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The cafe at the top of Wellington’s cable car; it didn’t always look like this.

Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to find out.

It’s a relief to know they still make good tea in the tearooms at the top of Wellington’s cable car  – my grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother can rest easy in their graves.

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The Kiosk as it was in my grandmother’s day.

All three lived in the original Kelburn Tea Kiosk more than a hundred years ago, and all three were women with exacting tea standards.

The Kiosk opened in 1905 in a “magnificent Edwardian building” owned by the cable car company. In May 1912, the Evening Post announced that the lease had been taken over by “the Misses Plummer, late of Broadway’s Christchurch, and Kirkcaldie and Stains”.

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Ellen Eliza Plummer and daughters (from left) Lillian, Olive and Nellie.

The Misses Plummer were my great-great grandmother, Ellen Eliza Plummer (a widow), and her three maiden daughters, Olive, Lillian and Nellie.

Sometime between 1912 and 1914 they were joined by Ellen’s son Horace and his wife and daughters, my grandmother among them, fresh from Broken Hill, where Horace and his brothers had worked in the silver mines.

In 1914 he and Ethel took over the Kiosk lease, and while the Dominion Post says that in 1915 it became a hospital for soldiers coming back from the front, documents show my family was still there in 1916 when my great uncle Jack was born. By 1917 though, they had moved to Wadestown, where Horace became a grocer.

The Kiosk itself went on for years, and was still standing – as a pub called The Skyline – when I was a child. In 1982 it burned down in suspicious circumstances (two fires, less than a month apart, at a time when some people were pushing to have it pulled down and others were fighting to save it) and was replaced with the current Athfield-designed building.

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A picture taken in the Kiosk in 1915, during the reign of my great-grandmother Ethel Plummer.

But back to tea. My grandmother always insisted that The Kiosk was a classy place that knew how to do tea, and a walk around the cable car museum suggests she might have been right. Silver teapots, fine white china with a gold rim, and a photo of an elegantly set table from 1915 – when my great grandmother Ethel was at the helm and my grandmother was three years old – evoke a time when tea was king.

So it’s fair to say that it’s not without some trepidation that I pick the Kiosk (it will always be the Kiosk to me, even though it is now officially called Kowhai Cafe) when a newspaper reporter says he wants to see me do my tea stuff. Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to Kelburn, and find out.

My Marks Out Of 10:

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Great tea, great pot, not-so-great cup.

Cup 2: Acme. I seem to be running into them a lot these days – at the Matterhorn and at the Rusty Tractor. They’re not getting any lighter. It is a tea-cup shape, but I would much rather be using my great-granny’s china.

Tea 7: T Leaf T English breakfast bag in pot. Disappointed it’s not loose-leaf (my kiosk-tea.jpggrandmother refused to her dying day to use teabags) but the flavour is good and the pot is a great little pourer. No hot water though for a top-up, and I’m struggling to get a second cup.

Setting 10: It’s not the Kelburn Kiosk as it was, but this is a place that has seen six generations of my family (my mother and I brought my son here when he was small, and last year he and I had lunch here, sans tea). And while I will always wish they’d build a replica of the “real” Kiosk, there are nods inside to the old building (wooden panelling and a photo on the wall), and just look at the view.

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The Kiosk (or Kowhai Cafe) has spectacular views over Wellington Harbour. I can’t help wondering if my grandmother and her siblings played under this ancient pohutukawa.

Dog friendly? Unknown.

*If anyone know what “Broadways, Christchurch” was please drop me a line. We think it was probably a department store (family lore says Ellen worked in a store in Christchurch after coming to New Zealand from South Australia), but we are not sure.

Kowhai Cafe, 1 Upland Rd, Kelburn, Wellington. 

 

9 thoughts on “Kelburn Tea Kiosk (aka Kowhai Cafe), Wellington

    1. New Zealand was the last remaining large landmass to be inhabited by humans. Maori arrived about 800 years ago, and Europeans in the 19th century. This line of my family came from Australia, but the first of my ancestors to come here arrived in Nelson on the first British immigrant ship, the Fifeshire, in 1841. Genealogy is a fascinating way to connect to history. I’ve done it on and off most of my life, but the internet has made it so much better – I’ve “met” so many distant relatives through our shared family history, and over the years built wonderful deep friendships with them.

      BTW, had a look at your blog and love the supply (we call them relieving) teacher post. Share to Facebook for my teacher friends.

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