High tea in Rotorua … in which I breach Norwegian table etiquette.
Bars and barricades around Rotorua’s Old Bath House shatter our plan for tea on the terrace.
It is a blow; we’ve been focused on tea and scones (properly served) since we left Taupo more than an hour ago.
Ever-intrepid though, we set off on foot across the Government Gardens in search of a new teahouse. The Art Deco Blue Baths building is a likely contender, and early indicators (a bar, with coffee machine, in the foyer) lift our hopes.
The ticket-seller woman confirms that they do, indeed, serve tea in the first-floor tearoom overlooking the baths. But not in winter.
We deflate. The chances of a town having three proper teahouses seem remote. We look along the lakefront, but our hunt is desultory. My travelling companion is as wedded as I am to the proper tea experience, and we are not in the mood for the clatter and clunky cups of the modern cafe.
“Let’s try that old hotel on the corner,” Rebecca suggests.
I agree; it’s a long-shot, but worth a punt.
The 75-room Prince’s Gate Hotel was built in Waihi in 1897, and carried to Rotorua by bullock train and steam engine in 1917, where it was reassembled near the entrance to the Government Gardens.
Miraculously, it has retained its character, we note approvingly as we walk across the
wooden verandah and into the charming reception (stained-glass windows, leather chairs, huge bevelled mirrors). There’s no-one behind the counter, so we venture further. Rebecca spots a large sign offering High Teas.
In the bar, a couple of businessmen (their conversation suggests they’re in advertising) are ordering port. I ask the barman if high tea is still available. Recent experience has damaged our confidence.
“Of course,” he says, and ushers us through to one of the dining rooms, where a waitress lays a table by the fire for us.
We opt for the traditional high tea – no cocktails, no champagne, but plenty of salmon and cucumber sandwiches (crusts off), fresh scones (there will be a short wait while they are baked) and a mountain of little pastries.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 8: Proper fine china cup and saucer, rose-patterned. As soon as the waitress disappears, I turn the saucer over, as I always do, to see the maker’s mark. (Harbro fine porcelain, Wakbrzych, Poland). Rebecca is amused. She’s half Norwegian, and starts explaining the complicated tea-party rules of her mother’s country (different cups for mornings and afternoons, a strict ratio of cakes-to-guests etc). “And you must never, ever, look at the mark on the plates or the cutlery,” she says. “It is a huge insult to the hostess.”
TEA 9: Dilmah English breakfast for me, a herbal infusion for Rebecca. Made in pots and poured by the waitress!
SETTING 10: So good that we book rooms for the night (they’re surprisingly cheap) and wish we’d brought suitable dresses.
*Rotorua”s Old Bath House, which housed the town’s museum, is closed because it was damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake in November 2016. It is not known when it will reopen.
Prince’s Gate Hotel, 1057 Arawa St, Rotorua.