Destination Devonport: Torpedo Bay Cafe

I am an Assam man,’ my beloved tells me

The cafe is in a museum. The museum is in a 19th century torpedo store. And the torpedo store is built into a 50,000-year-old volcano.

Britain’s Royal Navy first raised the flag in Devonport in 1840, and there’s been a connection between the seaside village and our maritime forces ever since.

Torpedo Bay and North Head, as they were.

These days, the Devonport Naval Base, known as HMNZS Philomel after an old Royal Navy light cruiser which became the New Zealand Navy’s first ship, is home port to New Zealand’s fleet and the Navy’s major training base.

The Navy museum, however, is not on the base but in the Navy’s historic buildings at nearby Torpedo Bay.

In 1885, amid fears Russian warships were about to attack, a torpedo base was built inside caverns hollowed into the volcanic rock of Maungauika (North Head).

According to the museum chap, the torpedoes were never fired in anger, which is just as well, because they were wildly inaccurate and sailors had to rush to the other side of the boats to stop them capsizing.

Cups from the ward room.

The museum’s exhibits cover everything from delicate teacups found in the ward rooms of old-time ships to the stream anchor for SMS Adler, an Imperial German Navy gunboat destroyed in a cyclone in Samoa. The storm that rolled into Apia in March 1869 was vicious and the only ship that survived was HMS Calliope, whose captain managed to get out her out of the harbour and into open seas, a feat attributed to a well-built ship and outstanding seamanship, and, according to the ship’s engineer, the superior properties of the West Coast coal that fired the boilers. The story is remembered in Banjo Patterson’s poem The Ballad the Calliope.

My own connection to the naval base is my great uncle who was in the Navy from 1928 until 1945 and was based at HMNZS Philomel when World War 2 broke out in 1939.

He served on both HMNZS Leander and Achilles. two light cruisers originally in the New Zealand Division of Britain’s Royal Navy and transferred into the Royal New Zealand Navy when it was established in 1941. The museum’s evocative exhibition gives me a glimpse of what he went through.

HMNZS Achilles name plate
Crew quarters on HMNZS Achilles
Recreation of the ward room on HMNZS Achillies.
A sailor’s “ditty” box from HMNZS Achilles. This man, who had been married just two weeks before sailing, didn’t make it home.

Uncle Os was not on Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939, when three smallish British vessels took on the Germany battleship General Graf Spee in the South Atlantic near Argentina, but he was on board Leander when she was holed by a torpedo in the Battle of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands.

Uncle Os in his Navy uniform

I didn’t know about this battle until our visit to the museum. The details of what happened when a Japanese torpedo slammed into Leander’s hull are disturbing. My uncle was part of the crew that had to patch up the hole to stop the ship sinking. I won’t go into the gruesome details here, but you can read about it if you want to.

A torpedo crew on HMNZS Leander
HMNZS Leander coming into drydock at Devonport, Auckland, after the Battle of Kolombangara. My uncle is on board.
Repairing the hole a Japanese torpedo left in the side of HMNZS Leander.
A burial at sea.
HMNZS Leander’s nameplate, now in the Navy museum at Torpedo Bay, Devonport, Auckland.

But back to tea. Will the cafe at the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum prove ship-shape when tea-time comes around, or will it be the cat-of-nine-tails or a spot of keel-hauling for whoever made this slop?

My marks out of 10

CUP 1.5: Acme, but a bonus half-point because the cups have been heated.

TEA 8: NZ Live loose-leaf in pots. This is Bell Tea’s premium tea and I haven’t had it since I visited Piccolo Cafe in Taupo back in 2017. My beloved says his Breakfast Assam is full-bodied and refreshing. “But then, I am an Assam man,” he says. I push the boat out with a Kowhai Ceylon. It’s a bit lighter than the Assam, but still a good brew; excellent for afternoons. On the food front, we go for a late lunch, and are very happy with our filo, savories and caramel slice.

Playground with a big gun.

SETTING 8: Few cafes in Auckland would be more waterfront than this. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly and the French tourists at the next table are practising their English by saying “no worries” to everyone. After our late lunch, we wander around the museum, which is free.

Twelve-year-old Shelley makes her self comfortable at an outside table.


Open every day from 8am until 5pm, except Christmas and Boxing Days.

OPEN AFTER 3PM? Yes. Cabinet food-only from 3pm, but there’s till plenty to choose from. And you can get tea until 5pm.

Torpedo Bay Cafe, 64 King Edward Parade, Devonport, Auckland.

Destination Devonport – baked@devonport

Determination and an early start mean we have breakfast tea after all.

Heaven is a hole in the wall

Day 9 of our summer holiday in the Auckland suburb of Devonport dawns and our situation is desperate. We’re down to the last of our tea and last night I discovered the dairy at the end of the road doesn’t sell bread.

For a couple of hours I try to ignore the lack of breakfast by lying on the couch and reading, but action can be postponed for only so long. While my beloved and his wee friend Billie sleep, and fortified with the last of the tea and two wine biscuits, I set out with Jess for the bakery Google says is an 11 minute walk away.


It’s a long 11 minutes. Jess stops often to investigate smells or collect pats and I take a couple of wrong turnings. At one point we stop for a rest on a delightful mosaic couch. Eventually, as we walk down Devon Lane, Google Lady tells us we have arrived at our destination.


But we haven’t. The row of shops includes a Post Office, a real estate agent and a cafe, but no bread. An elderly black spaniel-poodle stops to talks to Jess, and his walker tells me that my choices are either the bread from the supermarket across the car park (“it’s not too bad”), or to drive about half a mile up Lake Road to Belmont where there is a very good bakery.

“Or you could keep going around this corner and try the little hole-in-the-wall place, if it’s open”, he says.

We take option 3, and that’s how, just in time for me to be restored to health with a cup of tea and a sugar doughnut, we discover the baked@devonport bakery.

My marks out of 10


Cup 2: Paper, doubled up. At least it’s not Acme.

