As the seagull flies, Land & Sea Cafe is just a short trip from our home on the northern side of Whangarei Harbour.
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
A bag in a pot.
It’s good tea – but poorly made.
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.
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.
One serving of fish was enough for two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 fits right in; it’s a warm, fun and lively place to break a journey, and has become a favourite.
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.
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).
One of the best things about life as at tea blogger is meeting young people who love tea.
When I ask Georgia at Cibo Cafe in Whangarei what sort of tea they sell, she rushes out the back and comes back with a big foil packet. She opens it and breathes deeply.
“It smells so good,” she says and grins.
“It should,” I say, “it’s good tea.”
We talk tea for bit and I tell her I’m a tea blogger. Georgia’s delighted and skuttles away to have a look on her phone, while I get down to the serious business at hand.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5:Nikko fine porcelain, large and surprisingly light for what it is.
Tea 8:TeaTotal English breakfast, made in a pot with loose-leaf tea Cibo has put into a Mt Everest tea-filter bag. Georgia brings them out to show me and says it means customers get to drink good-quality loose-leaf tea without a mouthful of leaves, and the staff don’t have to empty teapots. I’ll drink to that, I say.
Setting 6: Not very long ago, this was a car yard. Then Porowini Ave became the place to sell cars and a medical centre was built here. Cibo is at one end – the river/Town Basin end – and opens into the emergency pharmacy, which opens into the doctors’ rooms. It’s enormously civilised, not to mention calming, to be able to have a good cup of tea and something nice to eat (I had a baked salmony thing) before an appointment. The decor is pretty standard but with a nod to Northland’s sub-tropical climate. And the Town Basin, with its boats and crafts, is just a short walk away, across the remains of the car yard and a road.
Sadly, I’m more familiar with the tea in this hospital than I would like to be.
And while there was a time, when I was lying broken in a hospital bed in the orthopaedic ward, that I was absurdly grateful for a cup of hospital char, let’s not pretend it’s anything other than it is – institutional tea, in an institutional cup.
Back then, I was confined to a bed and not free to sneak down to the hospital cafe where things might be better.
Now that I’m strictly a day visitor though, I head in there and find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5: Fairway fine china. Large but not too heavy.
Tea 5: Sir Thomas Lipton English breakfast teabag. Served with the bag sitting in the cup and a separate pot of water. Which means the water isn’t piping hot when it hits the tea. Sigh. Still, not a bad taste. A bit flat, but better than you get on the wards. Taken with a slab of sultana cake.
Setting: Sunny and warm after sitting in the chilly radiology department for a while. A bit on the noisy side.
Dog-friendly? Dogs in hospitals are becoming a thing. Sadly, not in this one though. Am pretty sure that having a waggling Cody (Jess’ predecessor) visit me would have aided my recovery.
Open after 3pm? Yes – but at 3.15pm half the cafe is closed, with the chairs up on the tables.
Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital, Maunu Rd, Whangarei.
If this hotel were any more waterfront, it would be in the water.
It’s a pretty safe bet they’ve been serving tea at the Horeke pub for nearly 200 years.
The sign out the front mentions only beer, but what homesick missionary, bushman, sailor or ship builder wouldn’t have been hanging out for a nice cup of Rosie Lee to start the day, even if they ended the day with something stronger?
It’s a sultry day in late summer when we visit, the sky and the water both full to bursting. We’re too early for lunch (the pub doesn’t open until 12) so we walk around the harbour, startling the seagulls and annoying the oystercatchers.
In Paihia, just 45 minutes from Horeke today by car, but in those days a difficult journey through dense bush or several days’ sail), the first ship built in New Zealand, the Herald, was launched.
Horeke was in the game the following year with 50 men working in the Raine, Ramsay and Browne shipyard, building the schooner Enterprise (1827), the brigantine New Zealander (1828) and the three-masted ship Sir George Murray (1830).
Today, Horeke has a population of fewer than 400 people
My marks out of 10?
Cup 3.Simon Gualt cup and saucer. A bit heavy, but an attempt at doing it right.
Tea 2:Chanui English breakfast. This is hard to score. New barmaid Nicola hasn’t made tea before, and it shows. But on the plus side, she has the gumption to ‘fess up and ask me how it is. I try to be honest but encouraging. She’s made it in the cup and there’s too much milk. However, she listens carefully to my description of how I make tea, and says that’s what she’ll do next time. And the food (pub grub) is delicious.
