s, spared no expense to create Larnach Castle down the road in Dunedin. It is now one of New Zealand’s most successful tourist attractions. Like William Larnach, Dot wanted each room in her castle to be different, with lots of quirky things happening around the place to reflect her own personality. “It’s not just a house. It’s personally crafted for us. Every time you walk around the house you find something different.” A variety of emblems and designs, including cows, possums, lizards, dragons and royal crowns are carved into external limestone walls. Designed to impress, there are bronze lionesses at the castle’s entrance with huge medieval style wooden doors imported from Mexico and limestone roses on the turrets to create a truly authentic castle. “Everything is a form of art. I’m an artist. It took me a long time to accept who I am. It doesn’t matter what I look at, I see it quite differently to other people, even the wood stacked in a heap.”

Dot Smith

“If you are good at anything, people will come.”

Riverstone Castle Complex

Because Dot supervised every aspect of the castle’s construction, a great deal of work went into hand carving roses to cover the bolts on the turrets. “I didn’t like the bolts, so we came up with the idea to make roses based off a pattern on a tablecloth.”

To get ideas for their dream, Dot and Neil made a number of trips to Europe to visit castles and to source some of the materials and furnishings not available in New Zealand. When they were ready to begin building, they made sure the castle was constructed by local builders and craftsmen. They were impressed with the standard of work produced. It was also a fabulous opportunity for these men to work on unique pieces they would not normally get the opportunity to create. A highlight of the castle’s fittings is a personalised stained glass window which has aspects relating to both sides of the family, a cow to represent where their wealth comes from and a pink frame, so no one forgets Dot’s famous pink hair.

PASSION AND HARD WORK

Dot had plans for a large garden when she and Neil purchased their property in 1983, but being stony land, it was far from an ideal place. However, they planted pines and gradually built gardens around the original house, including beds of dried flowers which she needed for the giftware business she had focused on establishing. Her gift shop proved to be popular with people driving by but she didn’t want to stop there.

Dot’s Gift Shop

Her son Bevan returned to Otago from being head chef at the acclaimed Ecco Bistro in Brisbane, and he saw an opportunity for a contemporary restaurant at Riverstone without limitations in space and size. Fresh produce was crucial to his work so Dot got busy and planted vegetables and fruit trees to supply the restaurant with the best produce.  In 2006, Riverstone Kitchen opened for business.“Most people would choose a site with beautiful soil and put a garden in it. We had a paddock and we stuck a restaurant on it!”

Riverstone Kitchen

The poor soil needs constant renewal. This is where the 4000 dairy cows they have on the 6 dairy farms they own, came in handy. Manure is supplied from the effluent ponds. Straw from the calf sheds is used as mulch once it’s broken down with urine and manure from the calves. All this hard work has paid off because Cuisine Magazine voted Riverstone Kitchen “NZ Restaurant of the Year” in 2010. Last year, Trip Advisor issued it with a Certificate of Excellence.

BACK TO THE CASTLE

With the income from the 6 dairy farms, and the restaurant and flower shop also contributing to her bank account, Dot was able to construct her dream castle. Using 20,000 concrete blocks, steel and 150 tonnes of locally sourced Oamaru stone, she supervised every aspect of the build and was particularly picky when it came to the building of the dungeon. “Every castle needs a dungeon.” In the TV documentary on the castle, Dot proudly leads the reporter along the dark corridor that forms part of the “spooky” area underneath the accommodation floor and comments on the atmosphere she wanted to create in this part of the castle.

The artificial lake surrounding the building was something else she was determined to have. It acts as a moat and also creates great photo opportunities with the reflections it offers. “You’ve got to make a bit of romance happen in your life, otherwise when you get to 65 or 70 you’re a bit past all the other romantic parts so we’ve got to make little fairy stories where we go.”

Calling herself the “Princess of Quite A Lot”, Dot has collected heaps of castle paraphernalia, including knights’ armour, four-poster beds as well as a crown and swords. On a trip to China, she purchased exquisite chandeliers, wallpapers and carved marble fireplaces. The beautiful stained glass windows add more splendour to the interior. There is even a large Roman battle scene on the ceiling of one room. It took a specialist mould maker over a year to create the delicate plaster moulding on the columns and ceilings in the living areas. One of the unique features of the master bedroom is the re-creation of the night sky on the ceiling. Fibre optics are used to allow the stars to twinkle giving the instillation an amazing realism.

“It’s a bit different from your normal house.” Neil points out. He and Dot have built the castle to last up to 300 years. “I love it,” Dot admitted to a reporter, “Who couldn’t love it,” she added.

Who knows, in 100 years or so, Dot’s dream castle might compete with Larnach’s Castle as one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Last year the eccentric castle owner published her book, Dot – Queen of Riverstone Castle, about her life and inspirations.

Ceidrik Heward

 

 

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