Mudbrick

There was no shortage of spectacular views, along with magnificent food and wine, on our Taste of Waiheke Tour. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, our third and final winery, Mudbrick, delivered in spades. The initial vista was very impressive across the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto Island and Auckland in the distance but there was more to come.

We made our way to the terrace for an introduction to the winery, its history and a spot of tasting.

Robyn and Nicholas Jones bought the land as a lifestyle block in 1992. Both accountants, they had no experience in winemaking or hospitality but obviously had incredible vision. They spent weekends at the property planting everything from shelter belts to vines on the bare block as well as completing a multi-purpose mud brick building. The café soon followed and, 18 years later, is now a world famous restaurant. With glass in hand, we embarked on a tour of the vineyard while learning more about Mudbrick and the process of making their award winning wines.

There wouldn’t be many better places in the world to have a house.

As we climbed higher, the views became even more stupendous.

At the top, we had a 360 degree view of Waiheke Island from the helipad. Yes, you can arrive and depart Mudbrick by helicopter.

We returned to the restaurant

and wandered for a while around the flourishing potager garden.

Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers provide fresh ingredients each day to grace the plates presented to diners. Any organic waste from the restaurant is returned to the soil in the form of compost, recycling at its best.

Our day on Waiheke Island was almost over, what an exceptional day it had been.

Bomarzo Garden

I had read about the Parco di Mostri in Bomarzo before going to Italy and it sounded fascinating. The Park of Monsters is the creation of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who, although living in a rather fabulous palace, had his share of bad luck. In 1552, he returned from a war in which his friend had been killed and he was taken prisoner and his thoughts turned to planning a special garden. Five years later, his beloved wife, Giulia Farnese Orsini, died. As an outlet for his sorrow, he pushed ahead with the project and for more than thirty years dedicated his life to finishing the garden. In 1579, he noted in his diary: “I can find relief only in my beloved forest, and I bless the money I have spent and still spend on this magic area”.

Six years later, Orsini died at the age of 62. Sadly, after his death, the garden was abandoned and swallowed up by the forest until 1951 when an estate agent, Giancarlo Bettini, stumbled across the hidden monsters when looking for land to buy. He bought the whole lot and proceeded to restore the garden for its intended purpose. A short stroll from the ticket office

we come to the entrance.

A pair of sphinxes await and each plinth bears an inscription; “He who does not go there with eyes wide open and lips sealed will not be able to admire the most wonderful marvels” and “You who enter here put your mind to it part by part and tell me if some many marvels were made by deceit or by design”.

A series of heads depicting the Gods are scattered around, peering from shrubbery when you least expect it.

Proteus Glaucus represents the Greek God of the Sea, Proteus, and Glaucus, the fisherman who became a Sea God after eating a magical herb. The globe and castle atop the head are symbols of the Orsini family.

The ruined mausoleum is intentionally half destroyed and fallen over and we passed an intriguing gate in a stone wall.

Hercules and Cacus are embroiled in a very one-sided fight.

Nearby, a stream soothes the tension as it tumbles over the rocks

while the winged stallion, Pegasus, oversees the flow.

There is a turtle with a fairy on its back, both looking in the same direction as Pegasus.

Not too far away, a whale emerges from the water.

Dedicated to all nymphs, the aptly named nymphaneum seems to be guarded by a lion with a ball under his paw.

In front of it, there is a dormant fountain with dolphins each end

with Jupiter and Venus standing by.

Seven obelisks topped with sculpted heads form the audience at the theatre,

not far from the leaning house. One of the first constructions of the garden, it is thought to have been built at the request of Giulia.

We pass statues of Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture and Neptune, Roman god of the sea.

An elephant carrying a castle appears, a symbol of strength and restraint, with a wounded or dead Roman soldier held in its trunk. 

Another fight is raging around the corner, this time a dog, a lion and a wolf are battling with a dragon. Three against one just doesn’t seem fair.

The Mouth of Hell, the Orc, the Ogre, whichever name you choose, it is nonetheless disturbing. The inscription on the top lip translates as, “all thoughts fly”. There is a picnic bench inside, not a very inviting setting in which to dine.

The Etruscan bench has a very well preserved inscription, “You who have travelled the world wishing to see great and stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, orcs and dragons”. Who can argue with that?

Continuing up some steps,

we come to the Hippodrome Garden, the perimeter is decorated with large pinecones and acorns.

At the near end, there is a bench surmounted by a female figure with a bifurcated fish tail

while the three-headed dog, Cerberus stands guard nearby.

At the far end are two bears, one carrying the family coat of arms and the other, a Roman rose.

On the other side sits Echidna, the half-woman half-snake (mother of Cerberus) and Fury, the female winged creature with a dragon’s tail and claws with a pair of lions separating the two.

The Rotonda is a circular fountain at the top of a staircase leading to the Tempietto.