Tea 6: Dilmah English breakfast bag. Made and served in the cup. Possibly a higher mark than it might have got if this tea wasn’t saving my life. And if you’re going to make tea this way, Dilmah isn’t a bad option. Extra point for charging only $3.

stone oven

Setting 7: In an earlier life, I spent a lot of time in this street, drinking coffee (it was during the phase when I didn’t drink tea out for fear of poor quality) in the cafe across the road. In those days, the food at the Devonport Stone Oven Bakery & Cafe was great, the company cheerful and I always left with my arms loaded with delicious breads. So it was high on the list of must-visits for this trip. But two days’ earlier we’d poked our noses in and walked out again. It felt different, and there was no sign of bread. It turns out that the person who owned the Stone Oven back in my day now owns and operates baked@devonport.

Baked is not a cafe, and is so small that we didn’t notice it on our earlier visit to the street (in our defence, it was closed; today there are so many people coming in and out that it’s hard to miss). Recently, though, they’ve installed a coffee machine, bought some tea bags (though obviously it would be better if they got some teapots and loose-leaf tea) and put some seats out on the footpath. And it’s next to an excellent fruit shop selling South Island apricots.

Dog-friendly? No water bowl, but lots of posts to tie Jess to when I go inside. She gathers a circle of admirers while I’m gone.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

*This piece was written in January 2019. For reasons I can’t now remember, it wasn’t posted at the time.

baked@devonport, 12c Clarence St, Devonport, Auckland



High tea in the New Zealand bush

Tea in the camp kitchen: enjoying an al fresco tea-party with Dean (right) and Paul.

Drinking tea in paradise is the perfect start to the year.

The tea-drinking year starts with a bang: in the Far North of this beautiful country drinking tea by a brook in a forest clearing.

And it’s no billy tea we’re swilling at our riverside rendezvous; my dear friend Dean comes up trumps with a spread that features tea-pot tea, fine china cups and superb cakes.

Such quality tea-partying is a grand way to see-in 2021. The old year was not a good one. In September, cancer claimed my Beloved – the man who, for nearly three decades, brought me my first cup of tea of the day and enthusiastically accompanied me on my tea-drinking travels.

Right about now, we should have been drinking our way around the South Island. Instead, though, I am at home in the North, introducing my brother to our sun, sand and culture.

And Dean’s forest feast is our first stop.

My Marks out of 10

Royal Albert Canterbury cup and saucer, c1939, courtesy of Dean’s granny.

Cup scores 10: Royal Albert Canterbury. Belonged to Dean’s grandmother, and he’s got it out especially for my visit. Superb.

Tea scores 9: Dilmah English breakfast, teabag made in pot. Dilmah is an old favourite and a staple of our house for many years (I never did break my Beloved of the habit of making tea with bags). Recently, though, I’ve thought it tasted a little flat. This brew, however, is made with pure forest springwater and is delicious.

Dean scores bonus points by making his own teapot, which, as you can see, is a great little pourer.

Setting scores 10: What could be better on a hot day than a camp kitchen beside a babbling brook and shaded by native forest? I bring fruit-mince tarts made by the chef at the delightful Le Bistro de Paris cafe in Whangarei, and another guest produces a loaf of genuine Lincolnshire plum bread, sent in a Christmas care package from home (it’s wonderful, rather like an old-fashioned tea loaf, and an excellent way to use up any tea left in the pot, should such a thing ever happen).

Dogs welcome? No, this is kiwi country, and they’re particularly vulnerable to our furry friends. Dean says a pair of kiwi often take a night-time stroll along the stream his water comes from.

Location: This spot is by invitation only, but the world is full of ideal places for you to create your own outdoors high tea.

Matt serves the fruit-mince pies while Dean is pleased to have found the milk jug – a hand-thrown pottery one from the 1970s.

Land & Sea Cafe, Bar and Eatery, Marsden Cove, Northland

Tea, cake  and boats

A drive around the harbour for tea by the water.

As the seagull flies, Land & Sea Cafe is just a short trip from our home on the northern side of Whangarei Harbour.

Land & Sea Cafe is a block from this beach overlooking Mt Manaia and Bream Head on the northern side of Whangarei Harbour, and Port Marsden and Marsden Point on the southern shore.

But we’re traveling by car and need to allow at least an hour. More, with the obligatory stop at the dog park in town.

It’s a hot summer’s day and we’re well and truly ready for a good cup of tea. Will this cafe serve the best cup of tea in the Whangarei region?

My marks out of 10

Cup scores 4: Noritake cup and saucer. Not a bad drinking experience.

Tea scores 5: Tea Total English breakfast, bag in pot. I’m excited when I hear they use this excellent Auckland blend, but it’s thin and weak and doesn’t live up to expectations. The problem is in the making; one teabag in a largish-pot is never going to deliver a quality brew. A second bag would help – or better still, some of Tea Total’s lovely loose-leaf tea.

Restful setting.

Setting scores 8: Marsden Cove is a Sylvania Waters-style development on the southern side of Whangarei Harbour. It’s man-made canals and large houses are not exactly our cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s nice to be by water and boats on a hot day.

The marina is in the shadow of Marsden Point (famous of being the home of New Zealand’s only oil refinery) and Port Marsden (famous at the moment as a political football). The cafe itself is right in the heart of the marina, which means you can take tea while watching the boats.

The food is good, too; My Beloved and I split a single order of fish and chips (it was huge – see above) so we’ll have room for dessert – carrot cake for me and some sort of lemony thing for Him.

Open after 3pm? Yes, until 8pm.

dogs welcome
Jess enjoys the cool concrete – but the dog in the background is more interested in food.

Dogs welcome? Yes, on the large, shady deck.

Land & Sea Cafe, Bar and Eatery, 8 Rauriri Drive, One Tree Point.

marina entrance
Boats chug in and out of the marina all day.

Destination Devo … Manuka Cafe

What better way to see out the old year than with a good cup of tea?

The first cup of tea on our summer Odyssey in the seaside suburb is at a bustling corner cafe.

We choose it on impulse; it’s hot, we’re thirsty and it looks friendly. It’s New Year’s Eve and they’re busy, but a waiter finds us a table on the street (they can seat 100) and doesn’t look at all put out when we tell him that all we want is a cup of tea (the food – especially the ice cream – looks good, but we’re still suffering from the excesses of Christmas).

Manuka Cafe is a typical Devonport cafe, in a rennovated old building.

