Sky Tower

Arising 328 metres from the Auckland cityscape, Sky Tower is the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Not only is it a telecommunication tower, there are observation decks offering 360° views and the opportunity for thrill seekers to walk outside on a platform 192 metres above ground or, if you are so inclined, to jump off said platform.

1.Sky Tower

We took the more sedate approach and rode the glass bottomed elevator to level 51 to take in the panorama. We could see for miles beyond the suburb of Devonport and Rangitoto Island to the Hauraki Gulf.

2.Devonport & Rangitoto Island

Looking down Victoria Street to Albert Park, you can see a black cable running vertically outside, I’ll get to that.

3.Victoria Street to Albert Park

Another gorgeous view toward Bastion Point, a perfect day for a spot of sailing (and that cable again).

4.container terminal & Bastion Point

Looking over Auckland Domain with the hospital just right of centre and the War Memorial Museum on the far side of the gardens.

5.Auckland Domain

I will mention here that the tower is designed to sway up to one metre in excessively high winds and to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. All very reassuring. Puketutu Island is in the southerly distance with Eden Park, New Zealand’s largest sports stadium, centre of photo.

6.south to Puketutu Island

Back on the northern side, Westhaven Marina is home to over 2,000 boats, the biggest marina in the Southern Hemisphere. Auckland Harbour Bridge connects the city with the North Shore across Waitemata Harbour.

7.Waitemata Harbour8.Westhaven Marina & Auckland Harbour Bridge

Coming full circle, Princes Wharf and the cruise ship terminals are below us.

9.Waitemata Harbour & Princes Wharf

Now, about that cable. As I mentioned, those who feel the need can experience SkyJump, a 192 metre vertical fall reaching 85km/h. The jump is controlled by guide cables so the jumper doesn’t collide with the tower in a gust of wind. Two young men, suitably attired for the plunge, accompanied us in the lift on the way up. A video screen shows live footage of the preparations to those on the observation deck and with an element of luck, I snapped one as he sped past the window.

10.Sky Jump

His descent was certainly rapid, presumably he was still conscious when he reached the ground.

11.Sky Jump

The tower is eerily majestic at night, lit with over a hundred LED lights that are sometimes coloured to show support for various celebrations and events.

12.Sky Tower at night

We had already made plans for dinner, otherwise the revolving restaurant on level 52 would have been a fitting end to another wonderful day in Auckland.

Orvieto

A scenic thirty minute drive from Montepozzo, the Etruscan hilltop town of Orvieto was the perfect destination for a day trip. Vertical tufa cliffs support the ancient buildings in spectacular fashion and the remains of original defensive walls are still standing.

1.Orvieto

After parking the car in Piazza Marconi, we walked a short distance to Piazza del Duomo, a huge square dominated by the magnificent Orvieto Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the construction lasted three centuries from the laying of the flagstone in November 1290.

2.Duomo di Orvieto

The design and style evolved from Romanesque to Gothic as it progressed, the side walls are a striking contrast of white travertine and grey basalt stone.

3.Duomo di Orvieto

The golden façade is stunning with intricate designs and detail and four bronze statues of the Angel, the Lion, the Eagle and the Ox symbolise the Evangelists. The three bronze doors, depicting mercies from the life of Christ, replaced the original wooden doors in 1970. Above the middle door, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child was created in 1347.

4.Duomo di Orvieto

13.Duomo di Orvieto12.Duomo di Orvieto

We didn’t go inside the cathedral, we had tickets for a tour underground instead but that’s another story. Orvieto has a strong papal history with five popes taking refuge there during the 13th century. Palazzo Soliano was built in 1297 and once a papal residence, is now home to the Museo Emilio Greco, dedicated to the artist who designed the cathedral doors and showing 100 of his works.

14.Palazzo Soliano

The small Church of San Giacomo all’Ospedale is now used as a venue for exhibitions. The building behind the church was a hospice for poor people and pilgrims established in 1187.

15.Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore

On the opposite side of the piazza are a row of houses where priests used to reside

16.Piazza del Duomo

and a fascinating clock tower. Built as a time clock for the cathedral construction site, it was originally a sundial in 1347 because there was no mechanical clock available. The bronze automaton on top, the earliest documented clock in Europe, was added two years later. The figure swings its body and strikes the bell with its hammer on the hour to let the workers know when it is time to knock off. The medieval word for a construction site was muriccio, hence it is now known as Maurizio Tower.

17.Maurizio Tower

We left the piazza and wandered along Via del Duomo past vibrant shops and intriguing alleys.

23.vicolo

27.vicolo31.Via del Duomo

After quenching our thirst

we ventured on. Torre del Moro stands 47 metres high exactly in the city centre. Built by the Della Terza family at the end of the 13th century, we would certainly have climbed the 250 steps for a 360° view had we known.

35.Torre del Moro

The Church of Sant’Andrea on the Piazza della Repubblica dates back to the 12th century and has a unique dodecagonal bell tower.

