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.

1.information centre2.information centre

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.

3.countryside4.countryside5.countryside

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.

9.interior10.interior11.bathroom

The outdoor area was perfect for a late afternoon aperitivo,

12.outdoor setting

undisturbed by the amiable neighbours.

15.sheep16.neighbours

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.

2.grinding stone

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.

10.well

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.

11.caves

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

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

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.

19.view

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

25.tunnels

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

26.view

leaving lockdown

Our two weeks of isolation after returning from New Zealand in March turned into seven weeks, with lockdown imposed following an outbreak of a certain virus here in northwest Tasmania. There is a lot to be said for staying at home, we certainly didn’t sit around wondering what to do next. The eastern wall of the house, potting shed and chook house have had a fresh coat of stain

and Michael created a unique cover for the gas bottles.

5.gas bottle cover

The garden has had quite an overhaul with much trimming, new timber edging to the beds and a fresh layer of mulch.

6.garden7.garden8.garden

It is an ongoing project.

9.garden10.garden11.garden12.garden

With the lifting of lockdown last Monday, while it seems much of the population headed to the shops, we took Cooper for a much needed run around the local country roads with the top down. The sun was shining and the scenery was breathtaking. Snow atop Black Bluff is a gentle reminder that winter is just around the corner

13.Black Bluff

but there was no sign of it this day.

14.Dial Range

The autumn hues of liquidambar added a stunning contrast to the blues and greens.

15.liquidambar

Hopefully, we will have some more days like this before hunkering down until spring arrives.

16.Dial Range17.Natone18.Natone

Mount Gnomon Farm

We had been wanting to visit Mount Gnomon Farm for years but the timing was always wrong. Finally, last Sunday we drove the short ten minutes from Penguin along winding roads, through beautiful countryside, to experience the recently re-opened restaurant. The rustic simplicity of the exterior

1.restaurant

continues once inside.

2.interior

From quirky door handles and unique light fittings

to walls adorned with animal hides and ‘family’ photos, the ambience is warm and inviting.

A colourful palette of wildflowers is framed by the dining room window.

8.view from dining room

The front verandah overlooks fields of grazing sheep,

9.view from front door

a charcoal spit and bespoke fire pits await the next big event.

10.spit

Resident pooches Cyril and Winston eagerly welcomed us, happy to accept attention without demanding it.

Agricultural scientist, Guy Robertson purchased this magnificent parcel of land ten years ago, principally to raise free range pigs and promote the end product of premium free range pork. Nestled against the forest reserve of the Dial Range, they certainly have no problem with neighbours.

19.Dial Range20.Wild garden & Dial Range

The estate has become much more than a pig farm but I’ll get to that after lunch. Unfortunately for Guy, but fortuitously for us, last minute cancellations meant the three of us were the only guests. Perusing the menu, it was difficult to make a choice, we wanted to try everything. With a little encouragement from Guy and his team, that’s exactly what we did. French chef, Madjid, specialises in charcuterie and so, at the top of the menu, we started with the impressive French Charcuterie shared plate. Ham hock terrine, wallaby terrine, pepperberry cured pork fillet, saucisson sec, saucisson a l’ail, smoked ham, apple puree, garden pickles and sourdough bread.

21.French Charcuterie shared plate

Mount Gnomon smoked chorizo with pumpkin puree & sage, Mount Gnomon smoked bratwurst with house sauerkraut & German mustard and a salad of borlotti beans, celery, fennel & orange followed.

24.salad

The roasted suckling pig leg with sausage stuffing, carrots, garlic crumb & jus convinced us of the superior quality and flavour of Mount Gnomon free range pork.

25.suckling pig

Next came free range chicken served with spinach, roasted pumpkin, burnt butter, lemon & toasted pine nuts.

26.free range chicken

Crispy Kennebec potato with smoked paprika mayo and local green vegetables with a herb dressing, Coal River Farm fetta, preserved lemon & mint completed the feast. (I missed a photo of the greens, trust me, they were incredible).