My marks out of 10

CUP 1: Acme. Not a good start. My beloved is drinking coffee today, but he picks up my cup and recoils. Too heavy and he can’t get his finger through the handle. “Welcome to my world,” I say.

Tea with good colour. Pity about the cup.

TEA 7: Harney & Sons English breakfast, bag in pot. Things pick up when I taste the tea. Harney & Sons is a British blender, and describes its English breakfast as having an “ancient pedigree”. I describe it as strong, with good colour and taste.

Top tea on the menu

SETTING 6: Victoria Rd is the main drag through Devonport. It’s full of cafes, restaurants and boutiques, as well as a few “ordinary” shops like a chemist and a stationer. Manuaka Cafe is in an old building on the corner of Victoria Rd and Clarence St.

Corner cafe.

DOG-FRIENDLY? Plenty are walking past but none are stopping.

OPEN AFTER 3PM? Yes. We’re there until nearly 5pm, and as Manuka is open for dinner, it’s a safe bet you can get tea until late into the night.

The ice cream looks good on a hot day, but unfortunately, we’re not hungry.

Manuka Cafe, 49 Victoria Rd, Devonport, Auckland.

Destination Devonport

Water and sand – quintessentially Devonport.

Devonport’s pioneers knew how to make “irresistible” tea. But does the seaside suburb’s modern cafe culture run to a good cupPA?

Talk about swimming against the tide: as Aucklanders migrate north for the summer, we’re heading south for a week or so in the Queen’s City.

But not just any part of Auckland; this tea-finding mission is hyper-local; we’re Doing Devonport, and have high hopes for some good brews in the seaside suburb.

Semi-tropical gardens, popular in Devonport.
Others take a more hardy approach, especially on south-facing seafront sections.
And then there are the public gardens.

We are not total strangers to the place; my beloved lived there in the 1980s, I lived in neighbouring Bayswater in the 1990s, and in the 2000s, our son went to school in Devonport.

We were fond of the place then, but more than a decade of life in the semi-tropical, laid-back, uncongested North has given us an aversion to cities.

The Devonport library looks like a treehouse.

Still, if you’re going to do it, January is the time, when Aucklanders evacuate to experience a bit of what we have every day. And so we are taking up residence in an old wooden villa and making forays out into the village’s cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Grave of Eruera Maihi Patuone (Ngati Hao) on the lower slopes of Mt Victoria. Patuone, the brother of Ngapuhi chief Tamati Waka Nene, witnessed the arrival of HMB Endeavour in 1769, the Declaration of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand in 1836 and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. He lived his later years in Devonport and was an influential figure in fledgling Auckland.
Devonport’s original cemetery.
Graves from the past.

Devonport wears its history on its sleeve, from 50,000-year-old volcanic cones (Mts Victoria and Maungauika aka North Head; Mt Cambria has been quarried out of existence) to military fortifications. The houses are either renovated working-class cottages or elegant villas, and evidence of the area’s ship-building and farming past are not hard to find.

Old buildings renovated into cafes and boutiques
The old Post Office and the old bank have new lives as cafes and pubs.

For centuries, the summits and slopes of Victoria (Takarunga) and Maungauika  have provided Maori and pakeha warriors with the high ground. Both peaks were pa, and in 1840, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Maungauika, with it spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour became a lookout station for the colonial government. During the Russian Scare of the 1880s, heavy guns were installed, and the site continued service as a strategic defence post in World War Two.

Windsor Park and flagstaff, marking the spot where the Royal Navy came ashore in 1840.

Like its British namesake, New Zealand’s Devonport is a naval base, home to HMNZS Philomel (the Navy’s administration base) as well as training facilities. What was the Navy’s dry dock, the historic stone Calliope Dock, is now privately operated.

Big waterfront houses in Devonport have a hefty price tag. This beauty is on King Edward Parade, Torpedo Bay.

Once a largely working-class suburb, Devonport’s white-sand beaches and the fact that it’s just a short ferry-ride away from downtown Auckland has seen it gentrified, and the  average house price is now $1.5 million.

Devonport has been selling tea for more than a hundred years.
“Irresistible” tea is a big claim.

But expensive houses and a cafe culture aren’t guarantees of high-quality tea. Can you get good tea in Devonport? To find out, we are about to put six cafes through their paces. First up is Manuka Cafe.

Tea in style.

Little Kitchen Cafe, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay

little kitchen outside
A Post Office stood on this site from 1876 to 1989.

Post Offices are an endangered species – but their buildings make great cafes.

New Zealand is going through yet another round of post office closures, and this time it’s terminal.

Once at the very hearts of our communities, providing vital links to people and services across the world, Post Offices have been on the endangered species list since the 1980s.

little kitchen penny black
The Penny Black stamp.

There was a time when they were disruptive technology. Although the Roman Empire had a form of state-run postal system, it was the London Penny Post, invented in 1680 by William Dockwra, that changed things. Paying for postage in advance (by sticking a one-penny stamp on an envelope) so that it could be delivered anywhere in London led to a truly remarkable global system in which a letter put in a box in one place would turn up in the exact place it was supposed to (most times, anyway).

The first letter written in New Zealand was carried in 1815, the first postal agency was set up in 1831, and the first official post office was established (in Russell) in 1840.

Through most of the 20th century, Post Offices were everywhere. Cities had a big central Post Office and suburban branches, and every rural village had its own PO, handling state-run banking and telephone services as well as the mail.

little kitchen auckland cpo
Auckland’s imposing Central Post Office, at the bottom of Queen St, is now the Britomart train station. Picture: New Zealand History.

In the 1980s, however, the system collapsed inwards. Telephone services were privatised (into the company which is now Spark) and the banking division was sold to Australian bank ANZ.

The Government kept the postal service (under the new name of New Zealand Post) but initiated a mass “rationalisation” of services. In 1988 alone, 432 Post Offices were closed. Most of the survivors had to move to new locations as their lovely old buildings were sold.

Now a Government is at it again, with news that New Zealand Post intends to close its remaining 79 post shops in a bid to save money.

little kitchen old pic
The main road, Mangonui. The Post Office is at the end of the street, on the right. The courthouse is on the hill.

little kitchen sign 2The Far North village of Mangonui lost its Post Office-proper long ago. Once a substantial waterfront building, these days you buy your stamps in a corner of the local grocery store.

