snakey summer

We have become accustomed to sharing our summer garden with tiger snakes, they have the perfect home around the pond and they have been very polite lodgers. Last year Michael had reconfigured the ponds and surrounding rocks and plants and, apart from a brief visit to check out the new design, no-one actually moved in. Our latest resident appeared early in the summer, curled up in a favourite spot to capture the morning sun.

The weather has been unseasonal this year, with a very wet and mild November making the process of warming up quite difficult. Tasmanian tiger snakes are darker than their mainland cousins in order to absorb more heat but there is still a need to flatten out and speed up the process.

The rocks hold their warmth, a great place to stretch in the sun

until it gets too hot and then there is a shady grevillea to retreat to.

Being extremely vulnerable while shedding their skin, snakes are usually discreet about it. We were very surprised when we came in from gardening to find she had done so out in the open.

After a while, she changed her morning sunning spot, perhaps realising it warmed up earlier than her usual position.

One morning we found her completely out of her comfort zone and wondered if she had been caught unawares the previous evening as the temperature can drop quickly once the sun starts its descent. She flattened out on the stones for a while

and finally made her way, very slowly, to her usual place under the box hedge.

Her home was actually in the rocks, we would see her go to bed each night around 5.30pm (no, we didn’t read her a bedtime story).

A few of weeks ago, we noticed she was looking dull, she was quite restless and her eyes were cloudy, a sure sign another skin shedding was imminent.

We kept a close eye on her movements and the camera within reach in the hope of witnessing and filming the shedding experience. It wasn’t to be, our last vision of her was in her tired, old skin and we haven’t seen her now for three weeks.

Hopefully, she has taken her shiny new self out to the forest to find a mate. Maybe she will return next year?

Hamilton Gardens – Paradise

I am always on the lookout for beautiful gardens to visit on our travels and was very excited to discover Hamilton Gardens is only an hour drive from Matamata, perfect for a day trip. The world class gardens are situated alongside the Waikato River, an area that was once a thriving Maori settlement and home to Ngaati Wairere chief Haanui. Sadly, after European settlement, the land was used for other purposes including a rifle range, sand quarry, go-cart track and finally the city’s main rubbish dump. In the 1950s, the Hamilton Beautifying Society lobbied for a public garden and, with most development occurring since 1980, the gardens now occupy 54 hectares.

Passing by the Events Centre, we were drawn to a huge wood carving depicting real and imagined life in the gardens. The intricate carving was created from a single camphor laurel tree which grew on the river bank, far too big to capture in one photograph.

At Hamilton Gardens, the emphasis is on different types of garden design rather than plant collections, exploring the history, context and meaning of gardens. The individual gardens are presented in three separate themes – Paradise Gardens, Fantasy Gardens and Productive Gardens – too much to cover in one post so I will start with the Paradise Collection. Each garden radiates from a central court, in this case it is Cloud Court featuring statues of Egyptian gods Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sky and Sobek, the crocodilian ‘Lord of the Waters’.

We started in the Japanese Contemplation Garden, entering into a karesansui, or dry landscape garden, of the Muromachi era from the 14th to 16th century. Often called ‘Zen gardens’ because they are found in Zen temple complexes in Japan, these are designed for quiet contemplation and study.

Beyond the pavilion, a pool surrounded by Japanese Maple trees infuses a serenity felt by even the smallest inhabitants.

The traditional gardens of the Arts and Crafts period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are the inspiration behind the English Flower Garden. Walls and hedges create a series of outdoor rooms, each with a different planting theme, that are linked by pathways terminating at an arbor, fountain or seat.  

It is easy to see why the gardens of this era are often referred to as ‘the gardens of a golden afternoon’.

The art of Chinese gardening dates back to the Han period, at least 2,000 years ago and this influential art form has been called the ‘mother of gardens’. The Chinese Scholars’ Garden represents a traditional Chinese garden from the Sung Dynasty, 10th to 12th century, when a social class of mandarins, scholars and the landed gentry created and maintained these distinctive gardens.

The winding path led to a blooming Wisteria bridge and would eventually reach a pavilion with views of the Waikato River.