Setting 10: If you were any more waterfront, you’d be in the water. I can’t help worrying about what will happen to the old hotel as the Hokianga Harbour creeps up as a result of climate change-induced sea-level rise (it’s not just the melting polar caps and glaciers causing the sea to rise; as water gets warmer it expands, a process known as thermal expansion). The hotel itself has been renovated in parts, in a 20-year project by the owners. The bits that haven’t been done-up add to the charm. But for now, to sit in the sun on the deck overlooking the harbour, which on this day is silent and still except for the birds, makes coming so far north worth the while.
Cup 4:Maxwell Williams Cafe Culture. The colour is fabulous, and the shape isn’t bad, but it’s heavy and the handle is too small to get your finger through.
Tea 6: Kerikeri Tea English breakfast. The serving person tells me it’s loose-leaf in a bag. I think she means it’s good tea, not floor-sweepings.
Setting 6: Our airport is friendly, cosy and subtropical. Not a bad place, as far as airports go, to spend a bit of quiet time.
Dog-friendly? Jess (and Cody before her) comes to the airport to see me off and welcome me home. She’s not allowed inside, but that’s okay, because the car park is so close to the runway that I can see her anyway.
The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport, 59 Handforth St, Onerahi, Whangarei.
It’s no breakfast and lousy tea for hungry and thirsty travellers
A rusty tractor AND a yarn-bombed bicycle – this is too good to be true, I think, as we walk up the wooden steps and into The Rusty Tractor cafe.
Sadly, it is. The Rusty Tractor has been recommended to us as a good place for a slap-up breakfast on our way out of Kerikeri, and we’re hungry, thirsty and full of anticipation by the time we get there.
There’s a problem though; the kitchen is snowed under coping with a table of eight, and there will be a 45-minute wait for food. We order tea and contemplate our next move.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. This cup is so heavy that just picking it up constitutes a work-out.
Tea 3:Dilmah English Breakfast teabag. Flat. Disappointing. Like the whole experience really.
Setting 6: On the road into (or out of) Kerikeri, in a spacious board-and-batten building with lots of quirky bits like the tractor and the bike. But a good setting doesn’t make up for lousy tea and no breakfast.
Dog-friendly? Not there long enough to find out.
So what do we do? Push on south, confident we’ll soon find another breakfast stop without a long wait for food. We don’t. “Kawakawa, then,” we say, but there’s nothing doing there either (someone’s cutting down a tree in the main street and all the car parks are blocked). And so we end up at the good-old Towai Tavern, where the service is fast, the breakfast is huge (my beloved eats half mine) and they’ve heard my complaint about a half-full teapot and give me a full pot.
“Your boy has always loved my turnovers,” says the woman behind the counter at the Miner’s Rest as she bundles an apricot one into a paper bag.
I’m taken-aback. While this place has long been a favourite, thanks to serving what must have been the world’s biggest – and tastiest – sausage rolls (my chaps are as diligent in the Search For The World’s Best Sausage Roll as I am in the Hunt For the Best Cup Of Tea), I’ve never bought a turnover here before.
What’s more, I know The Miner’s Rest has changed hands, and I have never seen this woman before.
Or have I? Eventually I twig that she owns another cafe we used to frequent, and that she used to put apricot turnovers aside for my son, who loved them with a passion boarding on worship.
So it’s sausage rolls off the menu and apricot turnovers on, but what about the tea?
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Heavy. Bad shape. Possibly a higher mark than it deserves, but I am blinded by apricot turnovers (did I mention I like them too?).
Tea 5: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag in a pot. The first cup is weak, but improves with a top-up from the pot.
Setting 6:Hikurangi is an old coal-mining town north of Whangarei, a couple of minutes off State Highway 1. The coal was discovered in 1883 by gumdiggers, and the last mine closed in 1971. The cafe is decorated in homage to the miners, and today Coal Town Traders, a secondhand and antiques shop next door, is open. Bonus – I found a Crown Lynn green bamboo jug like one from my childhood at a bargain price.
Dog-friendly: Jess’ predecessor, Cody, was known to enjoy a bowl of water or two at the Miner’s Rest.
The talk in the Hukerenui pub is of country things. Rain is needed, the woodchopping at the A&P Show was good, and so were the horses, but they could have done with a bit more shade.
The rhythms of country life are soothing, jogging memories of life in the rural North.
It’s a blowsy summer afternoon when I haul in thirsty from the road, and hungry to boot, and it turns out the Hukerenui Hotel is up to the job.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5: White Arcoroc cup and saucer. Another blast from the past – this was big in the ’80s.
Tea 7: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag. At first Laurel, who runs the place, can’t remember the brand. “The red one,” she says. The tea is good – as hearty as the club sandwich Laurel makes me (the display counter is empty; Laurel would rather make each sandwich fresh, so the bread doesn’t curl). I compliment her on the tea, and she says the secret is to heat the pot, and to not bring the extra hot water out until the customer wants it, so it doesn’t get time to cool.