Adjacent to the church, the Town Hall is from the same era but has been enlarged and restored up until 1600.

38.Palazzo Comunale

We walked through the central arch onto Via Garibaldi, it seems no road is too narrow for the local buses.

On the other side of the arch

42.rear of Palazzo Comunale

we couldn’t resist lunch at Ristorante Il Cocco and the opportunity to sample one of Orvieto’s specialties, pigeon.

43.Ristorante Il Cocco

Deliciously sated, we continued along Via Garibaldi

47.Via Garibaldi

and wended our way down narrow, stone streets

48.Orvieto

to the ancient church of San Giovanni and the piazza of the same name.

49.Chiesa di San Giovanni50.Piazza San Giovanni

Just past the church, we followed the Vicolo Malcorini,

51.Vicolo Malcorini

rewarded with stunning vistas to the left

57.Orvieto58.Orvieto

and a tumble of homes to the right.

59.Medieval Quarter

The Medieval Quarter is a maze of steep, narrow streets and houses seem to defy gravity atop rocky cliffs.

61.Medieval Quarter

65.Medieval Quarter

We explored further with the feeling we had stepped back in time, having both fallen in love with Orvieto.

RAAF Museum

Just when we thought we had seen everything Werribee has to offer, we discovered the RAAF Museum just 10km down the road. Point Cook is the birthplace of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) which was renamed to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1921. It was the Air Force’s only base from 1912 to 1925, when RAAF Laverton was built 20km away. The two became amalgamated in 1989 under the one name, RAAF Williams, named after Sir Richard Williams. The first military pilot to graduate from Point Cook in November 1914, he is considered the ‘father of the RAAF’. We felt a sense of privilege as we were handed our permits to enter the facility at the security gate.

Having only seen these aircraft in movies, I was awed by the magnitude of the de Havilland Canada Caribou on display between the hangars.

3.de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou A4-152

The RAAF Museum was established in 1952 to preserve aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the Air Force and opened to the public in 1972.

There is so much to see, even before reaching the aircraft hangars. This little woollen airman doll was carried as a good luck mascot by Squadron Leader A.S. McCracken in his Halifax bomber during World War II. A.S. was thrown through the cockpit canopy following a crash landing in 1944 and survived unscathed. The medals belonged to Air Vice Marshal Sir George Jones who shot down seven German aircraft during World War I. He became Chief of the Air Staff during the World War II and led the RAAF until 1952 when he retired.

6.mascot & medals

The information accompanying various displays of uniforms, rations and kit made for very interesting reading, far too involved for me to summarise.

The exhibits continued throughout the hangars with the added dimension of magnificent aircraft. We started in the Training Hangar to see how RAAF training has advanced over the years. To me, some of the earlier aircraft were real works of art with the use of beautiful polished timbers and complex mazes of wires. The Maurice Farman Shorthorn was the first armed aircraft to engage in aerial combat in World War I. Known as ‘Rumpety’ to the students because of the noise it made while travelling over the ground, it was used to train pilots until 1919.

Used by the RAAF throughout the 1920s, the Avro 504K was the first training aircraft that could be flown aerobatically. It is also linked to the first death in training of a RAAF airman at Point Cook following an accident in 1921.

The Tiger Moth on display was built at the de Havilland factory in Bankstown in 1942 and entered service in November 1943. It has been restored to original military configuration including the training colours of its wartime service.

The aircraft silhouette changed dramatically after World War II with the single-seat fighter, Vampire, initially in RAAF service in 1949. The two-seat trainer version was introduced in 1951 and the first ejection performed in Australia was from a Vampire in September 1952.

20.de havilland Vampire T Mk 35

The Winjeel, designed to replace the Tiger Moth as a basic trainer, first flew in 1951.

The Winjeel was replaced in 1972 with the CT4 Airtrainer. It was nicknamed the ‘Plastic Parrot’ because of its lightweight construction and green and yellow colours.

24.CT4A Airtrainer

The Italian designed Aermacchi MB 326H on display, known as the Macchi in Australian service, was the first received by the RAAF in October 1967.

Simulators are an important part of training, the RAAF now have a simulator for each aircraft type in service. The older models might have required a certain amount of imagination.

Manufactured shortly after World War II, the ‘Pie Cart’ was used to teach students how to hand-start an aircraft engine. It was nicknamed the “Terror Machine” for its ability to inflict serious injury. The yellow and black safety stripes are a recent addition.

We ventured next into the Technology Hangar to experience the evolution of military aviation, stepping back in time once again to 1913 and the magnificent wood, wire and fabric construction of the B.E.2a.

The SE 5 is an exact replica of an aircraft that entered service in 1922. The original was damaged in 1928 when it taxied into a DH9 and again, a month later, in a forced landing. The run of bad luck ended when it was eventually destroyed by fire in June 1929.