The Post Office itself – built in 1904, complete with Postmaster accommodation, on the site of the town’s original Post Office established in 1876 – lives on, however, as a cafe, and it’s this cafe we choose for breakfast on our tea hunt through the Far North.

My marks out of 10

Cup 1. Acme. Huge. Torture.

Tea 4: Dilmah English Breakfast teabags in a pot. Second round of this tea this morning, and it’s not hitting the spot. I need something with some oomph. Flavour would be good too.

little kitchen wharf.jpg

Mangonui wharf at dusk.

Setting 9: The first time I visited Mangonui was in the late 1980s. I had just moved to Northland, to work on the Northern Advocate, and a photographer and I got dispatched north because a fishing boat had sunk at Mangonui wharf. I don’t remember much about the story, but I do remember being stunned that the water was so clear that I could see a John Dory swimming about (I had just come from southern west coast of the North Island, where the water is never that clear).

little kitchen view
Location, location, location.

So it’s no wonder I’m tempted by Little Kitchen’s location, right over the road from the sea and just a little along from the wharf. It is superb – although I am a perturbed that the cafe supplies water guns for patrons to squirt marauding seagulls. Fortunately, I see no-one using them.

Dog-friendly? Yes

Open after 3pm? Yes (we had dinner here last night).

Little Kitchen Cafe, 118 Waterfront Drive, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay


The Old Oak, Mangonui

old oak signs
The Old Oak Inn has been around for a while.

Tea, history and the All Blacks-Ireland game.

The second and third rounds of tea on our Far North road trip aren’t hard to find – they’re in our hotel.

It’s called a hotel, and it’s in a fine old building, but it’s not the kind of hotel where they serve you tea on the verandah like they do at the Horeke Hotel, or by the fire like at The Prince’s Gate.

This hotel is strictly accommodation and no dining.

However, in the fine tradition of New Zealand hostelries, there is a kettle, milk and tea in our room, so we roll up our sleeves and set-to.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 2: A mug of indeterminate origin. Still, it’s not a coffee cup.

old oak sandy
Tea is on the way.

Tea 4: Dilmah English breakfast bag. We drink a lot of Dilmah; it’s the standard tea in our kitchen. I also drink a lot of English breakfast; it’s what I usually ask for in cafes. But for some reason Dilmah’s English breakfast just isn’t doing it for me lately (we buy the Dilmah Classic Ceylon tea, the green packets you see in the supermarket). The word that comes to mind is flat. As in, no body. It’s generally better when it’s made in a teapot and is able to draw properly. Still, it’s wet and it’s hot and it gives me the feeling I’m drinking tea.

The first cup is made by me, after dinner. The second is made the next morning by my beloved and drunk while we watch the All Blacks lose to Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin (see here for The Guardian’s minute-by-minute report. Even I find it exciting).

There is a chance that the tea might be better if we come again. When one of the new managers (they’re a couple and have been there three months) hears I blog about tea, she tells me a friend has just started working for Wellington tea blender T Leaf T, one of my favourites. This friend might be a good influence.

old oak old pic 2
The Mangonui waterfront hasn’t changed that much.

Setting 7: The Old Oak is in a 157-year-old building on the waterfront in Mangonui, an idyllic fishing village on the edge of stunning Doubtless Bay and just around the corner from Cooper’s Beach. Built by Scotsman John McIntosh back in the days when whaling, timber milling and flax milling were the local industries, it’s done service as a pub, a backpackers and a private home before its current incarnation as a private hotel.

old oak old pic 1
The Old Oak as it was…and is now.

It’s our kind of place – rich in history and beautiful old native timbers. The ceiling in our room is absurdly high, and the old building reverberates to the sound of children laughing in the room above us. The hotel has been modernised for comfort but has kept much of its old style.

old oak bathroom.jpg
Old features, like a fireplace in the bathroom, have been preserved.

Outside, there’s an old-style garden modeled on historic gardens in the nearby Bay of Island (those at Kemp House, the Pompellier Mission House and the Waitangi Treaty House) providing flowers for the rooms.

old oak cave
A cave where, apparently, publicans hid sailors who had jumped ship.

The Old Oak, 66 Waterfront Drive, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay, Northland.

The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe, Kaeo

old saddlery close up.jpg
An open cafe – we are saved.

It’s eight hours since my last cup of tea, and I’m willing to swill just about anything.

The plan – to have afternoon tea in Waimate North on our way north – is failing spectacularly.

The olde world tearoom near the Mission House that my beloved remembers from three decades ago has closed down.

Te Waimate mission house
Te Waimate Mission Station. Picture: Te Ara.

It’s a bit after 3pm when we get there and discover our mistake. Lunch seems a long time ago. But ever intrepid, we cut across towards State Highway 10, confident there’ll be a cafe around Kerikeri or Waipapa.

Clearly, we’ve forgotten the lesson of last summer, when we couldn’t find breakfast on the main road around Kerikeri. By now we’re not fussy; it’s more than eight hours since I last had tea, and I’m willing to swill just about anything.

We pull off the road into at a couple of spots claiming to be cafes, but they’re locked and shuttered .

Things are getting tense in the car, with hunger joining tea deprivation. My beloved finds a couple of potato wedges left over from lunch. We take one each, and push on bravely towards Mangonui, our final destination.

old saddlery outside
My beloved is out of the car and across the road almost before we’ve stopped.

But what’s this, in Kaeo? An old building with cafe emblazoned across the front and open doors. The car screeches to a halt and we tumble out.

My marks out of 10:

old saddlery tea.jpg
Tea in a pretty cup, and a date scone. Life is looking up.

Cup 4: One of those cup-under-the-teapot jobs, make unknown. Far too big, but it is at least a teacup, and it’s pretty.

Tea Choysa bag in pot, 6: New Zealand’s gumboot tea, and my mother’s favourite since forever. Usually I turn my nose up at it, but in the state I’m in today, I’m inclined to agree with Mum – it is nectar of the Gods.

old saddlery inside
Inside the Old Saddlery – not a saddle in sight.