Instead, we retraced our steps, past the giant bronze half turtle-half dragon, the Celestial Yuan of Taihu, symbolically protecting the garden from floods.

The 20th century brought the minimalist design of the Modernist Garden, particularly on the U.S. western seaboard and northern Europe in the 1930s. Elements such as swimming pools, barbecues and outdoor eating areas dominated with little ornamentation or formality. Not really my idea of a garden.

In stark contrast, the colourful Indian Char Bagh Garden was stunning. The symbolic four-quartered garden was designed for the Mughal aristocracy and spread throughout the Muslim world between the 8th and 18th centuries. The Mughal emperors, descendants of Genghis Khan, expanded their empire eastwards from Persia into northern India from the 13th century onwards. The design was adapted to local conditions but the basics of geometric layout and a focus on water and irrigation remained integral. In harsh climates, the subtle trickle of water combined with floral perfumes made for a sumptuous living Persian carpet.

Beyond the pavilion, some were making the most of this glorious day on the Waikato River.

We retreated through the decorative entranceway

and made our way to the Italian Renaissance Garden. Many of the elements of earlier Medieval gardens have been retained such as high surrounding walls, square beds and arched trellis work.

The Renaissance designers introduced a strong central axis linking different compartments of the garden and included antique sculptures. A perfect example is the copy of the original 5th century Capitoline wolf with Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who, as babies, were thrown into the Tiber River, which carried them to Platine where they were suckled by a she-wolf and then raised by a shepherd.

I could imagine enjoying a beverage on the vine covered terrace but there was much more to see.

piccioni Italiani

The mention of pigeons in Italy usually conjures images of tourists in Venice being smothered by masses of the unruly birds, left with hair dishevelled, clothing akimbo and the odd splattering of egesta. The feeding of pigeons in Piazza San Marco was legally banned in 2008 with a penalty up to €700 to discourage the practice. While we saw the occasional pigeon on our travels, they were very discreet and didn’t exhibit any manic flock behaviour. A paddle in the waters of Fontana dell’Acqua Felice cooled the feet on a warm day in Rome.

The ancient stonework of the Colosseum now serves as a comfortable columbarium. The word is from the Greek for pigeon or dove and describes the niches in walls designed for roosting and breeding.

The merging of local and imported breeds over the centuries has led to an array of colours and markings. There aren’t many places better to enjoy the morning sun than the walls of Chiesa di San Pietro at Porto Venere.

Pigeons have long been maligned as bearers of disease, possibly due to their indiscreet toilet habits and their link to the infection, psittacosis, which causes a pneumonia type illness in humans. Along with that, it seems they were responsible for the closure of five rooms in the Uffizi Gallery in April 2016. An infestation of ticks was discovered by a security guard and the rooms, displaying 15th century Italian paintings, were closed for two days to undergo pest control. The outbreak was blamed on the pigeons that perch on the Uffizi’s windows. No such problem in the Torre Guinigi at Lucca, there is plenty of aeration and fabulous views.

Pigeons obviously have a head for heights, what bird doesn’t? They can fly at altitudes of 6,000 feet or more with speeds up to 90 mph and can travel 700 miles in a single day. Some are happy to just find a quiet perch and admire the fabulous vista in Pienza.

One of the most intelligent birds on the planet, the pigeon can apparently recognise itself in a mirror as well as all 26 letters of the alphabet. Sounds like interesting research, some do look more inquisitive than others.

The belltower of Chiesa di San Donato in Bagnoregio provides a perfect niche from which to observe the wanderings of tourists in the piazza.

Pigeons have been used as messengers for centuries, the earliest reference dating back to 2500 BC. They have been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in both World Wars with their efficient, reliable service. It wasn’t until 2006 that the last service, used by the police force in Orrisa, India, was disbanded. Presumably, the Orsini family relied on the birds to keep in touch at their palazzo in Pitigliano.

As well as breeding for food, sport and as messengers, pigeons were found to have another valuable resource. In the 16th century, their excrement was found to contain saltpetre, a substance used in the manufacture of gunpowder and fertiliser. It seemed to be in plentiful supply on the window ledges of Acquapendente.