36.SE 5a

I can only describe the Supermarine Walrus as extraordinary. It looks like the most cumbersome and least likely to stay aloft aircraft ever conceived. On the contrary, it was designed to be catapulted from warships and was used for reconnaissance and air-sea rescue until 1946.

37.Supermarine Seagull V:Walrus

Suspended from the rafters, the Iroquois helicopter is one of two involved in the mission to re-supply ammunition to ground troops at Long Tan in 1966. After retirement in 1984, the aircraft was used as a training aid at the RAAF School of Radio before being transferred to the RAAF museum in 1993 and restored to its Vietnam War configuration.

38.Bell UH-1B Iroquois

The Vampire F-30 began service in the RAAF in 1950 and five years later, was converted to a target-towing aircraft with the addition of a hook and release mechanism below the cockpit. The striking paint scheme was designed to prevent the towing aircraft being mistaken for the target.

The Boston Bomber on display arrived in Melbourne in 1942 and carried out missions from Goodenough Island until it crashed on the airstrip due to battle damage a year later. It was recovered from there in 1987, restored and transported to the RAAF Museum in 1998, the only survivor of 69 Bostons operated by the RAAF.

41.Douglas A-20C Boston Bomber

An assortment of missiles are on display, including the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile of the 1950s and the more recent ASRAAM heat seeking air-to-air variety.

We finished off with a quick peek in the Restoration Hangar, a boggling collection of aircraft in various states of repair (or disrepair, depending on your viewpoint).

44.de Havilland DH-60M Gypsy Moth45.de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito

If you want to read more about the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito restoration, take a look at Aces Flying High, Deano is a mine of information.

Domain Wintergardens

Lunch time was approaching as we hopped off the Hop On Hop Off bus at Parnell. Auckland’s oldest suburb, dating back to 1841, is also one of New Zealand’s most affluent. Parnell Road is lined with enticing shops, galleries and cafes

1.Parnell Road

and after an explorative stroll we had worked up a thirst.

2.Non Solo Pizza

There were a few options of dining areas

but we decided to stay roadside and enjoy a pizza before joining the bus once again.

The Domain Wintergardens was our next stop, built in the early 1900s so that the gardens could be appreciated all year round.

9.Wintergardens

We passed under shady pergolas

and entered the central courtyard which separates the two Victorian style glasshouses.

12.courtyard

Each glasshouse contains distinctly different plants. The Cool House was built first in 1921, we started in the Tropical House which was added in the late 1920s.

13.tropical house

Heated to 28°C, lush tropical plants thrive. Above the enormous lily pads

carnivorous pitcher plants are suspended, awaiting their next meal.

Foliage, intricately designed by nature,

19.tropical house

mingles with spectacular flowers only the tropics can sustain.

Neoclassical marble statues were added to the courtyard in the 1930s

and beautiful water lilies float in the sunken pond.

The temperate climate of the unheated Cool House affords a magnificent display of flowering plants that change with the seasons.

51.cool house

Once again, the foliage is as colourful as the flowers.

Some are less vibrant but equally impressive

and a few edible varieties complement the mix.

We noticed the crowd multiply significantly in the time we were at the gardens, the reason became obvious as we stepped outside.

62.tourists

Pugnaloni

I was quite excited when I realised we would be in Acquapendente for the Festa dei Pugnaloni. The origin of the festival dates back to 1166AD when two farmers witnessed the blossoming of a dry cherry tree. This miracle was considered a good omen by the villagers who had been repressed under the reign of Emperor Federico I Barbarossa. Armed with prods and work tools, they destroyed the castle, drove out the tyrant and regained their freedom. The anniversary is celebrated on the third Sunday in May with a procession through the streets and much feasting. In ancient times, the peasants carried goads, implements used for prodding oxen, adorned with flowers to represent the weapons of battle and the cherry blossom.

The pugnaloni have evolved over the centuries and are now superb works of art, created by different groups in the community. Large panels, 2.6 metres wide and 3.6 metres high, are covered with intricate mosaics of leaves and flower petals to create images inspired by the theme of peace and freedom. The week before the main event, we discovered some smaller versions exhibited in the loggia of the town hall.

1.mini Pugnaloni2.mini Pugnaloni3.mini Pugnaloni4.mini Pugnaloni

The Mini Pugnaloni gives the Aquesian children the opportunity to take part in this wonderful celebration.

5.mini Pugnaloni6.mini Pugnaloni7.mini Pugnaloni

We decided not to attend the festival after being advised by some locals that there would be a lot of inebriated people, they obviously thought we were crazy to even contemplate it. We revisited the town a couple of days later but could only find one on display at the town hall, the entry by a group named Via Francigena.

I think patience and a steady hand would be essential attributes for anyone undertaking this art, the results are spectacular.

12.Via Francigena

We later found out the remainder were exhibited in the Duomo and they take turns being centre stage at the town hall.