Setting 7: Kaeo is famous for its floods – so much so that in 2007 then-Prime Minister Helen Clark caused a bit of a stir when she suggested that, with climate change likely to mean more heavy rain and higher tides, some of the town might have to move.

The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe is on the road that floods. The main road, in other words. Kaeo, established in 1823 as a Wesleyan Mission and abandoned for a while after being sacked by Ngapuhi warrior Hongi Hika, is on the Kaeo River, 4km from Whangaroa Harbour.

The chap who owns the building and the backpackers’ upstairs appears while we’re sitting on the verandah. A boilermaker from Taranaki, he was living in Australia when he saw the old girl on the internet and bought her, sight unseen. He’d never even been north of Auckland, let alone to the Far North, but he packed his bags and moved to Kaeo, and started the massive renovation work.

It’s a work still in progress.

old saddlery sandy
The flat land over the road was once at the bottom on the sea, the owner tells my beloved.

He tells my beloved that the flat rugby fields across the road – the land that floods – used to be part of the harbour.

“The scows came right up here,” he says. “But it silted up.”

The cafe building started life as a general store, then became a saddlery.

“There were stables right across the road, but all those buildings have long gone,” our host says.

old saddlery old pic 1
The Old Saddlery building is on the left (with the verandah). The dirt road is now State Highway 10 and the buildings on the other side of the road have gone.

old saddlery old pic 2
The Old Saddlery when it was a saddlery.

Dog-friendly? Undoubtedly

Open after 3pm: Yes. The front door closes at 4.40pm while we’re sitting on the verandah, but the side door is still open, catering for the locals who turn up late.

The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe, 34 Leigh St, Kaeo

Sidetrack Cafe, Mt Maunganui

sidetrack mt
The Sidetrack – right under the mountain.

The Mount’s changed – but the tea’s still good.

It’s late morning, we didn’t have time for breakfast, my blood sugars are all over the place and I’ve got a powerful need for tea.

The Ornithologist, who visits the Mt Maunganui often (my workmate Rebecca, who came on a tea-party tour with me last year) knows just the place to get me back on track – the Sidetrack Cafe.

My Marks Out of 10:

Cup Acme: That’s a 1. Here’s why.

Tea Total English breakfast 8: Consistently good, and just what I need.

Setting 8: The Mount’s changed a bit since I was last there, about three decades ago. Everything is bigger, faster, brighter, and the Narnia shop, with its crushed velvet shirts and incense that was a magnet for girls of a certain age, has disappeared without a trace.

But the fundamentals – the mountain, the beach – are still the same, and the Sidetrack is strategically placed for both. And the food – poached eggs and an industrial-style salad, is good.

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

Hive Cafe, Warkworth

hive honey room
Visitors to Hive Cafe get a peak behind the scenes into the honey room.

We’re travelling in convoy back from Auckland when south of Warkworth I indicate we’re turning left off the highway.

The Honey Centre is a favourite stop for picking up large jars of bush honey, which I adore on toast (with tea on the side, of course).

Today, though, we’re in the market for a late lunch, and the Honey Centre’s Hive Cafe is in my sights.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 1 Incafe: Heavy. Can’t  get my finger through the handle. Might as well be Acme.

hive tea
Tea on display.

Tea 7 Tea Drop, bag in pot: Second surprise tea of the day, and again it comes from Melbourne. Tea Drop styles itself as “the modern tea experience”. It’s unclear what that means, but the tea is good, especially after I let it brew for a while (I pour the first cup too soon).

hive cafe
Hive Cafe and Honey Centre – set well back in their own grounds.

Setting 7: The roar coming from nearby State Highway 1 somewhat mars the peace of tea in the garden, but the honey shop, with its glimpses of bees, is more than adequate compensation. The smoked free-range chicken buns we have for lunch are so-so (adequate, but nothing to write home about) but the bliss of honey-tasting makes up for it.

hive honey.jpg
Honey-tasting – the highlight of a visit to the Honey Centre.

Dog-friendly? No evidence either way.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

The Hive Cafe, 7 Perry Rd, Warkworth.


From The Heart, Orewa

Irresistible colours and cake.

Being early for a meeting means we’ve got time for tea – and the Orewa waterfront has plenty of places to choose from.

From The Heart takes our fancy. It’s a quirky-looking organic cafe sandwiched between  another cafe and a gaming lounge that’s playing Duran Duran’s Wild Boys.

My marks out of 10

Cup 1 Acme’s hugest: I almost need a wrist splint to lift it. To run through my objections to these cups – yet again – they’re heavy and thick and drain all the heat out of tea, which should be piping hot. Here’s the scientific explanation.

A tea capable of being loved.

Tea 7 Love Tea organic English breakfast, bag in pot: This tea is new.  To me, at least. The internet tells me that Love Tea is a Melbourne company, founded in 2006 by naturopathy students. It’s not bad. Not bad at all. If it was in a good cup I might be raving about it.

Saturday morning on the strip, Orewa.

Setting 7: The beachfront at Orewa is, by city standards, pretty attractive. You know, white sands, blue water, pohutukawa. From The Heart capitalises on the location by painting its outside tables in candy-coloured stripes. The effect is so cheerful and summery (on what is a slightly blustery spring day) we choose it over all the other cafes vying for our attention.

Things get off to a bad start, however, when I learn the nearest toilet is a five-minute walk away. Not what you want to hear when you’re an ardent tea drinker who’s been in the car for nearly three hours. By the time I get back, the tea has arrived and is going cold. My beloved tells me the coffee, despite being organic, is ordinary.

Sweet and tart

On the food front, my raspberry biscuit is both sweet and tart (if a little overwhelming) and served on a delightful Royal Albert saucer with pink rosebuds on it. My beloved rates his coconut rough as excellent.

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes – 7am-6pm.

From The Heart Wholefood Cafe, 312 Hibiscus Coast Road, Orewa.

Embark Cafe, Wellington

A week of tea-drinking hell in the Capital is finally broken

6-10am and my two Wellington Airport stalwarts, Best Ugly Bagels (for food) and Freshbites (for tea) are refusing to serve me. They say they’re not open, but the lights are on and the people are there.

