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Author: Celine Gibson

Dot Smith

Her home, her castle: Q&A with Dot Smith

As a child, she dreamed of living in her very own castle. Some fifty plus years later, after decades of hard toil, Dot Smith, Queen of Riverstone Castle in Oamaru, finally realised that dream.


Dot Smith



When did you decide to fulfil your childhood dream of having your own castle?
The day I turned 60 – February 19, 2008. I thought if we were serious about building the castle, we’d better get started and I was right.


Who helped bring your castle to life?
Sarah Scott was my architect and, along with UK staff member Jenny, who knew loads about castles, we designed the castle from aspects of several different castles that I liked.


What difficulties did you face during the build?
Mainly rules and regulations. At the time of building, the law stated we could have five guests and build as a private house. As we’ve four ensuite rooms, I applied for eight guests. That put me into a hotel category. The fire-doors and regulations were extremely costly.


How did you overcome these obstacles?
Once the project was underway, there was no turning back. I worked with builder Mike Spier on every aspect, and was always there to watch progress and provide innovative ideas when problems arose.


Describe sleeping in your castle

We’ve a beautiful bedroom. At night we turn the main lights out and switch the star lights on. Watching the stars twinkling on our ceiling is pretty special. Very different from our farm cottage of 35 years.


Do you ever have ‘pinch me!’ moments?

Yes, with the changing moods of weather. On still nights, the sunsets reflect a mirror image of the lake. On misty mornings, the castle appears like a ghost through the mist. That’s when I think how lucky I am to look at such a beautiful building.


What landscaping remains to be completed?
A bridge is to be built across to the island, so that eventually the castle will stand alone, surrounded entirely by a lake.


What gives the Chatelaine of Riverstone Castle her happiest moments?
Showing visitors around the castle makes me very proud. People nowadays build open plan homes, whereas I love rooms that aren’t the same. Every room is different here – some traditional, some modern, some extravagantly decorated and some relaxing.


What’s your vision for the Castle and Riverstone 20-30 years from now?
Neil and I will be getting our telegram from the King! The castle’s been built to last hundreds of years, so I hope it will always be known as Granny Smith’s Castle.

Eventually it will become a guest B&B; that way we’ll meet interesting people who will hopefully keep us young.

The Riverstone complex grows every year. This year we have to do major renovations to bring the main shop up to fire and building regulations.

We will build a farm shop selling our own and other local farmers’ produce. The future of Riverstone is ever changing.



Dot Smith
Dot Smith


Going Dutch

Going Dutch

If you’re all about comfort and cosiness, then congratulations, for your beautiful compulsion has a name – Gezellig.


Going Dutch


Pronounced heh-SELL-ick, gezellig is a Dutch word that, though nearly impossible to translate literally into English, best expresses the very quintessence of Dutch culture. Nobody does warm and welcoming, cosy and inviting quite like the Dutch. The Dutch equivalent of hygge, this hugely encompassing word truly says it all.

A person can be gezellig (you’re fun and funny, you’re warm, witty and wonderful to hang out with); a party can be gezellig (your shindig was sensational, everyone had a blast); spending time with grandparents can be gezellig (or ongezellig if your grandparents are…you know…those kind of grandparents); sipping an ale in a brown café is totes gezellig (brown cafés are legendary and uniquely Dutch – think dark wood, hearty fires flaming in the hearth, candles in bottles and ochre stained walls from decades of cigarette smoke); and then there’s your most favourite place in the world – your home.

The home is where gezellig really comes into its own, where it is seen, and felt, in its most purest form; it’s the very heart of the word. So, keeping in mind the Charles Caleb Colton quote that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, why not head into 2019 with an emboldened dash of Dutch? It’s time to get serious and have some fun. It’s time for your house to get gezellicked!


Forget the strenuous gym workouts; your deadly-dull dining room’s in dire need of dazzlement, your lacklustre lounge longs for livening up and, as for your bedroom… well, even the cat can’t be tempted there! So, pull up your sleeves and get to grips with that dining room table. That’s right, turn it lengthways, push it to the other side of the room. Look at that – now the family gets to see the rose garden, such a change from the ah… kitchen view.

Righty-ho, moving on, there’s the dresser (Dutch, of course!), how about switching places with the sideboard? Oh, go on, just do it! Excellent – doesn’t that look fantastic? Now, bring out those brass candlesticks you’ve stuck away in that draw for far too long, place them either side of the dresser… what do you think? Candles? Definitely!