The ‘small temple’ was the last construction of the garden as a memorial to Giulia, a symbol of her constancy, having remained faithful to her husband when he was absent at war. The ceiling is decorated with lilies, symbol of the Farnese family and roses, symbol of the Orsini family. Giancarlo and Tina Bettini, who restored the garden in 1952, are buried in the Tempietto.

Stunned, shocked and amazed, with Palazzo Orsini in our sights, we returned to the car to seek lunch in Bomarzo.

spring has sprung

One of the best things about living in Tasmania is the four distinct seasons. As winter comes to an end, the stark beauty of the garden changes with the appearance of the first green shoots of spring bulbs.

The daffodils were culled last year and hundreds of bulbs were given to a friend to enjoy the splendour in her own garden. There were plenty left to put on an impressive show.

The delicate hyacinths briefly add colour to the rosemary hedge.

Iris Florentina never disappoints, they seem to appear in a new spot each year but I’m not sure I can bring myself to cull them.

Snowbells and Spanish bluebells commingle with the daffodils and irises

while the elegant arum lilies would monopolise the entire garden if not kept in check.

Blossoms are appearing on the fruit trees, hopefully the Roaring Forties won’t come too soon and blow them away, it would be nice to have some fruit this year.

The grevilleas are ready for the birds and bees

and the clivia are managing to withstand the wildlife.

New leaves on the Pieris are a wonderful shade of red, soon to turn green and await the pendulous white “Lily-of-the-Valley” flowers.

The Waratah is in full bloom

with the magnolia

and rhododendrons not far behind.

As the weather warms up, the garden will become an ever changing palette until winter slumber and the cycle will begin again.

autumn leaves

Autumn is a lovely time of year in the garden. The sun is lower in the sky, casting shadows that hint of winter and the deciduous trees shrug off their coats, revealing gangly limbs ready for pruning.

1.autumn trees2.autumn trees

Only nature could paint the colours in the leaves as they turn from green to gold before relinquishing their hold to lay a carpet below.

4.autumn leaves

The blueberry leaves are a stunning shade of red prior to their partition.

7.blueberry leaf

Golden foliage of the Ginkgo slowly descends until only the frame remains.

8.ginkgo

12.ginkgo leaves13.ginkgo

Our gorgeous Ash tree protects the fern garden through summer,

14.Ash tree

relinquishing her frondescence to bathe lilies and irises in winter sunlight.

18.Ash tree

Before long, the buds of spring will appear……

avian interlopers

Our garden has no shortage of birdlife. The wrens bob around happily keeping the insect population down and the honeyeaters commingle with the bumble bees around the flowering plants. Sometimes, all is not so peaceful. In summer the swallows appear, desperately seeking out their ideal position for the new seasons arrivals. This year, they built a cosy nest under the eaves at the southwestern end of house, not anticipating the unseasonal gale force winds that ensued. Plan B was in the more sheltered northeastern corner but they must have found a Plan C because there was no evidence of them using the nest. I’m sure they will be back next summer.

3.swallow

Kookaburras are one of my favourites, they are so handsome and their distinctive calls that sound like anything from a chainsaw starting to a raucous belly laugh always make me smile.

4.kookaburra

Our relationship was tested when our goldfish started disappearing and one day, Michael observed the kookie culprit. We really didn’t want to put a net over the pond and, knowing kookaburras are territorial, installed a metal facsimile to guard the pond.

5.metalbird

It seemed to work for a while but, long story short, there is now a net over the pond and our new fish are safe.

6.pond

We often have visits from the yellow-tailed black cockatoos, usually for water from the stock troughs. I like their mournful, wailing call and they work together as a team with one keeping lookout while the others have a drink. They, too, have recently tested our hospitality. We have a beautiful banksia that has finally reached the perfect dimensions to disguise a rainwater tank – the very reason it was planted.

7.banksia

One afternoon, the cockatoos decided to bring the family and feast on the seed pods.

8.yellow tailed black cockatoo

About a dozen birds created havoc, breaking branchlets and flinging debris in all directions. They have returned numerous times, hopefully the tree will survive the onslaught.

11.yellow tailed black cockatoo

The lounge window has always attracted birdlife, the double-glazing provides a flawless reflection. Most of them just look at themselves, some will tap and flutter against the glass while others will stand there and call incessantly. Tasmania is the only place you will find the Yellow Wattlebird, Australia’s largest honeyeater. It has a range of distinctive calls, all of which are very loud and not of the soothing variety, more like a soprano cough. One recently became completely enamoured with his own reflection, I took a closer look.

12.yellow wattlebird

He retreated to the safety of the nearby birdbath and scanned the area

before returning to his mirror. In the meantime, I had adjusted my perch for a bird’s eye view.

17.yellow wattlebird

Back to the bath for a quick dip

and he seemed satisfied with the result.

20.yellow wattlebird

It is lovely to have so many birds around. Despite my grumbling, I wouldn’t want it any other way.