Clearly, this is not good for my mood. I’ve been up for more than an hour, and had no tea. Not one drop. And now it looks like the crucial first cup of the day will be courtesy of Air New Zealand. You see my problem.

A pretty teapot at Preservatorium on Tuesday didn’t lead to a good cup of tea.

It’s been a pretty bad week, tea-wise. Most of it was spent cloistered in a church in planning meetings. Planning Tea is not much better than Conference Tea, so when I could, I escaped into the city on the hunt for something better.

earl grey
Making do with Earl Grey when Hanger runs out of English breakfast.

It wasn’t a very successful strategy. On Tuesday morning, sure I was about to drink a fantastic cup of tea at Preservatorium Cafe and Cannery (it arrived in an engraved silver pot!) I tweeted its praises before I tasted it. Big mistake. So at morning-tea time  the same day, I kidnapped the people I was working with and took them to Hanger in Dixon St, where I’d had a superb pot of tea the day before (Harney and Sons, English breakfast), only to be told they had just run out and didn’t expect to have any more for several days. Talk about a pub with no beer.

So you can see why denying me a cup of tea at the airport is like poking a stick at an angry bear.  Possibly a breach of the Geneva Convention.

But things are about to get better. At the other end of the terminal, the end I don’t usually go to, I spot Embark Café, and they’re making tea.

My marks out of 10

embark tea and pot
Gold leaf for my tea leaves.

Cup 7: Gold-trimmed Dilmah Craighead tea-mug and saucer. A pleasing drinking experience, and totally unexpected (this IS an airport).

Tea 9: Dilmah Vivid range loose-leaf Ceylon Breakfast. “What’s Vivid?” I think when I spot it on the menu. The serving person gives me a tin to look at.

Dilmah describes it like this: “An essential gourmet tea experience; tea from Ceylon’s western high grown region, where the varying climatic conditions produces a perfectly balanced tea. A ruby red liquor yields the best of Ceylon in a tea that offers richness, depth and the slightly grassy, bright note of high quality, fresh tea. Neither too strong nor too light, a delicious tea to wake up to, to revive or simply relax with. A tea for connoisseurs.”

I describe it like this: “A fine cup of tea. Not quite the guts of English breakfast, let alone Wellington breakfast,  but after what I have just been through, it’s darned close to heaven. Made in a small plunger (too small – it holds only one-and-a-half cups and I have to ask for a top-up).

Setting 5. Easy music on the stereo. Pilots debating the merits of burgers to be had in Wellington. Acceptable almond croissant. One of the nicer airport cafes. Without the sartorial flair, perhaps, of The Bach Alehouse at Auckland Airport, but a good place to be if you have to be in an airport.

Dog-friendly? A Customs dog is doing the rounds, but he doesn’t call in.

Open after 3pm? Unknown, but the real point here is that it’s open at 6.10am.

Embark Cafe, Wellington International Airport.

embark wgtn.jpg
As we fly over Wellington’s South Coast,  which is looking rather wild this morning, I decline a cup of airline tea in case it ruins the memories of the tea I’ve just had.


T Leaf T – Wellington Breakfast

wgtn breakfast 1
Tea the way my beloved likes it – gutsy and made in his cup, with a teabag.

A tea up to the rigours of life in the Capital.

This is a man’s tea – my man’s tea, to be precise. T Leaf T’s Wellington Breakfast tea came into our lives in February, when I went to Wellington’s Kelburn Kiosk (officially now the Kowhai Cafe) to see where my great grandmother used to brew tea for the masses, and to be interviewed by the Stuff news service on why tea drinkers are demanding a better deal from cafes.

Afterwards, I wandered around the neighbouring cable car museum and bought a tin of Wellington Breakfast as a souvenir.

Described as a “strong and flavoursome” breakfast tea, and a “good strong tea to stand up to the job of living in one of the world’s windiest cities”, it seemed like the sort of gutsy tea that would appeal to my beloved.

It does, and I am tasked with replenishing supplies every time I go to the Capital.

So how does Wellington Breakfast differ from the more common English Breakfast?

A chap at T Leaf T puts it like this: “The difference between our English Breakfast and the Wellington breakfast is that the English Breakfast is broken-leaf style, with teas originating from both Nilgiris region and Assam region in India. The Wellington Breakfast also originates from Assam but is a CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) processed tea, which results in very tight little balls of tea leaf.”

Broken-leaf tea is (generally) black tea made from leaves that been torn or broken into largish bits. Think orange pekoe.

The CTC process, on the other hand, is a more industrial process started in the 1930s which involves passing the leaves through toothed rollers that tear it and roll it into tight balls, and which creates a dark cup of tea after a short brewing time.

The Nilgiris (or blue mountains) region is in the south-west of India and is famous for vast plantations that grow a tea that is “bright and brisk”.

Assam tea, however, comes from the north-east of India, near the Himalayas, and is the classic black “breakfast” tea.

Wellington Breakfast comes as a loose-leaf tea, but because my beloved prefers making tea with bags (I know, I’m working on it), I buy the packets of pyramid teabags made from cornstarch. T Leaf T says the tea in the bags is proper loose-leaf tea, not fannings.

Cost: $0.68 per cup (a packet of 20 teabags is $13.50).

Best time to drink: During the first break in the working day, when you’ve got time to contemplate.

Bought from: Initially the shop at the Cable Car Museum in Wellington, then at the TLeafT shop in Willis St, Wellington.

Available online? Yes.

39 Gillies, Kawakawa

Trains still run down the main street of Kawakawa, right past 39 Gillies.

Time tea right at the 39 Gillies cafe in Kawakawa , and an old-fashioned train will rumble past the door, carrying children waving madly out the windows.

39 gillies busker - Copy
Busker Murray Sergeant plays classical guitar outside 39 Gillies.

Kawakawa is that kind of town; cheerfully, quintessentially Northland. Harleys revving. Girls singing. Buskers playing. Trucks and trains. And possibly the world’s only tourist-destination toilet, as Kawakawa was the only New Zealand town with the foresight to take advantage of the presence of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser while he lived here (late to the party, Whangarei is only now building the arts centre Hundertwasser proposed in 1993).

