Mangaweka Gorge

We had no particular plan for sightseeing on the drive from Motuoapa Bay to Wellington but it wasn’t long before we saw a sign indicating the presence of a historic bridge. Of course, we went to investigate and found the Mangaweka Bridge. Built in 1904, it is the only cantilever road bridge left in New Zealand.

The bridge itself is quite impressive but the views from the centre of the Mangaweka Gorge are truly magnificent.

Across the bridge we were surprised to find Awastone Riverside Haven, comprising accommodation, a campground and café. We enjoyed coffee and cake along with a different perspective of the bridge, rising 17 metres above the riverbed and the vertical white ‘papa’ cliffs.

The Rangitikei River, one of New Zealand’s longest at 253 kilometres, has cut spectacular gorges through the soft clay on its way to the Tasman Sea. The dramatic backdrop and series of rapids along the way make it a popular destination for a memorable kayaking experience.

Since our visit, a new bridge has been built to cross the river at this point because of safety concerns. The old bridge will be retained as a tourist icon for foot traffic and cyclists and those wanting to take in the majestic views.

Karlštejn Castle

The last thing I expected to see in a rural location 100km south of Darwin was a Bohemian Castle.

The town of Batchelor, with a population around 500, was established in the early 1950s following the discovery of uranium at Rum Jungle. Czech immigrant, Bernie Havlik, worked in the mines from 1954 until its closure in 1971. For the next six years he served on the town gardening crew before retiring in 1977. He had been frustrated by a stubborn rocky outcrop in a park in the town centre that had proved impossible to move, and set about creating a replica of Karlštejn Castle.

Situated an hour from Prague in Bernie’s homeland, the original castle was built between 1348 and 1357 for Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels, holy relics and other royal treasures were kept safe within the walls of the castle.

Bernie worked on his construction for five years and continued to add finishing touches and carry out repairs until his death in 1990. Havlik Park is dedicated to Bernie as a tribute to his community spirit.

Unable to travel to Bohemia, I have appropriated a photo of Karlštejn Castle from Google maps for comparison.

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.

Ponte Vecchio

A visit to Florence would not be complete without experiencing the Ponte Vecchio. We strolled a little further west to the Ponte Santa Trinita for a mid-river view of Ponte alla Carraia. Originally built from wood in 1218, the bridge was the second in Florence and was then called Ponte Nuovo, being renamed when it was widened to allow carts to pass. Succumbing to numerous floods over the centuries, the rebuilding has resulted in a few different versions, the current structure was completed in 1948 after the retreating German Army destroyed it in 1944.

Cafes and designer shops occupy the beautiful buildings along Lungarno Corsini on the north bank of the river.

To the east, the magnificent Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno at its narrowest point

and stunning apartments defy gravity at the water’s edge of the south bank.

The Ponte Vecchio dates back to 994AD but became another victim of floodwaters. The present bridge has endured since 1345 and was the only bridge spared bombing during the German retreat.

The Ponte Santa Trinita is best viewed from the Ponte Vecchio.

Similarly assailed by floods, the original wooden structure if 1252 was replaced seven years later with stone. This, too, was lost in 1333, rebuilt with five arches, destroyed by floods in 1557 and reconstructed with the three arches seen today. In 1608, statues of the four seasons were added to greet pedestrians at each end of the bridge. Another casualty of the retreating Germans, the bridge was rebuilt and opened in 1958 with original material salvaged from the river.

East of the Ponte Vecchio is Ponte alle Grazie, originally constructed in 1227 it suffered the same wartime fate in 1944. After the war, a competition was held to create a new design and the modern, reinforced concrete structure was completed in 1953.

In 1565, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned a secret passageway to connect his residence, the Palazzo Pitti on the south side of the river, with the seat of government, the Palazzo Vecchio on the north side. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, the one kilometre long Vasari Corridor (the square windows above the arches) follows the river to the Uffizi Gallery.

The Vasari Corridor crosses the river above the shops on the Ponte Vecchio.

Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners plied their wares along the bridge but the stench was so bad in the Corridor, in 1593 the Medici heir, Ferdinando I, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to own these shops.

A bronze bust of 16th century goldsmith, sculptor and author, Benvenuto Cellini, has pride of place in the centre of the bridge. His most famous work, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria.

From the bridge, we noticed an enticing spot to partake of a riverside beverage.

On further investigation, we found ourselves with Prosecco in hand at Osteria del Ponte Vecchio from where we enjoyed a different perspective of the bridge.

Seggiano

Our drive to Seggiano took a little longer than anticipated with our satnav, Holly, determined to take us through back lanes before doing circuits of the same mountain village a few times. The scenery was spectacular but we did wonder if we would ever find our way out.

Finally ignoring her, we chose to follow the reliable road signs and soon had the medieval village in our sights.

We parked the car at the edge of town and lingered a while, absorbing the breathtaking vista across rolling Tuscan countryside.

Wandering up Viale Santa Caterina, we arrived at Piazza Umberto and spotted the perfect place for lunch.

Despite our convoluted journey, we were too early for meal service so we set off to explore the village.

Seggiano is renowned for its extra-virgin olive oil, produced with the native olive cultivar grown in the region, Olivastra Seggianese. It would have been fascinating to visit the olive oil museum but it was closed. Instead, we followed Via Indipendenza,

passing Chiesa di San Bartolomeo. Built in 1216, the church has been remodelled several times and little of the original remains.

At the end of the road, we retraced our steps

and returned to Piazza Umberto.

The 18th century Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena is also known as the Church of the Company of Corpus Domini, dedicated to the Body of Christ. The interior is rather unassuming as far as Italian churches go but there are some beautiful paintings, a 14th century Madonna and Child and a reliquary that belonged to St Bernardino himself.

Still too early for lunch, we ordered coffee and a biscuit at Antico Borgo to await the magic hour of mezzogiorno e mezzo (that’s 12.30pm).

The restaurant was amazing, entirely carved out of stone and the meals were delicious but I will tell you about that another time. We returned to the car and one last look at the magnificent panorama

before continuing our adventure at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. From there, we could appreciate the magnitude of the town and realised we had covered a very small section.