Next, into the lounge and heave that sofa over there; yes, the armchairs look grand flanking the fireplace… you’ve got the hang of this now, haven’t you? You’re positively glowing with energy and self-satisfaction! As you hang your Van Gogh Starry Night over the bedside table and give it the softest illumination from the Tiffany lamp you retrieved from the attic, you stop a moment… a distinct sound of purring. You turn and there’s your cat, curled up and already dreaming.

You smile and tip-toe from the room.



Country Queen

Jody Direen Our Country Queen

Shania Twain might have been her idol, but it was all down to her grandmother that New Zealand’s reigning Queen of Country, Jody Direen, is where she is today.


Jody Direen


“Grandma was very musical. She’d bring her guitar whenever she came to visit; I’d try to wrap my hands around it to strum a few notes. She taught me my first song – Pistol Packin’ Mama. The sensation of being able to play guitar and sing at the same time was amazing! Hats off to Grandma – she was my inspiration.”

When Jody was five, the family moved from Mosgiel to Wanaka; it’s still her base, but she’s seldom home for long periods of time. “Music’s been my fulltime career for around six years now. I’m very lucky to be making a living doing something I love.”

Jody has travelled to Nashville to write and record her songs, and has also performed there. “Nashville’s considered the mecca of country music. There’s nothing like it, but it’s also extremely competitive. I remember going into this bar along Broadway, this woman was singing – an amazing voice… think Tina Turner on steroids – and she was singing for tips!”

In 2014 Jody performed at Nashville’s Country Music Association Festival (CMA), in the Global Artists Showcase category. “The CMA Festival is one of the biggest country music festivals in the world; to be selected to perform there is the opportunity of a lifetime!”
Jody has already released three albums; next year she will release her fourth.

Signed to Australian labels ABC Music and Universal Music, Jody spends much of her time between New Zealand and Australia. “I’ve come to think of it as one big country now. One night I might be performing in Christchurch, the next it will be Sydney. It gets hard sometimes, but I’ve got a great core band; we’re there for each other. I couldn’t do it without them.”

When not writing, recording or on the road, Jody’s overseeing iHeartRadio Top Paddock Music Festival, a yearly New Year’s Eve event held at Wanaka’s Lake Hawea that was created by Jody. “Top Paddock gives me the chance to pay it forward to my artist friends by giving them a stage, a venue and a hugely appreciative audience.”

Jody reflects on what would be the pinnacle of her career. “To have bigger shows and venues would be fantastic, and perhaps a collaboration with a pop group, because the lines between pop/rock/hip-hop and country are becoming increasingly blurred – Nelly and Tim McGraw’s Over and Over, for instance. I’d love to do something like that!”

For a woman of such drive, passion and massive talent as Jody Direen, it can only be a matter of time.


A fabulous fundraiser!

A fabulous fundraiser!

What ho, ladies and gentlemen! One of the most prestigious events of the year is but two days away – A Day at the Polo!


A fabulous fundraiser!


Presented by Ronald McDonald House South Island and the Port Hills Polo Club, partnered with Lion, Continental Event Hire and Lincoln University, A Day at the Polo features New Zealand versus Australia at the Port Hills Polo Club, Gilmours Road, Tai Tapu. This is the second year Australia has competed against New Zealand; no wonder this exclusive event is all but sold out already!

However, there’s another fab component to A Day at the Polo and that’s the Digital Auction. Yes, it’s back and it’s live – right now!
Simply text to 3840 then key in POLO2018 plus your full name to register, or visit There are incredible prizes up for grabs, so make sure you get in on the action. Tell your friends, your workmates and whoever else loves an auction. The live and silent auctions are fundamental to fundraising goals for this wonderful charity; support through donating prizes is warmly welcomed.

Every cent raised goes directly to Ronald McDonald House South Island, whose motto, Keeping Families Close, says it all. Your generosity supports families when their child is in hospital.


To donate a prize for the digital auction, contact or call the House on 03 377 3311.

Okay, so you’ve registered your bid – what now? Pull out the picnic hamper, you’ve your own polo party to produce, dahling!


Joe Bennett

Consummate in his Craft: Joe Bennett

Metropol catches up with one of New Zealand’s most prolific and successful writers about putting pen to paper.

Joe Bennett


It was in a cricket pavilion in Cheltenham that Joe Bennett wrote a letter in brown ink on pink notepaper to a school in New Zealand. Fed up with his teaching job and having just suffered a duck in that afternoon’s cricket match, he was ripe for change.  “I clearly remember the words I wrote on that letter: ‘Dear Sir, this is an unsolicited request for a job, and you’d be well advised to throw it in the bin’. “I thought if anyone answered that affirmatively, they’d be the sort of person I’d like to work for.”