39 Gillies toilets outside
Kawakawa had the good sense to work with Hundertwasser on a project – creating the world’s most beautiful toilets.

Hundertvasser’s art and buildings are about the joy of life, and Kawakawa – a former coal-mining town on State Highway 1, near the Bay of Islands – has taken his credo to heart, with shops and public spaces picking up on his theme.

39 Gillies hjw bottles - Copy
More from the Hundertwasser toilets, just because.

39 Gillies fits right in; it’s a warm, fun and lively place to break a journey, and has become a favourite.

39 Gillies couch
Street furniture, Kawakawa-style.

My marks out of 10:

Cup Acme 2: I believe it’s the Tulip, which the Acme website says is good for long blacks. Worth one mark more than I usually give Acme because this shape does, at least, hold the heat (if you want to know why I dislike these now ubiquitous cups, see here and here).

Tea Ti Ora breakfast tea with manuka leaf pyramid teabag 9: This tea is too good for the cup. They used to serve Lipton’s, and it was good, but then, because their customers were asking for it, they added Ti Ora and took things to a new level. This tea is blended by the Bell Tea Company but is a world away from the bog- standard Bell Tea you find in the supermarket. Deducting a mark though for serving the teabag separately from the pot, which means the water is off the boil when they come into contact.

39 Gillies pancakes
Gratuitous pancake shot.

Setting. It’s probably already clear that I like Kawakawa and that I like this cafe. I stop here quite often. Not only because the tea is good, the staff friendly and the food superb (today I am having buttermilk pancakes with poached pears, maple syrup and creme fraiche even though I’m not hungry) but I also love the music they play. I’m not usually a fan of loud music in cafes, but 39 Gillies has a knack of playing things I really want to hear, even though I don’t know it yet. Today’s playlist includes such gems as Fiji (Sweet Darling) Dave Dobbyn (Magic What She Do) , Al Green (Let’s Stay Together), KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way I Like It, and Maxi Priest’s reggae twist on Cat’s Steven’s Wild World (it turns out the music is from a Spotify playlist called Maori Shed Party, which I load on to my phone for the trip home).

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Sadly, no.

*We’ve met the historic Kawakawa train before, when we reviewed the Railway Station Cafe.

39 Gillies, 39 Gillies St, Kawakawa, Northland.


Pandoro Panetteria, Willis St, Wellington

pandoro sign
Pandoro on Willis, Wellington.

Pandoro has been a fave since 2006 when I discovered the to-die-for fruit-mince pies while working near the Mt Eden store in Auckland.

So there are no arguments from me when the team I’ve just been with at a meeting in Wellington suggest a quick coffee (or in my case, tea) at Pandoro in Willis St.

pandoro insideIn theory, the tea should have been good; not only are the folk at Pandoro serious about what they do, this cafe is just a couple of doors down from the TLeafT shop, so there is plenty of expert tutelage on hand, not to mention a ready supply of good-quality tea.

Sadly, Pandoro doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of its privileged position, and is currently not in the running for the title of best tea in Wellington.

My marks out of 10:

pandoro tea
Two disappointing cups of disappointing tea.

Cup: Acme 1. Say no more.

Tea: TLeafT English breakfast teabag, 3. One teabag in a large pot does not a good cup of tea make. The visitor from Dunedin, who is also drinking tea, agrees.

Pandoro round thingSetting: 6. Nice cafe in a lovely old building, friendly staff and great company.

Dog-friendly? Not obviously, but possible – Wellington is a lot more sensible about dogs than Auckland is.

Open after 3pm? Yes! We get there about 3.30pm and stay for nearly an hour.

Pandoro outside

Pandoro Panetteria, 89 Willis St, Te Aro, Wellington

Old George, Bowen St, Wellington

old george outside.jpg
Bowen House – handy for our nation’s power-brokers.

Irrefutable evidence that coffee makers CAN do tea when they put their minds to it.

The Old George cafe at the bottom of Bowen House is living proof that coffee people can do good tea.

Old George is a coffee roasting company, named after an old chap in Australia, who (I think) taught the owner to roast perfect coffee (that’s according to the website; I make no claims about judging perfect coffee).

old george sign.jpgSo it is all about coffee, confirmed by the sign describing the cafe as a “roastery and espresso bar”.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t take tea seriously too, as I discover on my first visit. The tea is good. Great, in fact, and I know I’ll be lured back again and again. People take note: if you want to find me in Wellington, try looking in this cafe.

My marks out of 10:

Cup – eclectic collection of old fine-bone china, 10: On my first trip I’m given a charming Salisbury cup with yellow flowers. I fall in love immediately. The next time it’s Royal Doulton. Life just gets better.

Tea Tea Total Wild Cherry black tea 9: Undoubtedly, my judgment is being influenced by the quality of the drinking vessel, but I enjoy every sip of this brew. A pot of hot water on the side so I could get full two cups from the teapot and Old George would be looking at a perfect round (Obviously, I’m still not following the Professor’s advice and asking for a pot of water).

old george tea and pot
A selection of good teas.

Setting 7: This Old George cafe is in the ground floor of Bowen House, just across the road from Parliament and The Beehive, and handy to lots of government departments, so  it’s a popular watering hole for officials and politicos. The first time I visit is to meet ministerial staff. The second time is a disaster (it’s Saturday morning, I’ve walked all the way from Cuba St to have my first cup of the day here, only to find it’s closed) and the third time I make a slight detour during a trip to the Ministry for the Environment. Apparently there’s another Old George just around the corner at 16 The Terrace.

Dog friendly? Probably not, but unconfirmed.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

Old George, 1 Bowan St, Wellington.

The Bach Alehouse, Auckland Airport

the bach outside.jpg
The Bach – good for dinner, but what about breakast?

Hilda Ogden, where are you when I need you?

It’s a desolate feeling to realise that breakfast – and therefore breakfast tea – is going to be at Auckland Airport.

The world brightens, though, when, strolling through the domestic terminal, I spot The Bach Alehouse.

It’s a place usually associated with night-time travel. You know, burgers and wine. Which are usually pretty good, by airport standards.

For some reason,  I’ve never thought of having tea here. Inside, I scan the menu, and order poached eggs to fortify me for a hard day conferencing.

