Motuoapa Bay

Our few days at the Lake House remain in my memory as the most idyllic sojourn of our trip. On the southern shore of Lake Taupo, Motuoapa Bay is a tranquil cove that is situated to capture the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. A short stroll on our first evening delivered a fine example of things to come.

The bay is also the location of a fabulous marina and home to an assortment of pleasure craft. The $6 million redevelopment took 18 years from original plans to completion in November 2017. For those into statistics, over 39,000 cubic metres of sediment was removed from the original marina basin and channel before being turned into 5.5 acres of reclaimed land. Nearly 1,600 square metres of concrete floating docks offer 158 berths. There was very little activity during our stay.

The next morning, with cups of tea in hand to warm against the chill, we ventured out in the early light.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the serenity.

Taking a closer look at the marina,

I wondered about the intriguing names on some of the boats.

We returned to our base to prepare for an exciting day out at Tongariro National Park.

The following day was one of relaxation and, as the light began to fade, we couldn’t resist one last dose of the stunning surrounds. Canada geese and black swans were seeking their supper in the spotlight of a descending Sol.

Another round of the marina and still no sign of life.

We spied a few of these unusual birds and have since discovered they are California quail, an introduced game bird with an interesting head dress.

Reluctant as we were to leave Motuoapa Bay and the Lake House, there were new adventures awaiting.

Wangi Falls

It is many years since I have been to Litchfield National Park and on my recent sojourn to Darwin, a visit was included on the agenda. Named after Frederick Henry Litchfield who explored the Northern Territory in the mid 1800s, the 1,500 square kilometre park is a comfortable 90 minute drive south of Darwin. The park has several stunning waterfalls and crystal clear swimming holes, the largest being Wangi Falls.

In 1883, surveyor David Lindsay named the falls after his youngest daughter, Gwendoline. Forty years later, Max Sargent took up the pastoral lease over the area and renamed the falls after his second daughter, Kathleen, who was born in 1954. The Townsend family took over the lease in 1961, built an outstation nearby and called it Wangi, the local aboriginal name for the area. Consequently, the falls became known as Wangi Falls. There are actually two cascades at Wangi, the morning sun wasn’t conducive to photographing the narrower stream flowing to the left of the main falls.

We set off on the Wangi Loop Walk, a 1.6 kilometre circuitous trail that climbs the escarpment to the top of the falls and returns on the other side of the pool. Colonies of flying foxes roosted above us, not bothering to seek shade for their morning slumber.

Meandering streams tumbled their way through the lush forest,

the canopy opened up to reveal a breathtaking vista as we neared the summit.

There is no view of the actual falls from the top and it is surprising that these trickling water courses create such a spectacle as they plummet over the cliff.

Smaller waterfalls accompanied us as we twisted and turned our way down a series of stone steps

to return to the pool for one last look at the majestic Wangi Falls.

frosty fingers

Having just returned from ten days in Darwin, I am struggling to adapt to the climate shock. Tasmanians are used to the four seasons and we enjoy the positive in each of them. Not long before my recent sojourn, I took Poppy for her morning walk into the Blythe Conservation Area that adjoins our property. There is no need to consult the BOM website to know the temperature has dipped into the minus, the frozen birdbaths are evident enough.

Risking frostbite to my digits, I transformed my thermal mittens to fingerless gloves (an ingenious design purchased at Cradle Mountain some years ago). Crossing the paddock, it seemed the forest was on fire with the trees reflecting the glow of early sunlight.

To the north, an aircraft’s vapour trail draws a line across the pale blue sky.

Looking back, the frost is heavy on our house roof

and the neighbour’s horses are rugged up against the cold.

Once into the forest, brushfires of rising sun create autumnal hues

and someone is patiently waiting for me to catch up.

Further into the woodland, I have stumbled into paradise,

even Poppy takes a moment to appreciate the spectacle.

We may have trespassed into sacred sulphur-crested cockatoo territory at the end of the trail, the ear-piercing screeches from on high warned others of our presence.

Retracing our steps, highlights from ascending Sol lingered

and the frosty paddocks would soon warm to the glow.

Reclaimed garden edging and fallen leaves hold onto the frost

but the daffodils are promise of the coming spring.

snakey summer

We have become accustomed to sharing our summer garden with tiger snakes, they have the perfect home around the pond and they have been very polite lodgers. Last year Michael had reconfigured the ponds and surrounding rocks and plants and, apart from a brief visit to check out the new design, no-one actually moved in. Our latest resident appeared early in the summer, curled up in a favourite spot to capture the morning sun.

