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.

Tamar Valley

I recently spent a couple of nights in Launceston, catching up with a special friend from W.A. who was travelling around Tasmania with another two friends. They had booked accommodation at Armalong Chalets and fortunately, there was room for me. I arrived on a very inclement afternoon and we wasted no time seeking a beverage at Stillwater Restaurant, overlooking the Tamar Basin. Across the water, four large grain silos from the 1960s are now Peppers Silo Hotel. Deserted for decades, the Kings Wharf grain silos were rescued and transformed into a stunning $25 million hotel with many of the facilities constructed inside the original barrels. (A weekend stay is still on the bucket list).

After a fabulous meal at The Grain of the Silos Restaurant and a good night’s sleep, I awoke to a glorious sunny day and the most spectacular view through the floor to ceiling windows.

The chalets are situated at Tamar Ridge Cellar Door, perched high in the trees overlooking vineyards and the ever changing Tamar River.

We set off for a day discovering the Tamar Valley and a short drive down the West Tamar Highway, stopped at Brady’s Lookout, once the hideout for bushranger Mathew Brady. A gentleman’s servant in England, he was convicted of stealing a basket with some butter, bacon, sugar and rice and received a seven-year sentence of transportation to Australia. Arriving in December 1820, he wasn’t the most exemplary prisoner and escaped with a group of fifteen in June 1824, spending the next two years on the run before being captured and hanged on 4th May 1826.

The Tamar River isn’t actually a river, it is a tidal estuary into which the North and South Esk Rivers empty, that stretches 70km from Launceston to Bass Strait.

After investigating a couple of wineries and the former gold mining town of Beaconsfield, we arrived at Beauty Point to enjoy a relaxing lunch by the water.

The first deep-water port on the Tamar River was established to service the nearby gold mine and then, after the gold rush, it became the centre for the export of apples. It is now home to the Australian Maritime College training ship, Stephen Brown, a permanently moored neighbour of the Tamar Yacht Club.

We wended our way back to Tamar Ridge where, not only is there a cellar door on site but also a gin distillery, Turner Stillhouse. Arriving within a few minutes of closing time, we were treated to a tasting session of the award-winning Three Cuts Gin with distiller, Brett Coulsen. The unusual name refers to the three cuts of Tasmanian rose that are added to the gin, including some grown near the distillery.

Returning to the chalet as the shadows lengthened, we settled on the deck with a beverage and platter to absorb the breathtaking vista over vineyards and river.

Sadly, the next morning we went our separate ways but not before another magnificent sunrise.

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.

Huka Falls

Our wonderful four days at Buckland B&B had come to an end and it was time to move on to new adventures. We had booked a house on Lake Taupo for the next three nights but there were amazing things to see on the way. Huka Falls may not be the highest we have seen but they are certainly spectacular.

The largest falls on the Waikato River, the name Huka is the Māori word for ‘foam’ of which there is much generated by the falling water.

From the lower lookout, the power of the falls soon dissipates while the river continues its journey to the Tasman Sea.

We wandered upstream to a footbridge crossing to the other side. New Zealand’s longest river at 425 kilometres, the Waikato is normally up to 100 metres wide. It narrows abruptly to just 15 metres as it crosses a hard volcanic ledge, a huge volume of water collides before rushing over the cliff face and under the bridge we were standing on.

At this point, the water is flowing around 220,000 litres per second, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 11 seconds.

We followed the footpath to the top of the falls where the water bursts out of its rapids and over the 11 metre drop

back into the Waikato River.

Mr. Pickles

After a wonderful morning meandering our way around Hamilton Gardens, we were ready for a spot of lunch. We asked the lovely ladies in the gift shop if they could recommend somewhere, preferably by the river. Without hesitation they suggested Mr. Pickles, a new establishment they hadn’t actually tried but had heard excellent reviews. Despite their detailed directions, we had to ask a couple of locals before finally finding it tucked away off the main thoroughfare.

The interior was light and airy

but on this beautiful day we dined alfresco

overlooking the Waikato River.

The tapas style meal was incredible and we complemented it with a glass of 2018 Seresin Pinot Gris from the Marlborough region.

The first dish, tantalisingly named Saucy Boys, combined fried squid with spring onion, peanuts & house made xo sauce.

Next came baked potato dumplings with crispy bacon, brown butter & chives and beef cheek croquettes with habanero mustard.

Grilled scotch fillet with roast capsicum & zucchini salsa and spiced sticky eggplant with sesame & ginger followed.

With little regard for our cholesterol levels, we couldn’t resist the duck fat crushed potato with parmesan & truffle salt.

Once sated, we wandered along the riverside

for a different perspective of Mr. Pickles

and the magnificent Waikato River.