Stonyridge Vineyard

A stunning scenic drive from Matiatia Bay along narrow, winding roads brought us to the first port of call on our Taste of Waiheke Tour, Stonyridge Vineyard.

It wasn’t long before we were greeted with a lovely smile and a tray of welcome tipple.

Gathering in the dappled shade of the olive grove, we heard more about the superb wines we were tasting in the company of gnarly aged cork trees.

Stonyridge became the first commercial olive grove in New Zealand after friends and family initially planted the trees in 1982.

The first Bordeaux vines were planted the same year followed by Cabernet Franc and Malbec in 1983. Owner Stephen White produced the first vintage two years later and Stonyridge is now recognised as the home of world class Bordeaux style red wine. There was no shortage of comfortable seating to relax and savour a beverage while enjoying the expansive vista across the north facing vineyard.

Tables were set for our little group and we selected a wine to accompany the delicious quiche & salad.

We would have been happy to stay all afternoon but this was just the beginning.

RetroGusto

Arriving in Bolsena, we found a very convenient car park in Piazza Matteotti, a perfect starting point to explore the town. Through the medieval arch leading to Corso Cavour,

we were distracted from our mission upon discovering RetroGusto. The unassuming exterior belied the wonder within,

this place was much more than just a grocery store.

The range of local produce was boggling

but with a little help and a few samples to taste, we indulged in a delicious platter accompanied by a glass of exquisite vino rosso.

Armed with a selection of goodies for future consumption (the truffle salami could not be left behind), we thanked la bella signora and returned to our mission.

Kings Domain

After a couple of hours absorbing the exhibitions at the NGV, we made the most of the winter sunshine with a stroll through Kings Domain. Established in 1854, the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, both native and non-native, in the 36 hectare parkland renders a beautiful autumn aesthetic.

Myriad memorial statues and sculptures are scattered throughout the Domain making for a very interesting amble. The Walker Fountain was donated in 1981 by former City of Melbourne Mayor, Ron Walker and his wife, Barbara. With 46 underwater lights and 144 individual streams of water, I imagine it would be a spectacular vision at night.

The parks namesake, King George V, is memorialised with a lofty bronze, granite and sandstone sculpture. Following his death in 1936, a public appeal was launched to secure funds for the memorial, however, World War II delayed the construction and it wasn’t unveiled until 1952. A statue of the late King in full Garter Robes, wearing the Imperial Crown and holding the ceremonial sceptre and orb, stands on the eastern side. Because the sun was in its descent, I have captured the western face and the statue representing Maternal Britannia holding a cross and olive branch in her hands, symbolic of love and peace. The two children represent the Dominions and Colonies under British rule, while a lion and unicorn holding armorial shields flank the base.

Arriving in Victoria in 1899, Russian immigrant Sidney Myer is probably best known for his successful retail businesses. He was also a violinist with a passion for music and initiated a series of free open air concerts in the Botanic Gardens with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1929. He had expressed a wish for these concerts to continue and, following his death in 1934, the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust funded the design and construction of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Opened in 1959 by prime minister Robert Menzies, the venue holds the record for the largest crowd ever at a concert event in Australia when 200,000 people attended the 1967 Seekers homecoming concert. Officially, there is fixed seating for around 2,000 people and the surrounding lawn area can accommodate a further 10,000.

On this day there was an audience of one, a slender young woman seemingly captivated by the music. Miraggio, also known as Seated Figure, by Pino Conte was donated by an anonymous ‘Lover of Italy’ in 1964 and was installed following re-landscaping of the site in 2001.

Through the trees, sleek glass edifices tower paradoxically with the elegant belvedere tower of Government House.

The Seeds of Friendship sculpture was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015. Two hand-carved granite seed cones, a pine from Turkey and a casuarina from Australia, represent the fallen, the seeds of friendship and the future. The filigreed stainless steel wreath is designed for placing remembrance poppies of which a few knitted perennials are scattered around.

The Shrine of Remembrance is an astounding structure, originally built to honour the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I, it is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in any war. The design is the winning entry of a competition in 1922, won by two Melbourne returned-soldier architects, Philip Hudson and James Wardrop. Controversy ensued and the seven year construction finally began in 1927.

Other memorials have been added to the site since the opening in 1934, including the Second World War Memorial Forecourt. The carving atop the Cenotaph depicts six men in the uniforms of the Navy, Army and Air Force carrying a dead comrade draped in the Australian flag. At the base, the Eternal Flame, symbolising eternal life, was lit by Queen Elizabeth II at the dedication of the Forecourt in 1954.

Two replica statues, entitled “The Driver” and “Wipers” were relocated from the front of the State Library to the Shrine grounds in 1998. They commemorate the thousands of Australian lives lost during the fighting at Ypres (‘wipers’ was the way Australian and British servicemen pronounced Ypres during World War I).

We had both spent time inside the Shrine on previous occasions, a remarkable place to visit. Too soon to return cityside,

we continued our trajectory to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Entering the gate adjacent to the Melbourne Observatory,

we hadn’t gone far when, in true Melbourne style, the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. Leaving the lovely autumn hues to their dousing, we retreated to the comfort of a beverage on Southbank.

Matamata

Much as we enjoyed our time in Auckland, after three nights we were ready to leave the confines of the city and breathe the country air. A scenic two hour drive south of Auckland, we arrived at Matamata. Established as a Māori pā in 1830, the name means ‘headland’ and the position on a ridge of high ground was perfect for the defensive settlement. The town is now recognised as the home of The Shire, anyone who is familiar with The Lord of the Rings will know what I mean. There was no doubt we were in Hobbit country when we located the information centre.

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We were very fortunate to have booked accommodation only 4km from Hobbiton, it wasn’t difficult to see why Peter Jackson chose this area for the filming of his movie.

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The setting of Buckland B&B couldn’t have been more peaceful,

8.Buckland B&B

the spacious living area was a welcome contrast to our cramped city apartment. It is amazing how a section of this American barn has been so tastefully transformed.

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The outdoor area was perfect for a late afternoon aperitivo,

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undisturbed by the amiable neighbours.

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Scrumptious homemade bread was delivered to our door daily, what didn’t get eaten for breakfast was enjoyed with our Rangihoua olive oil at dinner.

We stayed four nights at Buckland, not only is it close to Hobbiton it is a great base for day trips west to Hamilton and east to Rotorua. Thank you Tracy & Kevin for a wonderful experience.

Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

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3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

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The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

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The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

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There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

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There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

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Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

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