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.

Tamar Valley

I recently spent a couple of nights in Launceston, catching up with a special friend from W.A. who was travelling around Tasmania with another two friends. They had booked accommodation at Armalong Chalets and fortunately, there was room for me. I arrived on a very inclement afternoon and we wasted no time seeking a beverage at Stillwater Restaurant, overlooking the Tamar Basin. Across the water, four large grain silos from the 1960s are now Peppers Silo Hotel. Deserted for decades, the Kings Wharf grain silos were rescued and transformed into a stunning $25 million hotel with many of the facilities constructed inside the original barrels. (A weekend stay is still on the bucket list).

After a fabulous meal at The Grain of the Silos Restaurant and a good night’s sleep, I awoke to a glorious sunny day and the most spectacular view through the floor to ceiling windows.

The chalets are situated at Tamar Ridge Cellar Door, perched high in the trees overlooking vineyards and the ever changing Tamar River.

We set off for a day discovering the Tamar Valley and a short drive down the West Tamar Highway, stopped at Brady’s Lookout, once the hideout for bushranger Mathew Brady. A gentleman’s servant in England, he was convicted of stealing a basket with some butter, bacon, sugar and rice and received a seven-year sentence of transportation to Australia. Arriving in December 1820, he wasn’t the most exemplary prisoner and escaped with a group of fifteen in June 1824, spending the next two years on the run before being captured and hanged on 4th May 1826.

The Tamar River isn’t actually a river, it is a tidal estuary into which the North and South Esk Rivers empty, that stretches 70km from Launceston to Bass Strait.

After investigating a couple of wineries and the former gold mining town of Beaconsfield, we arrived at Beauty Point to enjoy a relaxing lunch by the water.

The first deep-water port on the Tamar River was established to service the nearby gold mine and then, after the gold rush, it became the centre for the export of apples. It is now home to the Australian Maritime College training ship, Stephen Brown, a permanently moored neighbour of the Tamar Yacht Club.

We wended our way back to Tamar Ridge where, not only is there a cellar door on site but also a gin distillery, Turner Stillhouse. Arriving within a few minutes of closing time, we were treated to a tasting session of the award-winning Three Cuts Gin with distiller, Brett Coulsen. The unusual name refers to the three cuts of Tasmanian rose that are added to the gin, including some grown near the distillery.

Returning to the chalet as the shadows lengthened, we settled on the deck with a beverage and platter to absorb the breathtaking vista over vineyards and river.

Sadly, the next morning we went our separate ways but not before another magnificent sunrise.

Lake House

I have mentioned previously that we are not really ‘big city’ people. When we travel, we like to take the back roads and stay in self-contained accommodation in quiet locations. Our wishes were certainly fulfilled when we arrived at the Lake House on the shores of Lake Taupo at Motuoapa Bay.

It is actually half a house but there were no occupants in the other half for the three nights we were there. The description of ‘a beautiful lakeside retreat with a twist of retro’ is something of an understatement. Stepping inside, memories of our childhood homes came flooding back as we explored the wonders within.

The well-equipped kitchen was reminiscent of our 1970’s lives, right down to the crockery.

The theme continued down the hallway

and into the bedroom.

I don’t think I have ever seen wall art created from carpet before.

I love the idea of using a shower curtain to make bathroom curtains.

We don’t usually take time out to relax and regenerate on holiday but we were feeling the need and Sunday was the perfect opportunity. A stroll to the local café for lunch took us past some lovely homes and very well behaved children

before returning for an afternoon of reading, napping and soaking up the view.

Cradle comforts

Last time we spent the weekend at Cradle Mountain Lodge we promised ourselves we would make it a regular treat, perhaps once a year. Nine years on, we returned last month for a mid-week stay, the impetus being Michael’s birthday. After a leisurely scenic drive of just over an hour, we felt compelled to inspect the new, controversial, Visitor Centre. With all the negative publicity, I wasn’t expecting to find, in my opinion, a rather impressive construction.

Once the hundreds of plantings have grown, I think it will blend well with the environment.

The lodge looks stunning with a new face lift

and the reconfigured reception area has lost none of its welcoming charm.

We checked in to our Pencil Pine cabin, surrounded by wildlife

with a distant view of Cradle Mountain,

and returned to the tavern for lunch.

The guest lounge is cosy and comfortable

and there were two chairs by the fire that definitely had our names on them.

Our cabin was an easy stroll from the lodge, passing many contented furry residents along the way, obviously used to the comings and goings of the human variety.

The next day brought rain, a soothing constant downpour with not a breath of wind.

After a hearty breakfast, we retired to the guest lounge for a couple of hours of enforced relaxation before making our way to Waldheim Spa for a spot of pampering. Michael savoured a sixty minute Aromasoul massage by the lovely Eka, while Kayoko treated me to a Tension Tonic Ritual – a delicious hour of body massage, foot treatment and scalp therapy.

Anticipating a sumptuous dinner at the Highland Restaurant, we returned to the cabin for a cheese platter and quiet afternoon, hoping the forecast snow would materialise. Despite -4°C overnight, snow didn’t eventuate but a heavy frost and ice greeted us the next morning.

We couldn’t resist a final indulgence with a cooked breakfast followed by an easy walk in the crisp, clear air before departing for home, vowing to do this more often.