The first mention of domesticated pigeons being used for food was in Egypt in 3000 BC and it is not unusual to find a piccione dish on menus throughout Tuscany. In January 2016, Italian celebrity chef, Carlo Cracco, caused controversy when he cooked a pigeon with turnips on Masterchef Italia. The president of the Italian Institute for the Protection of Animal and the Environment reported him to the police for encouraging people to cook wild animals. He overlooked the fact that pigeons are farmed for food and the law protecting pigeons only applies to wild ones. Of all the pigeons we encountered in Italy, this was by far my favourite.

Highland Restaurant

There are so many wonderful things about staying at Cradle Mountain Lodge and if you enjoy amazing food, the Highland Restaurant is the place to be. We wandered in for breakfast on our first morning, expecting the usual buffet. Not being a fan of buffets, I was pleasantly surprised to find, thanks to social distancing rules, full table service instead. The restaurant had been tastefully refurbished since our previous visit but retained a light, airy and welcoming ambience.

Despite the inclemency outside, the lake was tranquil

while the log fire added warmth inside.

We started with Spreyton fresh juices, a seasonal fruit plate and freshly baked croissants.

I opted for a simple omelette while Michael indulged with smoked salmon, capers and spinach, cheekily adding a pair of poached eggs atop the sourdough.

Returning that evening for dinner, we were awed not only by the flavours of fresh Tasmanian produce but also by the creative works of art presented on our plates. For entrée we chose pepperberry and gin cured ocean trout, beetroot foam & citrus crème fraîche and wallaby scallopini, tomato, king brown mushroom & truffle.

We couldn’t resist the Scottsdale pork belly, Tasmanian scallops & apple rémoulade and beef fillet, truffle mash, buttered asparagus & black garlic for mains.

Of course, we had saved room in our dessert stomachs. Already impressed by the artistic talents in the kitchen, they excelled themselves with the sweet offerings. The coconut panna cotta, pistachio sponge & moss seemed inspired by nature

and the chocolate forest floor with chocolate fungi & chocolate floss was truly spectacular.

We waddled back to our cabin, convinced we wouldn’t need to eat for a week. It turned out that wasn’t the case, we were back for breakfast in fine form. This time we followed the fruit plate and croissants with a Mountain Breakfast – bacon, sausage, eggs your way, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, sourdough, sautéed potatoes & house baked beans.

With a menu that changes seasonally, I think the time is nigh for another visit.

Whakarewarewa

We were looking forward to experiencing some Māori culture while in New Zealand and Rotorua is the place to do just that. There are a few options available but we chose Whakarewarewa because it is the only one that is an actual living village. The full name is Whakarewarewa-tanga-o-te-ope-taua-a-Wāhiao (The Uprising of the Army of Wāhiao) and was first occupied in 1325. The full name was adopted when, 300 years ago, a Warrior Chief named Wāhiao, gathered an army to avenge the killing of his father. They waited, hidden by geothermal steam and then performed a Haka before charging into battle.
After lunching on a tasty Hangi Pie at the Geyser Café, we entered the village through the memorial archway. Commemorating the fallen soldiers and tribal members who served in the two World Wars, the inscription, Te Hokowhitu a Tū, acknowledges the war god Tūmatauenga and was the motto of the Māori contingent.

Tourism came to the village in the 1800s when the Europeans began arriving in New Zealand. They were fascinated by the geothermal activity and local way of life. Before the bridge was built in 1885, the only way visitors could enter the village was to be carried across the river by the men, often in return for a penny. For generations, local village children have jumped from the bridge to retrieve the coins tossed in by visitors, earning them the nickname ‘Penny Divers’.

The Te Puarenga is also known as ‘Floating Blossom’ due to the yellow sulphur deposits that float on the surface as they make their way downstream.

Just over the bridge is a wharepuni, or sleeping house, traditionally built with natural materials such as tree ferns. A bit too close to the hot springs for my liking but apparently handy to make use of the heat.

