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
After lunching in the beautiful town of Seggiano, we just had to visit nearby Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. The Swiss artist created the sculpture park in the early 1990s and it opened to the public in 1997. Set among 16 hectares of rolling Tuscan countryside,
there are now 113 installations scattered seemingly at random. Even with map in hand, I think we missed quite a few. There are too many works to cover in one post, with 54 different artists represented, so I will firstly cover those by Daniel Spoerri himself. The adventure begins as soon as we leave the ticket office
with an oversized cup atop an antique capital standing on the lawn.
A baking oven has been constructed in the style of a Trulli, a traditional dry stone hut from the Puglia region of Italy. Five smoke stacks, modelled on a family of tailors dummies, have been added so when the oven is in use, fine smoke flows from the heads.
Daniel Spoerri is best known for his snare-pictures, a process where a group of objects, such as the remains of a meal along with the table setting, are fixed as they are and transformed from a horizontal plane to a vertical one. There are two snare-pictures cast in bronze at the garden. Luncheon Table in All Eternity is suspended on the exterior wall of the restaurant, Non Solo Eat Art, while Eternal Breakfast, complete with bread and eggs, complements it on the adjacent wall of the estate villa.
Many of the sculptures feature ordinary objects used in unconventional ways. Remnants from a foundry form the face of The Bersagliera, a sharpshooter who seems to have received a few shots herself, awaiting visitors outside the restaurant.
A Flower Bouquet made from mirrors, a variety of rods and a chestnut roasting pan is arranged in a flattened bucket.
The artist was invited by Acquedotto Santa Fiora to create a Golem, a human-like being from Jewish folklore usually made from clay. They gave him parts of water supply systems including old pumps, valves and sieves and Acqua Golem was born.
One of the first installations in the garden, Unicorns – Navel of the World, is on the site where, according to legend, the village of Seggiano once stood. There is now a spectacular view of the town on the opposite hill. The long horns protrude from horses skulls and are held by gloves like lances leaning towards the centre of the circle.
The inspiration for Damocles’ Rose Bower Walk came from a trip to England where Spoerri sketched a pergola comprising a row of interwoven sickles. Roses and Jasmine will eventually grow over the framework.
Marble slabs depicting the last meals of twelve famous women are mounted on a wall, an unusual monument to Marie Antoinette, Hannah Arendt, Hildegard von Bingen, Tanja Blixen, Madame Curie, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari, Frida Kahlo, Cleopatra, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the goddess Leda.
Eight gaunt Nightmares appear from the shadows and I am pleased to say I have never encountered anything like these in my sleep.
The scary theme continues with the four bronze cast skulls guarding Gorilla Bridge
and the macabre totem of Skull Tree.
The title of You white? You black? comes from the merging of two figures where the African and European heads have been switched.
In a shady, wooded area, a Marble Table is set with movable pieces that are work samples from a studio in Carrara. The table is supported by cast bronze scraps rather than ordinary table legs.
Next to the table, a twisting column holds up a small golden head which appears to grow out of a flower bud. Renaissance is dedicated to the Sicilian town of Gibellina which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968.
At the rear of the restaurant there appears to be a pile of old slippers, the kind that are made of felt and handed out at palace tours to protect the floors. No entry without slippers pays homage to artist Joseph Beuys who frequently used felt in his work.
The villa, where Daniel Spoerri lived for a long time, has been divided into four spacious holiday apartments all with fabulous views of the garden.
The Chain Heap is just that. Spoerri saw the mass of iron chains hanging in an Italian scrap merchant yard and had them transported to the garden where he augmented the collection. The result is reminiscent of a chieftain or medicine man decorated with fetishes.
Something you don’t expect to find in a sculpture garden is a meatgrinder, however, Spoerri finds the diversity of form of this piece of kitchen equipment astounding and intriguing. The 3 metre high Meatgrinder Fountain was sans water on this day but I imagine it would be quite a spectacle.
The same kitchen appliance has been combined with hat models for Warriors of the Night, a small battle-scarred army rising up from a pond.
Five life size mannequins lie distorted in a ditch, reminiscent of mass gravesites as humans destroy other humans. The Mass Grave of the Clones isn’t exactly uplifting, though, as the artist explains, “Over and over again, the Giardino shows us dark sides, for without these there could be no beauty”.
The Labyrinthine Wall Path is based on a pre-Columbian Neolithic cave drawing, altered slightly to create a labyrinthine form, it was then ‘drawn’ on the meadow using a low wall. The cosmic union of Mother Earth and Father Son is symbolised by representation of a hermaphroditic creature with a phallus and breasts.