27.potatoes

I should point out, these dishes were shared between us, we hadn’t really succumbed to an attack of gluttony. The menu changes every week depending on the fresh farm produce available, what a great excuse to return and sample more. Local beers and ciders are also on offer, along with superb Ghost Rock wines. We were confident we could manage the one dessert on the menu with a pause for digestion and so, embarked on a Guy guided tour of the farm. A new lamb had joined the flock of Shropshire sheep that morning, I’m sure he grew more cute each time I looked at him (actually, not sure if he is a he).

The other lambs had a head start and for some, the grass was definitely greener the other side of the fence.

Across the paddock to the west, the traditional Dairy Shorthorn cattle enjoy far reaching views as well as luscious green pasture.

34.views to the west

To the north, the young apple trees of the cider orchard align with the pristine waters of Bass Strait.

37.view to the north

A wild edible garden

38.wild garden

occupies the space between the restaurant kitchen and the most spectacular raised vegetable garden I have ever seen.

39.vegetable patch

My hopes of cuddling a piglet were dashed when we learned the hundreds of Wessex Saddleback pigs that usually reside here had been relocated to enable regeneration of the pastures.

40.pig pastures

I’m sure they will be eager to return to their home beneath Mount Gnomon.

41.pig pastures

For the few that remain, the rich, red soil was irresistible for a spot of wallowing.

I imagine this would be a soothing respite

47.pig in mud48.pig in mud

from suckling twelve large offspring.

49.piggies

Back at the restaurant, I entered the inner sanctum to witness the cured meats awaiting their turn on the charcuterie board.

50.charcuterie

The exercise and fresh air had primed us for the delicious peanut butter chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis & crunchy topping.

51.mousse

If you can’t make it to Mount Gnomon Farm, you can find their products on menus around Australia as well as at farmers markets and festivals across Tasmania. If you can make it to the farm, next Sunday would be the perfect opportunity with a big day planned for the launch of Mount Gnomon Farms very own cider.

52.event

Providence Farm Stall

After a relaxing morning wandering around the rhododendron garden, we drove further through the rolling countryside in search of lunch. We had been meaning to visit Providence Farm Stall since it opened almost a year ago, this time we were wise enough to book well ahead. The rusted patina of Corten steel glowed in the sunlight on what looked like a fairly unassuming farm building.

1.exterior

Lavender and olive trees accompanied myriad potted plants around the grounds

along with a couple of rustic installations.

The hilltop setting afforded spectacular views across verdant farmland to the waters of Bass Strait.

6.vista7.vista8.vista

From a different angle, the ‘shed’ became something quite extraordinary.

9.exterior

Stepping through the door,

10.front entrance

the huge windows filled the walls with nature’s artwork.

11.interior

A magnificent slab of polished timber offers seating for a large group or share table

and complements the tasteful, minimalist décor.

There are plans to create a lounge bar on the mezzanine, a comfy space to enjoy a beverage while listening to local talent entertaining with live music.

18.mezzanine

The seasonal menu is limited but the food is fresh, colourful and beautifully presented. The interestingly named Poke Bowl comprises smoked ocean trout, sushi rice, edamame beans, avocado, red cabbage and carrots, drizzled with soy-sesame dressing.

19.Poke Bowl

A flavoursome Rainbow Salad is topped with cashews and a house made Thai dressing.

20.Rainbow Salad

Rich, creamy Butter Chicken is served with basmati rice and chapati bread.

21.Butter Chicken

Fortunately, we still had room for Sticky Date Cake served warm with butterscotch sauce, roasted almonds and cream

22.Sticky Date Cake

and a delicious Chocolate Bliss Mini Cake.

23.Chocolate Bliss Mini Cake

We are looking forward to a return visit to sample the Summer menu and enjoy the congenial atmosphere and friendly hospitality.