Home really will be castle

"It's going to have a moat and everything"

PHILIP MATTHEWS
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2013
Dot Smith
Philip Matthews

FAMILY FORTRESS: The castle takes shape on the site north of Oamaru, with the moat in the foreground. The castle will also have a drawbridge, dungeon, a secret passageway, battlements and a large domed painted ceiling.

Dot Smith
Philip Matthews
BIG DREAM: Dot Smith's vision for a castle is becoming reality.

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Overheard in the Riverstone Kitchen carpark: "They're building a castle. It's going to have a moat and everything."

It was said with a mix of awe and incredulity. That seems like the right response.

You can see the castle taking shape, across a body of water - a moat - on land that used to be a paddock.

Chef and co-owner Bevan Smith has noticed that since TV3's 3rd Degree did a story on the castle, every second person he meets asks him about its progress.

While the story was mostly about the big dream of his pink-haired mother, Dot Smith, the restaurant got a look in as well.

Anyway, the castle. Dot Smith is working with Wanaka architect Sarah Scott.

There will be two levels, with 1150 square metres of floor space, including two large decks.

There will also be a dungeon and a secret passageway. Dot's husband Neil insisted on the passageway.

The moat will have a drawbridge, although not a working drawbridge. There will be battlements.

"We're looking at getting a huge domed ceiling we can get painted like the Sistine Chapel," she says.

She is also thinking of getting a family crest designed and set in marble.

What would it involve? Something about farming, something about cooking. Possibly something pink, her daughter- in-law Monique Smith suggests.

Since 3rd Degree, people ring up offering to sell her suits of armour or an antique Spanish cannon.

The cannon is in mint condition, apparently - the seller only wants $70,000.

In early December, they were about to pour the floor. This time next year, they should be decorating.

"All it is is you're doing a dream of your own but no-one else is brave enough to do their own," she says.

This is not simply a home. It will have three bed-and-breakfast apartments with en suites.

It could be converted into an eight- room boutique hotel if Bevan and Monique - or the other son, Michael, who farms nearby - don't want to take over in future.

The idea has a long life.

One story says that Dot Smith has wanted to do this ever since she was a kid reading Enid Blyton.

Another story says that her husband promised her a castle on an island during a holiday in northern Italy.

The award-winning restaurant has made this spot famous but Dot Smith was transforming it when the chef-to-be was still at school.

She gradually turned the farm's implement sheds into a gift shop, initially selling dried flowers. More recently, she has redecorated them in a wild west theme ("I think Monique was a bit horrified").

It's all happening. The New Zealand Transport Agency is widening State Highway 1 outside, a planning requirement for the extra traffic the castle will attract.

In the evenings, Dot Smith writes her life story. After seeing 3rd Degree, Random House offered her a book deal. The temptation is to paint her as something of a flaky eccentric, but there's no doubt that she is hard-working and resourceful.

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The plentiful vegetable gardens are her responsibility and the restaurant is, in her words, a hungry giant that eats and eats.

Running the garden involves endless juggling, rotating and planning: "It's a fine line to grow enough for the restaurant. At some stage, you grow too much."

Wisdom aside, it looks like Random House is opting to sell her as a colourful local from the back of beyond. The book, to be titled Dot: Queen of Riverstone Castle, will be out in April.

The cover is already designed and is heavy on the colour pink. Pink hair, pink wheelbarrow, pink gumboots and the word "Dot" in big pink letters.

- The Press

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