The weather has been unseasonal this year, with a very wet and mild November making the process of warming up quite difficult. Tasmanian tiger snakes are darker than their mainland cousins in order to absorb more heat but there is still a need to flatten out and speed up the process.

The rocks hold their warmth, a great place to stretch in the sun

until it gets too hot and then there is a shady grevillea to retreat to.

Being extremely vulnerable while shedding their skin, snakes are usually discreet about it. We were very surprised when we came in from gardening to find she had done so out in the open.

After a while, she changed her morning sunning spot, perhaps realising it warmed up earlier than her usual position.

One morning we found her completely out of her comfort zone and wondered if she had been caught unawares the previous evening as the temperature can drop quickly once the sun starts its descent. She flattened out on the stones for a while

and finally made her way, very slowly, to her usual place under the box hedge.

Her home was actually in the rocks, we would see her go to bed each night around 5.30pm (no, we didn’t read her a bedtime story).

A few of weeks ago, we noticed she was looking dull, she was quite restless and her eyes were cloudy, a sure sign another skin shedding was imminent.

We kept a close eye on her movements and the camera within reach in the hope of witnessing and filming the shedding experience. It wasn’t to be, our last vision of her was in her tired, old skin and we haven’t seen her now for three weeks.

Hopefully, she has taken her shiny new self out to the forest to find a mate. Maybe she will return next year?

piccioni Italiani

The mention of pigeons in Italy usually conjures images of tourists in Venice being smothered by masses of the unruly birds, left with hair dishevelled, clothing akimbo and the odd splattering of egesta. The feeding of pigeons in Piazza San Marco was legally banned in 2008 with a penalty up to €700 to discourage the practice. While we saw the occasional pigeon on our travels, they were very discreet and didn’t exhibit any manic flock behaviour. A paddle in the waters of Fontana dell’Acqua Felice cooled the feet on a warm day in Rome.

The ancient stonework of the Colosseum now serves as a comfortable columbarium. The word is from the Greek for pigeon or dove and describes the niches in walls designed for roosting and breeding.

The merging of local and imported breeds over the centuries has led to an array of colours and markings. There aren’t many places better to enjoy the morning sun than the walls of Chiesa di San Pietro at Porto Venere.

Pigeons have long been maligned as bearers of disease, possibly due to their indiscreet toilet habits and their link to the infection, psittacosis, which causes a pneumonia type illness in humans. Along with that, it seems they were responsible for the closure of five rooms in the Uffizi Gallery in April 2016. An infestation of ticks was discovered by a security guard and the rooms, displaying 15th century Italian paintings, were closed for two days to undergo pest control. The outbreak was blamed on the pigeons that perch on the Uffizi’s windows. No such problem in the Torre Guinigi at Lucca, there is plenty of aeration and fabulous views.

Pigeons obviously have a head for heights, what bird doesn’t? They can fly at altitudes of 6,000 feet or more with speeds up to 90 mph and can travel 700 miles in a single day. Some are happy to just find a quiet perch and admire the fabulous vista in Pienza.

One of the most intelligent birds on the planet, the pigeon can apparently recognise itself in a mirror as well as all 26 letters of the alphabet. Sounds like interesting research, some do look more inquisitive than others.

The belltower of Chiesa di San Donato in Bagnoregio provides a perfect niche from which to observe the wanderings of tourists in the piazza.

Pigeons have been used as messengers for centuries, the earliest reference dating back to 2500 BC. They have been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in both World Wars with their efficient, reliable service. It wasn’t until 2006 that the last service, used by the police force in Orrisa, India, was disbanded. Presumably, the Orsini family relied on the birds to keep in touch at their palazzo in Pitigliano.

As well as breeding for food, sport and as messengers, pigeons were found to have another valuable resource. In the 16th century, their excrement was found to contain saltpetre, a substance used in the manufacture of gunpowder and fertiliser. It seemed to be in plentiful supply on the window ledges of Acquapendente.

The first mention of domesticated pigeons being used for food was in Egypt in 3000 BC and it is not unusual to find a piccione dish on menus throughout Tuscany. In January 2016, Italian celebrity chef, Carlo Cracco, caused controversy when he cooked a pigeon with turnips on Masterchef Italia. The president of the Italian Institute for the Protection of Animal and the Environment reported him to the police for encouraging people to cook wild animals. He overlooked the fact that pigeons are farmed for food and the law protecting pigeons only applies to wild ones. Of all the pigeons we encountered in Italy, this was by far my favourite.