Tintin-Elefant is so named due to its similarity to the spherically headed hero of the Belgian comic series Tintin by Hergé. Obviously, the hoseline nose contributes to the second half of the title.
When Spoerri’s good friend Roland Topor died in 1997, he felt there should be something to memorialise him at the garden. Topor was a satirist and illustrator and so Spoerri selected a drawing from which to create the sculpture that is The Eccentric Reader.
Skull Chapel verified Spoerri’s fascination with the cadaver’s cranium. The collection housed in the chapel includes Tibetan monks’ skulls, two mummies’ heads and monkey skulls.
There are so many more incredible sculptures at Il Giardino, they will be featured in a later instalment.
The third collection to explore at Hamilton Gardens was the Productive Gardens, representing different aspects of the relationship between people and plants. The area that is now the centre of Hamilton Gardens was once a Māori settlement known as Te Parapara. The garden of the same name was once home to Haanui, a famous Ngati Wairere chief, and the site was particularly renowned for sacred rituals associated with the harvesting of food crops. Te Parapara Garden is divided into two sections. The first surrounds the path from the main piazza and comprises wild food plants from the forest and grassland. This is separated from the cultivated garden by an intricately carved waharoa or gateway. The designs are based on ancient carvings from a house called Te Urutomokia, built for Potatau Te Wherowhero who became the first Māori King in 1858.
Beyond the gateway is an area for cultivated food plants, surrounded by a palisade fence with forty carved posts.
Six varieties of Kumara are grown in the garden and produce from the annual harvest is distributed to charities.
The path surrounding the fenced garden is edged with more food plants as well as beautifully adorned traditional Māori storehouses.
With the goal of producing enough to feed a family of four, the Sustainable Backyard Garden shows some of the ways in which the typical suburban backyard can be transformed into a productive and edible landscape.
There are some quirky sculptures to be found; a stone bench with some unusual inlays, a wild wiry scarecrow and a delightfully decorative adobe pizza oven.
Complete with hens, bees and a worm farm, the garden is managed and maintained by volunteers from the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.
The concept of herb gardens is a fairly recent one. In medieval times, all plants were believed to have medicinal value and all were referred to as a ‘herb’. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the word ‘vegetables’ was used to describe food plants and ‘herb’ was the name for practical plants. The Herb Garden at Hamilton follows the formula of early 20th century horticulturalist and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, with a framework of paving and four rectangular plots containing herbs defined by purpose – culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and perfume.
Like the herb garden, the adjacent Kitchen Garden is divided into four raised beds, though on a much larger scale.
The features are of a classic 18th/19th century garden used to supply the households of large European estates, with rows of crops mixed with displays of colourful flowers.
The walls of the garden not only create an atmosphere of mystery and security, they also hold the daytime heat. Research has shown that the amount of heat reflected close to a sunny brick wall can equal seven degrees latitude. As in northern Europe, the fruit trees are trained and espaliered against the wall, the result being that these fruits often ripen before others in the region.
There aren’t many gardens with a lovely bronze scarecrow. The Strawman was created by English sculptor, Lloyd le Blanc, and was installed in 2016.
All surplus produce from the Kitchen Garden is donated to Kaivolution, a local food rescue project that aims to stop edible food being thrown away. This is food, good enough to eat but not good enough to sell or is excess to producer requirements, that is diverted to those in need.
After our relaxing lunch in Saturnia, we detoured on the way home to explore Pitigliano. You might think we’d seen enough gorgeous medieval hilltop towns perched on tufa rock but it’s not something I could ever tire of.
The town is also known as Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem, as it became a haven for the Jews escaping from the ghettos of the cities in the 16th century. They lived happily here until 1622 when the residents were confined to the Jewish Quarter and remained so until the Jews were emancipated in the mid 19th century. Many of them moved to the cities and by World War II none were left. Houses seemed to emerge from the rock
as we made our way into town.
We didn’t get far before our attention was diverted by La Dispensa del Conte (The Count’s Pantry), a wonderland brimming with local produce.
With a few purchases in our bags, we wandered to the edge of town
and discovered a spectacular structure with two large arches and thirteen smaller ones incorporated into the walls of the town. The Medici aqueduct was built between 1636 and 1639 to bring running water to the village and the Lorraines added the series of small arches in the 18th century.
From there we had a great view of the road into town and the stunning arched bridge over which we would soon be driving.
Adjacent to the aqueduct, the 14th century Palazzo Orsini is now a museum. The twenty one rooms are filled with antique furniture, jewellery and wooden sculptures as well as sacred art and precious fabrics.
As we drove out of town, there seemed to be one gourmet paradise after another.
It would have been wonderful to spend more time in Pitigliano, there was so much more to see.
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.