The Ancestral Meeting House is named after Wāhaio, the traditional carvings tell stories and legends of his people and their tribal connections.

With time to spare before the afternoon cultural performance, we wandered past thermal lakes, mud pools and steam vents

to the bubbling waters of Te Roto a Tamaheke. Named after a chief living in the area many years ago, the lake has a number of hot springs that heat it above boiling point.

Before the entertainment began, we were introduced to some of the quirks of the Māori language. The explanation of the vowel sounds, none of which are pronounced the same as in the English language, was highly amusing. We were surprised to learn that ‘Wh’ is vocalised as an ‘f’ sound, an interesting concept when the name of the village is shortened to Whaka. The local performing group, Te Pakira, opened the show with a waiata-ā-ringa, an action song where the use of fluttering hand movements support the lyrics, symbolising shimmering waters, heat waves and such like.

A beautiful rendition of the love song, Pokarekare Ana, brought a tear to the eye. First sung at an army camp at Auckland in 1914, the song tells of Paraire Tomoana’s courtship of Kuini Raerena.

Next came the moment we had been waiting for – the Haka. The loud chanting, foot stomping, thigh-slapping war dance accompanied by poking tongues and staring eyes certainly stirred the blood. For me, it is the highlight of any All Blacks rugby game.

The skill and accuracy displayed in the stick games and Poi dances was boggling. The poi is a ball (or two) on a chord that is twirled in perfect unison with others and the direction can be changed by striking the ball on a part of the body, creating a percussive rhythm.

The performance over, we joined our guide for a tour of the village. The guiding tradition began over 200 years ago as tourism developed in the area and became a formalised profession for local Māori guides. The Catholic Church was built in 1905 and, due to the ongoing geothermal activity, in the cemetery the deceased are placed in tombs above the ground.

Retracing our steps down Tukiterangi Street

we turned left at Tuhoromatakaka, the family house built by master carver Tene Waitere in 1909 for guide Maggie Papakura.

The first inhabitants of the village discovered that food can be cooked by harnessing the heat from the ground and the steam box hangi is still used by the twenty one families living in Whakarewarewa.

The largest hot spring in the village, Parekohuru, is used for cooking leaf & root vegetables and seafood. Every 45 minutes or so, the pool pulsates and the water rises. The water level then drops and bubbles rise to the surface, hence the name ‘Champagne Pool’. I must say, I prefer my champagne on the cooler side.

At this point, I was distracted by the spectacular cloud formations.

Storms weren’t forecast but the nearby pools, Purerehua, told a different story. They are affected by the change in atmospheric pressure and when the water level drops, it means a change in the weather is imminent.

Many families in the village bathe in the communal baths known as oil baths because of the oily texture and mineral deposits in the water. It is very good for the skin as well as treating the aches and pains of arthritis and rheumatism.

The view from the Pōhutu Geyser lookout was quite ethereal. There are three active geysers aligned on the sinter terrace, a rock made of very fine-grained silica formed from the waters of the hot springs. The blue pool in front of the terrace is not fed by its own hot spring but collects water from the geysers.

The activity of each geyser affects the others with the largest, Pōhutu, erupting hourly up to a height of 30 metres. Its closest neighbour, Prince of Wales Feathers, always precedes Pōhutu but only to a height of 9 metres. The original name was Te Tohu (The Indicator) but it was renamed in 1901 on the occasion of a visit from the Prince of Wales because the geyser’s plume resembled the feathers on his coat of arms. The third geyser, Kererū, is named after an endemic New Zealand pigeon because the behaviour is as erratic as that of the bird. Unfortunately, we didn’t witness the full spectacle but were most impressed by the display we observed.

According to Māori myths and legends, the Whakarewarewa thermal area was created when Te Hoata and Te Pupu (Goddesses of Fire) travelled from Hawaiki in the form of fire to relieve their brother’s chills. Along the way, they created New Zealand’s volcanoes, mud pools, geysers and hot springs. I think they excelled themselves.

We meandered back through the village, reflecting on the lifestyle in this amazing part of the world

and the stunning landscape beyond.