Chocolate, Wine, and Cuddling with Sheep: A Trip to New Zealand’s Countryside By: Edith Parten

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming holidays and ideas for Christmas stocking stuffers. Chocolate always makes for a great stocking stuffer, right? So I thought back to my trip to New Zealand and it brought back my chocolate tasting experience at a small cottage along the countryside…And I thought maybe I should share a little of my experience.

My favorite part about visiting New Zealand a few years back for the Society of American Travel Writers convention was the day-trip via train from Wellington to the small village of Greytown. It’s about an hour ride northeast of Wellington and has a population just over 2,000.

Yeah, sure there’s lots to see and do in Wellington including the “Lord of the Rings” tour, but visiting the countryside was relaxing…and it satisfied my wine and chocolate cravings.

GREYTOWN

After hopping off the train, we headed for downtown. Greytown’s Main Street is lined with Victorian style cottages, boutique shops, historic trees, cafes, quaint hotels and a unique chocolate shop. I can see why it’s been called “the prettiest town” on the North Island.

Visitors should stop by the Cobblestones Museum to discover the history of the town for the first stop. Due to time constraints I did not tour the museum. Gotta save time for the wine and chocolates.

NZ Pioneer House
Cobblestones Museum

SCHOC CHOCOLATES 

Not far from the museum sits my favorite place in Greytown…Schoc Chocolates. Step into this small-cottage shop to awaken your senses with smells of not only chocolate, but also saliva-inducing wafts of spices, flowers and mixtures of some 60+ flavors of hand-made chocolates that you would have never imagined…like the popular lime chili chocolate. It has a little kick to it, but it’s delicious. Hot chili flakes and lime are infused into the chocolate.

You will also find flavors like pink peppercorn, lemon and cracked pepper, strawberry and black pepper, sweet basil, geranium flowers, curry, lavender, and coffee with walnuts…just to name a few. And if that’s not enough, they also make chocolates infused with whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.

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These unique blends of chocolate are the creations of owner Murray Langham, who calls himself a Chocologist. He opened the store in 2002 and has since been devising the tasty chocolate creations from scratch using cocoa beans to make the base chocolate.

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Cocoa beans used to make the base chocolate

Schoc Chocolates is a must-visit for any chocolate lover. You can order online, but you’ll pay about $37.00 (US) dollars for shipping…it’s well worth it.

WINE TASTING

We also visited a wine shop and tasted a variety of New Zealand wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling to Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Greytown is a must-stop on the wine trail.

KAHIKATEA GARDENS & FARM 

After a delicious sandwich at a local deli we hopped on a bus to drive to the countryside of Greytown to the Kahikatea Gardens where tour groups can pet and cuddle with the friendly farm animals, tour the gardens with fruit orchards and nut trees, or just relax. The garden and farm boasts native trees that are hundreds of years old. In fact, the farm is named after the 900 year-old Kahikatea tree in the garden.

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The gardens are filled with roses, azaleas, camellias (Alabama’s State Flower), walnut, hazel and chestnut trees, and lemon trees. You’ll see so many more flowers like lilies, hydrangeas and Kowhai depending on the season. Chutney and jams are made with the produce from the farm and are available for sale in the small onsite shop.

Visitors can get up close and personal with sheep, alpacas, donkeys and miniature horses. They are cute and hard to resist.

The gardens and tours are only available for groups and are $25 or $20 depending on the size of the group.

Planning a trip to New Zealand? Make sure you visit Greytown along the way. Who couldn’t use a little chocolate, wine and cuddling?

NZ Funny sign
Thought this sign was funny. Posted outside of White Swan Hotel in Greytown

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Haunted Tuscaloosa Tour By: Edith Parten

By Edith Parten

The faint cries of a baby heard across Greenwood Cemetery; a man falls to his death in his home; a deadly duel from the balcony of Woods Hall on the University of Alabama campus. These are just three of the many tales you’ll hear on the Haunted Tuscaloosa Tour.