Three weeks later, Joe got a phone call; the voice on the other end said, ‘Keep your head down, Mr Bennett, the red tape is flying!’
“That was Max Rosser, Headmaster of Christ’s College at that time. A great man,” Joe says. Joe arrived in New Zealand in 1987; he vowed to come for one year only. “Then one year became two, I turned 30 and my feet stopped itching. I bought a house in Lyttelton, got myself a dog and that was that.”  But teaching was never in Joe’s career plan. “Until I was about 15, I dreamed of becoming a professional cricketer. Some of the great cricket writers, like Denzil Batchelor and A.A. Thomson possibly influenced my writing, in a way.”

Apart from cricket, Joe’s fondness for man’s best friend is abundantly clear. Blue is a charming old boy with a lovely nature; he slumbers on the carpet while Joe recites Isabel Rutherford McLeod’s Lone Dog. “The reason I like it is aesthetic. It’s the aesthetic quality of language that’s always pleased me.”  Around 1995 Joe began writing romance stories for women’s magazines. “They were all based on the same premise – square jawed Nigel meets Melissa, there’s some kind of impediment to their union, which is swept aside in the last paragraph, where they live happily ever after. Those truly awful stories sold so well that in the course of a year, I’d enough money to buy a second-hand car!”

It was an article in literary magazine Quote Unquote that was to catapult Joe into the world of full-time, freelance writing. “Graham Lay had written this article on how much he hated dogs and I fired a riposte back to Quote Unquote.”  It was bad timing for Joe, as Quote Unquote was about to fold. A friend encouraged him to send the piece to The Press and, within a few days, Joe received a call from literary editor, Bruce Rennie, saying he liked the piece and did Joe have any more? Joe pulled out his typewriter and got busy.
Good writing comes from technique, he says. “It’s craft, craft, craft. Writing a column’s like this: you’ve got a hunk of vague, loose ideas and associations and you find in those a shape that’s complete unto itself. That’s the exercise.”

He cites his books Laugh, I Could Have Cried, a collection of his best columns, and Where Underpants Come From as two works he is most proud of. Meanwhile, he is currently writing yet another play for LAF (Lyttelton Arts Factory). “It’s based on Macbeth, but is set in a fish and chip shop with only two characters, Mack and Beth.”

We wrap the interview with going back to the title of his book Laugh, I Could Have Cried as his epitaph. Joe considers a moment.
“Honestly, sometimes you can’t look at the world and not laugh. I’m entirely with Jonathan Swift who said, more or less, ‘I loathe and detest that animal called man, but I heartily love Tom and Dick and Harriet’.”



Promenade in Pink!

Promenade in Pink! 2018 Breast Cancer Foundation NZ Pink Star Walk

Should you see a sea of pink moving through North Hagley Park the evening of 10 November, you’re not hallucinating; you’re witnessing the wonderful walkers of the 2018 Breast Cancer Foundation NZ Pink Star Walk.


Promenade in Pink!


The annual Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) fundraiser is a walk for everybody (no age restriction); it’s non-competitive, there’s no training required and the course must be walked, not run. What is required however, is a joyous heart, an imaginative and enthusiastic embrace of flaunting the colour pink and a good pair of walking shoes. It’s a walk of fun and celebration, but most importantly it’s a ‘Walk for the ones you love.’


For any groups wishing to show their support and coordinate team costumes, register for the event now and start planning your pink ensemble. The Hits radio presenters, Stacey and Flynny, are to MC the walk. In the run up to the event, Hits listeners will be encouraged to join either Team Stace or Team Flynny and put in some serious fundraising for their team.

Evangelia Henderson, chief executive at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, says the Pink Star Walks are a great way to show support for friends, family or colleagues affected by breast cancer. “Money raised will help us achieve our vision of zero deaths from breast cancer by pushing for new frontiers in early detection, treatment and support.”

New Zealand’s first Pink Star Walk began in Auckland in 2006; Wellington and Christchurch had their first walks in 2015. The major sponsor is Estee Lauder Companies with media partner The Hits radio supporting Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s aim to provide a nationwide walking event designed for breast cancer survivors and supporters.