What about the tea though? Will this be the  outlet that finally challenges the supremacy of Freshbites in Wellington for New Zealand’s best airport tea?

My marks out of 10:

Cup, Acme, 2: This is more than I am inclined to give my old nemesis, but the fact that an airport cafe is using something other than a paper cup makes me generous. Thanks to repeated exposure to this range of heavy-duty coffee cups, I immediately recognise this one as the Tulip Cup (Grey) featuring “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black.”

Tea, Pickwick English breakfast teabag, 2.5: Crazily, that’s a high mark for tea in at Auckland airport. Initially I gave it a 3, but just couldn’t go through with it. It’s served as a pot of hot water and I’m left to make the tea myself. I do this immediately, and, in an effort to get a decent brew, leave it to draw while I eat my eggs. It doesn’t work.

the bach ducks
Retro decor, including the classic Crown Lynn white swan, and Hilda Ogden-style ducks on the wall.

Setting 4: Given this is an airport, The Bach Alehouse at least offers weary travellers a chance to escape the crowds for a bit. The decor is designed to be reminiscent of a typical Kiwi bach, complete with 70s modular wall units, a Crown Lynn swan and ducks on the wall. Hilda Ogden where are you; I bet you’d give me a better cup of tea.

Dog-friendly? No

Open after 3pm? Yes.

the bach flowersThe Bach Alehouse, Domestic Terminal, Auckland Airport.


Vic Books, Kelburn, Wellington

vic books counter
Cake and culture in one cosy package.

High marks – but not perfect – for tea and scones on campus.

The Professor suggests Vic Books on Victoria University’s Kelburn campus for our meeting.

“They’ve got a fine range,” he tells me, and as he consumes a fair bit of tea himself, I’m inclined to believe him.

Besides, I’ll be interested to see how it shapes up against tea at Vic Books at the Pipitea campus. Contrast and compare, as it were.

My Marks Out Of 10:

Cup Acme 1: That’s a fail. Here’s why (can’t bring myself to explain this again).

vic books tea
A pot of hot water and a decent cup and this spread could be straight As.

Tea Ritual Tea Company organic loose-leaf English breakfast 8.5: The eight is for the tea; the extra 0.5 is for the care the staff takes in preparing it to my taste.

The only place I’ve had Ritual is at Vic Books’ Pipitea cafe, and the first time round I found it strong and bitter. I tell the woman behind the counter, and she says that if that’s the case, I should tell them and they’ll make it again.

The pot that comes (there’s no table service; they shout and the Professor collects it from the counter) is, frankly, delicious. Not too weak. Not too strong. The Professor looks inside, and says they’ve taken the basket of leaves out for me.

“A pot of hot water on the side and they could have earned full marks,” I tell him.

“When we have tea out, my wife and I always ask for one,” he says, demonstrating why he’s a professor and I’m not.

The cheese scone that does double-duty as my breakfast and morning tea hits the spot.

vic books menu
Good teas on the menu.

Setting 7: Any place combining tea and books has got to be good on a wet winter’s day in Wellington. Unlike Pipitea, this version of Vic Books doesn’t boast a massive masterpiece (or not that I spotted), but it’s cosier, there are fewer suits about, and all-in-all, it’s a good setting for a discussion on the destruction of life as we know it.

Bonus – I leave with my backpack weighed down with books.

Dog-friendly? Doesn’t appear to be.

Open after 3pm? Don’t know, but I hope so; students need fortifying at odd times.

vic books outside
Right by the bus stop on Kelburn Parade.

Vic Books, 1 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington.

Beach Rd Deli, Paekakariki


Beach Rd outside
Beach Rd Cafe, just over the railway line in Paekakariki.

Good tea is again spoilt by bad cups – and now I know why

Memories of tea and date loaf at The Perching Parrot lure me off the highway at Paekakariki again in search of a repeat performance.

“It’s important to check they are consistently good,” I tell myself, as I park right outside.

But what’s this? Looking up the road, I spot another cafe just two doors away.

It’s the Beach Rd Deli, and requires immediate inspection.

My Marks Out of 10:

beach rd cup
This is NOT a tea cup.

Cup 1:  Acme and Co. When will this torture end? Acme is a Wellington company based in the Prefab cafe in Jessie St. By its own description, it’s a specialty coffee company. Why oh why, then, are its cups being used for tea? The cups have names like Demitasse, Flat White, Cappuccino and Latte. And they’re probably great cups for those coffees. But not for tea. They’re the wrong shape and too heavy, sucking the heat from the tea before it gets to drinkers’ mouths.

Acme seems to understand and accept that different types of coffee work best in different types of cups. The tulip has “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black”. The Demitasse’s thick wall “retains heat well”. The Cappuccino “features a large surface area which is the ideal canvas for displaying latte art” . Oh, and by the way, “the cappuccino can also be used as a durable teacup”.

And there’s the problem. Tea is an after-thought. You need different cups for every cup of coffee, but just bung the tea in the nearest cappuccino cup. No-one will know the difference.

As scientist Duguld McTavish explained back in August, thick walls and a large surface area are exactly what you don’t want for tea.

beach rd tea
A fine selection of tea.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English Breakfast. Or is it? One of the reasons I love tea from this Petone blender is because it is consistently good.

This cup, though, tastes like it might have a bit of Earl Grey in it. I ask the woman behind the counter if they might have given me the wrong tea, and she says she doesn’t think so, but English Breakfast and Earl Grey are next to each other on the shelf, so it’s possible someone picked up the wrong one. “I’ll make myself a pot and see,” she says. I like her style.

On the food front, I have a rather nice feta, sun-dried tomato and spinach quiche with a tamarillo chutney so spicy it makes my nose run.

beach rd verandah
Sunny seating at the Beach Rd Deli.

Setting 7: Holtom’s Building opened in 1920 and nearly closed in 2007 because of the extent earthquake-strengthening that needed to be done. Presumably it was done, though, because the building is still standing.

Today, the seat just inside the window is bathed in sunshine, making it warm enough to take my coat off.

Dog-friendly? None here on this day.

Open After 3? Yes.

Beach Rd Deli, 5 Beach Rd, Paekakariki