Swinging Gate

With more than thirty two vineyards along the Tamar Valley Wine Route to choose from, it was a difficult task to narrow down those to visit within our limited time frame. Looking for something a bit different, we headed to Swinging Gate at Sidmouth. The vines were originally planted in 1985 and, then known as Buchanan Vineyard, the fruit was sold to various Tasmanian wineries but never had an identity of its own. Fifteen years later, the plot was sold and abandoned until horticulturalist Doug Cox and his wife Corrie purchased the vineyard in 2014 and set about resurrecting it. The name is in reference to the gates swinging open again for the first time in many years.

The old machinery shed has been converted to a quirky cellar door and adjoining day spa.

Wine dog, Nellie, is happy to receive attention from visitors, although I think a little too much of the good life has ended her modelling career.

The rustic interior was instantly welcoming, with mismatched tables and chairs offering the perfect setting for an informal tasting experience.

As it was only 10.30am, we had Doug’s undivided attention as he led us through the myriad wines on offer while sharing the background of Swinging Gate. With a 30 year career in horticulture under his belt, after purchasing the vineyard Doug taught himself the winemaking process. The first year was spent rejuvenating the vines and in 2015, they produced 5,000 bottles to celebrate the 30th vintage of the vines. It appeared as though the adjoining barrel room was furnished for a tipple and quiet contemplation at the end of the day.

Swinging Gate is not just a winery. In 2019 the first geodesic dome appeared amongst the vines, and there are now three dotting the landscape.

Offering the ultimate glamping experience, each 6 metre dome is furnished with a king-size bed and, as well as private ensuites, two of the domes have outdoor bathtubs. I have just added an item to our bucket list.

Chateau Tongariro

Having passed Chateau Tongariro as we arrived at Whakapapa village, we were eager for a peek inside. The neo-Georgian structure was completed in 1929, constructed of reinforced concrete but designed to resemble a traditional Georgian brick building. With the onset of the Depression, the anticipated tourism boom failed to arrive and in 1932, ownership was transferred to the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts which ran the hotel for the next 26 years. When the numbers of skiing tourists declined during World War II, the Chateau was commandeered as an asylum in 1942 until, three years later, Mount Ruapehu erupted and the patients were evacuated to Auckland. It then served as a rest and recuperation centre for returning Air Force personnel and eventually reopened to tourists in 1948.

The resort now has a nine hole golf course, fitness centre and spa as well as magnificent mountain views.

Despite extensive refurbishment over the years, the 1930’s style had been retained.

We settled into the comfortable chairs in the Ruapehu Lounge and ordered coffee, marvelling at the impeccable décor and wishing we were having cocktails instead.

Had we planned ahead, we could have indulged in High Tea in the adjoining  Ngauruhoe Room with another spectacular perspective of Mount Ngauruhoe.

Advent antics

Last year, I shared the escapades of a friend’s ‘Elf on the Shelf’, and while searching through my meagre collection of Christmas decorations, I found a little smiling face waiting patiently to come out and play. With no children in the household, I decided to have some fun surprising Michael each morning. Elf’s initial attempt to stowaway to a business breakfast meeting was met with much mirth and, in case there was a misunderstanding that this was an isolated incident, he appeared the next day in Michael’s cereal bowl.

He became trapped when the toilet lid came down on him unexpectedly and, on a particularly cold morning, tried to warm up on the toaster.

More strife in the bathroom as he messed about with the toilet roll, so he sought solace with KitKat in the pantry.

He just couldn’t stay away from the bathroom, though, finding dental floss doesn’t make a great yo-yo, and his exploits in the office didn’t end well (kids, don’t try this at home).

The kitchen enticed him back to help with the morning cuppa, and he found the dog biscuits to be a very tasty treat.

Venturing further afield, he got stuck in the chook food dispenser before returning to the safety of the lounge to watch an early soccer game.

Exhausted by his nocturnal shenanigans, Elf found a couple of options to take it easy and recuperate.

There was another failed bid to join the business breakfast meeting by hiding in the car, so he returned to the pantry to await the next days porridge.

He put all his strength into squeezing the toothpaste tube, and enjoyed some gymnastics on the towel rail.

Hoping to go for a walk with Michael & Poppy, he waited in the gumboots for the right moment. The dining room light was easier to get into than out of.

A rather uncomfortable night in the wardrobe, and back to the kitchen to, once again, help with breakfast.

It was almost time for Elf to leave again, but not before a few tunes on the cigar-box guitar. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, he prematurely pulled a cracker to celebrate his time with us.

I hope you all enjoyed your silly season and wish you good times and good health in 2022. Hopefully, fun will replace fear in the not too distant future, perhaps it could be made mandatory?

Florence Falls

We had worked up an appetite with our morning explorations of Litchfield Park and found a secluded spot for a picnic lunch alongside Florence Creek.

The spring fed watercourse bubbles along, tumbling over a series of cascades until it reaches the escarpment at Florence Falls.

A stunning panorama from the viewing platform takes in the lush monsoon forest surrounding the falls.

The multi-tiered falls drop around 40 metres in total while the main cascade is around 20 metres.

There are 160 steps to the swimming hole at the base of the falls. Tempting though it was to cool off in the pristine water, the return climb would have been a step too far.

Natale Italiano

We haven’t really celebrated Christmas for quite a few years, not since our spontaneous sojourn to Cradle Mountain in 2016. To say our yuletide decorations at home are minimalist would be an understatement.

This year, we invited some new found friends to share lunch and, not being a fan of the traditional turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies, I chose an Italian menu instead. Preparation began on Christmas Eve with the creation of soft garlic breadsticks, fava bean & goats cheese dip and one of my favourites, Torta della Nonna.

The table was set and a few sprigs from our holly tree created a colourful adornment by the front door.

I had a few special tree ornaments, mostly handmade by a friend and my mum, that have been hidden in a box in the cupboard for millenia. Michael did a fine job of decorating the Japanese Black Pine by the pond,

a spectacle to be enjoyed from the dining table.

Glasses were charged with a superb G.H. Mumm champagne to accompany the antipasto platter featuring the usual suspects: prosciutto, chorizo salami, capocollo, pecorino pepato, gorgonzola, mozzarella and anchovy stuffed olives along with the aforementioned dip & breadsticks.

The opening of a bottle of Torresella Pinot Grigio heralded the serving of pumpkin & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.

A stroll around the garden in the sunshine made room for main course of Prune & Olive Chicken, roasted onions, potatoes & carrots and a Wreath Caprese Salad, complemented by a bottle of Balliamo Pinot Grigio.

The Torta della Nonna was worth waiting for (if I do say so myself)

and, of course, there was still enough space in the ‘sweet stomach’ for chocolates and coffee. It’s not all about the food, this Christmas will be one of the most memorable thanks to the wonderful company and the weather gods delivering perfection.