The 2017 Pink Star Walks in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland attracted over 3,000 registered walkers. The goal for the 2018 event is 4,000 walkers (1,000 in Christchurch), with the target of $500,000 reached for the breast cancer cause. In New Zealand, more than 3,300 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer – that’s 9 women per day. More than 600 women will lose their lives to it this year – that equates to around the size of a large primary school; and around 350 women under 45 years old (when free mammograms start) will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year – that’s one woman per day.

With sobering statistics such as these, let’s all flock to Hagley Park and walk for love. Let the promenade in pink begin! Held on Saturday 10 November, there is a choice of a 5km or 10km walk. Arrive 4:15pm for a 5pm start. Route starts at North Hagley Park – The Entertainment Triangle.


Walkers can register at or, for more information about the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ,



Walk with me

Walk with me: Mental Health Awareness Week

Jessica Finnigan is an awesome woman preparing to embark on an awesome journey.


Walk with me


On 1 October, Jessica and her two sons commence their 12 day walk from Christchurch to Wellington in memory of lives lost to mental illness and those still struggling today with mental health issues. The walk coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week, which kicks off on 8 October. Last year, Jessica came face to face with mental illness when a member of her family became seriously unwell; she took on the battle of her life to avoid seeing her loved one become yet another New Zealand statistic.

“I know there’s a mental health crisis in our country. I’ve experienced it first-hand. I’ve been through countless phone calls where I have begged for help, and all I got was waiting list referrals. Desperate people don’t need help in three, six or nine months time – the usual current waiting list period. They need it now.” Jessica says there are young people dying because they are not able to access the help they need at the most crucial time. “Our family has been through a lot and I’m passionate that other families shouldn’t have to experience what we have. Kids who are suffering can’t afford to wait. I want local government and Parliament to wake up to the crisis and take responsibility, now – before it’s too late; what New Zealand needs, more than ever, is more resources, more staff, and more funding into in-patient and out-patient facilities.”

It was walking the Rapaki track that gave courage, strength and perspective to the family when faced with the harsh reality of mental illness. “Walking was our form of therapy while waiting to be seen,” Jessica says. “So the idea of walking to Wellington was always a goal within arm’s reach.” Jessica devised a funding strategy and approached a number of businesses; their response was immediate and generous. Jessica then knew that this venture was possible.


Her sponsors include: BMW, Gooses, Thule, Macpac, St John Ambulance, Sports Med, Foodstuffs, Lululemon, RD1, Protranz, Evo Cycles and Stand. Jessica will open a Givealittle page before she departs for Wellington and all proceeds will go to Stand, a nationwide Children’s Service who are actively helping children throughout New Zealand.

“Representatives of Stand will meet us at the Wellington ferry terminal, then together we’ll walk the 2.5 kilometres to Parliament,” she says. “I want my statement to be loud and clear; New Zealand’s current mental health crisis can’t continue. We must all pitch in together to help. We all have, or know, someone with a mental health illness, so I’m not just representing my family, I’m representing all of New Zealand.”


For more information, visit


NZ Flower and Garden Show

Gardens for Tomorrow: Win with Metropol

Gardeners are endearing optimists. Frosts herald blue skies and sunny days, and there’s no such thing as a depressing winter garden when, already, jonquils are scenting the air and daphne buds are soon to flower. Gardeners don’t live for today; they’re too busy dreaming of tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that.

NZ Flower and Garden Show
Metropol has four of these any day early bird double passes to give away to readers who want to head up to the event. To enter, just visit, enter your details and click which competitions you wish to enter. Entries close Monday 13 August and winners will be notified Tuesday 14 August.


One event that will have Kiwi gardeners dreaming of a certain tomorrow with giddy anticipation is the NZ Flower and Garden Show 2018. Beginning 28 November through till 2 December at West Auckland’s Trust Arena, this is a garden show like no other. Last year’s inaugural NZ Flower and Garden Show saw some 28,000 people pass through the gates.
Christchurch writer and garden commentator, Rachel Vogan, returns to the show’s judging panel this year for the tenth time and says the desire for people to grow food to feed their families has become a visible trend which she expects will be reflected in the show.
“It’s phenomenal, really. While people are still wanting strong elements of design in their gardens, they’re also wanting areas to grow their own food; we lost that fundamental urge for two generations and now we seem to be reclaiming it – which is fantastic!”

Rachel says that as a plant expert, she will be on the lookout for good planting and a different way to use plants. “Plant use and plant appropriateness is important to me, followed by design – finding clever ways to use small places. Sustainability is hugely important, also designs that are environmentally careful, because the sustainability component is a big consideration in judging.”
The judging process is based on the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society standards, so there’s a very strict criteria that has to be followed. “We have the best international judges, which helps keep the New Zealand judges upskilled and ensures we’re current with the latest overseas trends. It’s very stimulating to work with these global experts.”
For Canterbury gardeners, consider taking a couple of days in Auckland to enjoy other gardens in the area. Visit for information on garden tours which coincide with the event.