I recently took the Haunted Tuscaloosa trolley tour that began at what is said to be one of the most haunted places in the city, the Drish House.

The Drish house, built in 1837, is a historic plantation house just off of Greensboro Ave. on 17th Street. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Drish House

At night, the house looks spooky from the outside, but when you step inside it just appears to be an old house with a beautiful chandelier in the main room. The tour begins at the bottom of the staircase, the exact spot where Dr. John Drish met his demise.

The story goes…Dr. Drish fell to his death, reportedly intoxicated, from the second story to the bottom of the stairs inside the house. After her husband’s funeral, Sarah Drish saved the candles from the ceremony and requested that those same candles be used for her funeral; however, the candles could not be found at the time of Sarah’s death—her wish never fulfilled.

Drish House floor
Spot where Dr. Drish fell to his death

Maybe this is why the house is known for its story of phantom fire sightings. Some have reported seeing fires burning in the third story tower of the house—assuming that it’s Sarah’s ghost lighting the candles that were supposed to be used at her funeral.

I didn’t see any fires other than the candles lit for the tour. Our tour guide told us that over the years the house had been used as a wrecking company, a church and a school.

The house is also featured in Kathryn Tuck Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.”

The house has been renovated and is now used for hosting events and weddings.

We hopped on a trolley that seats about 30 people. Our first stop was at Greenwood Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Tuscaloosa with the grave markers dating back to 1821.

Dr. Drish is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but he’s not the only soul buried there. Confederate soldiers, some of the city’s important leaders and many children are buried here.

Greenwood Cemetery
Photo credit: Carol Highsmith

A cholera epidemic hit Tuscaloosa in the 1800s and many of the victims were children. Many of them are buried at Greenwood. One of the youngest victims, Abby Snow, died from the disease when she was just 10-months old. Some say you can hear her cries at night. Also, the ghost of 12-year-old Virginia Summers is said to play hide-and-seek in the cemetery. During the time of the Civil War the young girl was thrown from a pony and died after hitting her head on a cobblestone street.

After departing the cemetery, the tour took us to the University of Alabama campus where we visited Woods Quad, The Round House, the Mound, Gorgas House and the Gorgas Library—each said to be haunted with their own ghosts.

William W. Alston, for whom the University business school building is named, reportedly haunts Woods Hall. Legend has it that Alston and Kibble Harrison had an argument over their perspective fraternities, Sigma Chi and Delta Kappa Epsilon. The squabble ended with Harrison challenging Alston to a duel on the second floor of Woods Hall. With pistols in hand, the men counted their paces, turned and shot at each other. Alston was shot and fell over the second-story banister to his death. Alston’s bullet missed Harrison.

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Tour group listens to ghostly tale at Woods Hall

After the dueling story, we walked a short distance to the historic Gorgas House that was built in 1829—surviving the burning of campus during the Civil War. It is said that Josiah Gorgas, the seventh University of Alabama President, can be heard tapping his cane and walking across the wood floors and stairs.

Haunted _Gorgas House night
The Gorgas House at night

We then stopped by the Little Round House, a round white structure that was originally built as a guardhouse and was once home for the drum corps. Friendly cadets purportedly haunt it.

The last stop was the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library, named after the matron and librarian of the University. Most paranormal reports focus on the fourth floor of the library where many students claim to have heard things moving around. Some have witnessed books flying from the shelves. It is believed that Amelia Gorgas herself haunts the library, but we are told she is a friendly ghost.

Our tour headed back to the Drish House where it ended. The entire tour was about 90 minutes and was worth the stories; however, we did not get to go inside any of the buildings on campus. But you can go back on your own time during the day to visit the buildings on campus. The Gorgas House offers tours of the house during the week.

You can also visit other reportedly haunted sites on campus that the tour did not show us, such as Smith Hall that houses the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

If you want to take the tour next October be sure to visit http://www.hauntedtuscaloosatours.com.

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