Whakapapa

Tongariro National Park was a scenic forty minute drive from our haven at Motuoapa Bay. New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro was gifted to the people by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, the Paramount Chief of local Māori tribe Ngati Tuwharetoa, in September 1887. The 80,000 hectare park is centred around three sacred volcanic peaks. A lookout on the way to our destination, Whakapapa Village, rewarded us with views of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, the latter (on the right) may be recognised by The Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom.

From this height, the sweeping panorama across the Central Plateau was spectacular.

We parked the car at the village and considered our options, deciding on the Sky Waka gondola ride and buffet lunch combo. Mount Ruapehu is the centrepiece of the national park, the North Island’s highest peak is home to the largest ski field in New Zealand. The terrain in March is quite different to that during ski season, it is hard to imagine the Rock Garden Chairlift conveying skiers on the advanced beginners run.

The $25 million Sky Waka gondola opened in July 2019 to transport 2,400 people an hour, a distance of 1.8km, up the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu. It really didn’t feel as though we were travelling at 6 metres per second.

Back to The Lord of the Rings, scenes of Mordor were filmed on the rugged landscape of Whakapapa ski field and the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, including the scene where Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger.

Our ride culminated at Knoll Ridge Chalet, a multi-storey eatery built in 2009 to replace the original café that was destroyed by fire earlier in the year.

The magnificent Pinnacles Ridge was shrouded in cloud when we arrived and it was a bit cool for alfresco dining.

The Pinnacles Restaurant was warm and welcoming, the extensive use of timber created the feeling of a traditional mountain chalet.

Lunch at the highest restaurant in New Zealand, at 2,020 metres above sea level, was delicious.

Mount Ruapehu is the largest active volcano in New Zealand and has three major peaks. There is a beautiful carving representing Paretetaitonga, the peak that wards off the southern winds.

By the time we finished lunch, the clouds had lifted from Pinnacles Ridge

and Sky Waka was the only way down

with more stupendous scenery to absorb.

The Great Divide

The Lyell Highway traverses Tasmania from Strahan on the west coast to the capital city, Hobart, in the south. Driving the 300km through the West Coast Range and Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park along the tortuous route is both tiring and exhilarating. On an unusually straight stretch of road, about 75km past Queenstown, we noticed a couple of cyclists taking a break at a small roadside rest area and stopped to investigate. We learned from the information board that this was the point of The Great Divide. Tasmania is divided into two distinct regions when it comes to climate, geology and vegetation and this divide is known as Tyler’s Line (named after Peter Tyler, a Tasmanian limnologist). The west has higher rainfall, poor acidic soil and the strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties. The vegetation comprises rainforest, moorland and wet sclerophyll along with rugged mountain ranges.

1.westward2.westward

Frenchmans Cap is the highest peak in the West Coast Range, named because of the similarity to the shape of the Liberty Cap worn during the French Revolution.

3.Frenchmans Cap

To the east of the divide, conditions are much drier and warmer with lower rainfall and more fertile soil. From our vantage point, the King William Range rose majestically on the horizon, similar in shape and geology to the more famous Cradle Mountain.

4.King William Range

Made up of three separate peaks, named Mount King William I, II and III,

5.Mt King William I6.Mount King William II7.Mount King William III

the King William Saddle is equidistant from Tasmania’s three major cities – Hobart (190km), Launceston (186km) and Devonport (193km), each one a three hour drive. Fortunately, we were only 10km from our destination of Pumphouse Point.

Lake Plimsoll

Our trip to Pumphouse Point earlier this year gave us the opportunity to travel a road we hadn’t been before. Anthony Road, built as part of the Hydro Tasmania scheme, leaves the A10 five kilometres south of Tullah and reconnects just north of Queenstown. I had been advised by a work colleague to stop at Lake Plimsoll lookout for some spectacular views, it was very good advice.

1.Lake Plimsoll

In 1994, the Anthony River was dammed by the Hydro-Electric Commission and the 340 hectare lake was created.

2.Lake Plimsoll

Named for Sir James Plimsoll, the Governor of Tasmania from 1982 to 1987, it was the last major dam constructed by the Commission.

3.Lake Plimsoll

Beyond the lake lies the Tyndall Range, an area marked by the course of  glaciers in the last Ice Age. It seems fitting that it is named in honour of Irish physicist Professor John Tyndall, who had a special interest in glacier motion.

4.Tyndall Range

The sharp peaks of the range contrast with the gentle arch of Mount Tyndall, composed of Owen conglomerate from the Ordovician era, about 480 million years ago.

5.Mount Tyndall

We wandered down to the water’s edge, the sunlight sparkled on the surface. Stocked with brook trout, the lake is a popular fishing spot. I can imagine spending a few hours afloat, though I prefer the company of a good book to a fishing rod.