Saving the best news till last is that discounted early bird tickets are available for purchase before 31 August. With early bird tickets valid for ANY DAY of the five-day show, they guarantee all our dreaming, endearing and optimistic gardeners out there a truly spectacular time. For more information, visit

Win with Metropol

Enter Here

I Have A Dream

Making Dreams Happen

Never tell huge-hearted philanthropist Scott Gilmour that disadvantaged kids can’t dream, for he has a beautiful story; it goes something like this: Southland-raised Scott was working for Intel in Portland, Oregon when he spied a newspaper article one morning that changed his life. It was about New York’s I Have A Dream Foundation and its founder Eugene Lang.

I Have A Dream

Scott was so inspired by the article that he had a dream of his own – to give disadvantaged children back home the same opportunities he’d had. In 2003, the first I Have A Dream Foundation was launched in New Zealand and so began a life-changing journey for 53 Auckland children.
The pilot project needed to assess whether the US model (34 years of success, with more than 200 projects impacting some 17,000 young people) would fit within the New Zealand framework; 15 years later, the results speak for themselves.
Scott says early intervention is crucial. “Investing in an entire generation from ages 5 through to 20 breaks inter-generational poverty.”
Scott and I Have A Dream co-founder and coach Ant Backhouse took an entire decile 1A class from Wesley Primary School, Mt Roskill – children destined, by their own admission, to take up with gangs and gang culture. Together they invested 15 years of support and mentoring, including paying for their tertiary education and the outcomes radically changed.

From that very same class emerged neuroscience and engineering students, an aspiring local body politician, a surgical nurse, a youth worker and a fashion graduate. Fact: 80 percent of these Dreamers went on to tertiary studies, versus 30 percent of a comparison group.
Scott cites the following six points of difference as to their resounding, incomparable success:
• Long Term Intervention – 15 years, from Year 1 to tertiary and employment
• Full-time Adult Advocate – the Navigator works alongside kids throughout their entire educational journey
• Inclusiveness – working with all children in disadvantaged communities – i.e. no targeting based on talents, risk factors, ethnicity or socio-economic status
• Aspirational – The IHAD mission is to help develop every child’s potential and unique capabilities
• Holistic – wrap-around services to ensure each child stays on track
• Collective Impact – working closely with schools and integrating activities of all non-profits and Government agencies working with each child and whanau.

I Have A Dream has now expanded to 1,500 disadvantaged youth across four schools in the Whangarei district. Scott wants to get the Government on board so every New Zealand school can help kids triumph over adversity. In Ōtautahi-Christchurch, there are many kids afraid to dream; could you be the person to change that? If so, Scott would love to hear from you.

Dcypher Lyttelton

‘Dcypher-ing’ Lyttelton’s story: murals that speaks for the community

Locals and visitors to Lyttelton’s Oxford Street Reserve have plenty to feast their eyes upon as they take in the stunning and spectacular murals at the revamped skate park and playground.

Dcypher Lyttleton

Completed last month, the murals, which took around two weeks of labour intensive painting, are by Los Angeles-based Christchurch artist Dcypher, also known as Guy Ellis. They tell a visual story incorporating native plants and birds, Maori design motifs, and a Lyttelton inspired urban scene featuring a skateboarder. Dcypher had fellow DTR Crew artists – Wongi, Ikarus and Jacob Yikes – assisting him on the job.
Christchurch City Council project manager, Jon Malis, says the murals reflect the history of Lyttelton and the site and appeal directly to the youth of the area who are the primary users of the park.
The artworks are a key element of the $375,000 site upgrade, which includes extensive playground landscaping, repairs to the park’s earthquake-damaged heritage walls, and the skate park being rebuilt.
An acclaimed muralist, Dcypher’s work features in the Spectrum Street Art Show and several murals around Christchurch, along with international street art festivals, cityscapes, museums and high-profile advertising campaigns. His work has also been showcased in Brazil, New Zealand and the United States, and he was recently invited to participate in painting the World’s Largest Graffiti Wall for the Guinness Book of World Records in Dubai.
Most impressive of all however, is that the prodigiously talented Dcypher has truly hit the big time, having developed mural art works specifically for the TV shows, Sons of Anarchy, Silicon Valley and NCIS.