6.Lake Plimsoll

Nire Valley Drive

Our time in Ireland was rapidly coming to an end and we had decided to give Dublin another try after being disappointed with our initial, albeit brief, visit. We had booked accommodation at Curracloe on the southeast coast for our last night before returning to Dublin. Leaving Blarney, we set the satnav, Holly, who again seemed to have problems identifying a highway.

1.Holly

Ignoring her instructions, we followed signs to the Nire Valley scenic drive and, as long as we were heading east, we couldn’t go wrong. The scenery was spectacular with the Knockmealdown Mountains running east and west along the border of counties Tipperary and Waterford.

2.Scenic Drive3.Knockmealdown

Knockmealdown is the highest peak in the range, with other peaks named Knocknagnauv, Knockmeal, Knocknafallia, Knocknanask, Knockshane and Knocknasculloge. I can’t help thinking of the knockwurst sausage containing the painting of ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ in TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo! I digress. I don’t know why anyone would want to drive along a motorway when they can be surrounded by such magnificent countryside.

4.Knockmealdown5.Nire Valley Drive6.Nire Valley Drive7.Nire Valley Drive8.Nire Valley Drive9.Nire Valley Drive10.Nire Valley Drive

The road may be a little more narrow and winding but so much more rewarding

11.Nire Valley Drive

and from the high points, there were breathtaking views across forty shades of green.

12.Comeragh Mts13.Comeragh Mts

Further east, we followed the mist shrouded Comeragh Mountains

14.Comeragh Mts15.Comeragh Mts

to Waterford where we encountered a monumental traffic jam, it took an hour to travel 24 kilometres. We arrived in Curracloe after dark, our only ambition a beverage, meal and bed. The next morning, we wandered down to Curracloe Beach, eleven majestic kilometres of Blue Flag bathing.

16.Curracloe Beach17.Curracloe Beach

We savoured our last taste of salty air before returning to the car for our final destination – Dublin.

Vergemoli

When we first visited Italy in 2014, we were invited to lunch at the home of friends, Deb and Jim, in the mountains of the Garfagnana. We recalled the drive as being somewhat hair-raising but, when invited again this time, we couldn’t resist. With much trepidation, we ventured forth, stopping in Gallicano for a heart starter coffee and pastry.

The road out of the village certainly fits the description of ‘narrow’,

6.Gallicano

as we passed beneath the ancient aqueduct.

7.aqueduct, Gallicano

It almost made the road to Vergemoli look like a highway,

8.road to Vergemoli

excepting when there is more rock than road.

9.road to Vergemoli

Clouds gathered as we climbed into the mountains,

10.road to Vergemoli

looking back the way we had come, the view was spectacular.

11.road to Vergemoli

The mountains loomed closer and before long we had reached Vergemoli.

12.road to Vergemoli

Turning left at the small piazza, we parked at the top end of the village by the 17th century church of Sant’Antonio.

13.Vergemoli14.Vergemoli15.Chiesa Sant'Antonio

We had allowed time for a stroll through the village before lunch, our first discovery was an outdoor theatre, a lovely spot to watch a play in the summer months.

16.outdoor theatre

We could see for miles across the valley,

17.Vergemoli view

a stone bench perfectly placed to catch your breath after walking up the hill.

18.Vergemoli

The houses were neat and colourful,

some seemed to end suddenly at the edge of the cliff.

23.Vergemoli

There was no shortage of intriguing doorways.

The parish church of San Quirico and Santa Giulitta, in the middle of town, dates back to the 10th century.

27.Chiesa dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta

I’m not sure what this stone monument represents but it is dated 1637AD

28.Vergemoli

and another close by is unidentified.

29.Vergemoli

Alleyways veered in all directions filled with dwellings built at impossible angles.

Some had room for a garden shed

37.garden shed

or a beautifully maintained shrine.

38.Vergemoli

We didn’t see many locals but the four-legged inhabitants were very friendly.

We could see our destination, Casa Debbio, waiting comfortably on the hillside as we returned to the car and drove the track to the house.

44.Casa Debbio45.Casa Debbio

Although the weather was too inclement to dine on the terrace,

46.terrace, Casa Debbio

the vista across to Vergemoli was stunning.

47.Vergemoli

The drizzle didn’t deter us from exploring the garden with its quirky residents

and some of the most fabulous flowers I have ever seen.

From the terrace at the back of the house, there is a lovely view of the wisteria on the pergola

57.pergola

and of new plantings as the garden blends with the wilderness.

58.garden

A few more flowers and treasures

59.garden

and we returned to the house

66.Casa Debbio

with that amazing view

67.Vergemoli

to enjoy a slice of Angela’s hat.

68.Angela

We farewelled Deb and Jim and made our way back down the mountain. If only Australia wasn’t so far away.

69.geraniums

Casa Debbio is the perfect place to escape and unwind for a few days or weeks and is available for holiday rental, take a look.