Setting 8: Who can resist a 127-year-old historic pub? The Huka, as it’s known, was opened in 1890. The railway went through around 1901, and gradually the main road north, from Whangarei to Kawakawa, got broader and busier. The interior of the pub’s not in original condition – more late 1980s than early 1890s – but there are huge historic prints on the walls, horses in the paddock and lamb and mint pies in the chiller.
Dog friendly? Bound to be.
Hukerenui Hotel. 2444 State Highway 1, Hukerenui, Northland.
But a bit past there is the Schnappa (their spelling) Rock restaurant and bar, and after ascertaining that it is, indeed, dog-friendly, we take a seat for a long-postponed birthday lunch.
The food is delicious; fish (sustainable) for him, chicken (free-range) for me, after which I introduce my beloved to the wonder that is sticky-date pudding, and it is the best I have ever had.
But the real proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the tea-drinking.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 2: Coffee cup. Sigh. Again, I lecture the person waiting on our table. Again, I get a courteous hearing. The young man looking after us today goes as far as saying that while he doesn’t know much about drinking tea, he is very interested in its history. For the record, or in case you’ve forgotten, here is the scientific explanation for why tea must never, ever, be served in a coffee cup, especially not one of the modern, heavy, shallow cups used by rock-star barristas.
TEA 8: t leaf Tea loose-leaf English breakfast. It’s not a good start when I realise that tea isn’t even on the menu. This is early in the piece, when we’re ordering lunch, and I challenge the waiter immediately. He assures me that not only do they serve tea, but that they have a good range of it.
Bad name, good tea.
Me: “Why isn’t it on the menu then?”
Him: “The menu gets changed a lot and sometimes things fall off.”
I go into a decline; any place in which tea matters so little that it falls off the menu is unlikely to make a good brew.
Nevertheless, I’ve got a job to do, and so I order a pot. Obviously, given what’s gone before, I’m not surprised to be given a coffee cup. But I am surprised by the tea itself. It’s good! Summoning the waiter again, I ask what it is. He fetches the caddy from the kitchen, with a warning that I can’t take it home. t leaf T (annoying name, makes it very hard for writers who care about starting sentences with a capital letter) is a Wellington company. As someone who spends quite a lot of time in the Capital, I make a note to pay them a visit.
SETTING 10: It’s the second time in a row I’ve awarded full marks for setting, but Schnappa Rock is friendly, laid-back and rustic, with a front-row view of the harbour.
DOG-FRIENDLY? Definitely (the Hairy Maclary-looking dog on the left is our Jess).
The start of a campaign to lift the tea to the high standard of food and coffee at this otherwise-excellent local cafe.
Afternoon tea at New Day Cafe is irresistible. Not for the tea, but for the cake, which is, quite frankly, to die for.
And after two weeks of being confined to barracks with the ‘flu, I was more than ready for a sumptuous tea out.
It was election day in New Zealand when we decided to make this particular tea-and-cake run, so after performing our democratic duty at the local hall, we zipped the few minutes to the Parua Bay shopping centre.
Fondly, I think of New Day Cafe as die Konditerei (German for pâtisserie), mainly because I have loved the word since I first heard it in a high-school German class, but also because of the wonderful cakes make by Michelin chef Sabine, who owns New Day Cafe with husband Frank.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 8: White fine-bone china with a gold rim. Good shape and feel. Pretty.
TEA 6: English breakfast. Sadly, the tea doesn’t live up to the standard of the food or the coffee. It’s flat. I talk about this with Frank, and he says that at home in Germany they always had good loose-leaf tea. “But people here don’t seem to care about tea as much as they do about coffee,” he says. But there is hope; New Day stocks a range of Kerikeri Tea’s loose-leaf herbal teas, and Frank is thoughtful when I suggest adding one of the company’s black teas to the menu. The campaign continues.
SETTING 9: New Day Cafe is charming, despite being located in a block of suburban shops. It’s the little things that do it; checked tablecloths and flowers in an old teapot. Pots of fresh herbs. Wicker chairs with throws. And did I mention the food?
It’s serendipity pure and simple that brings me to the Towai Tavern, a pub often passed but never entered until now.
The plan was to stop at old favourite 39 Gillies Street Cafe, but it’s closed when I hit Kawakawa at 10 past 3 (what is it with cafes being closed at afternoon tea time?).
So I roll on south, my tongue hanging out (the last cup of tea was at 7am) and wondering if the Hukerenui cafe and pub will be open.
But 7 kilometres north of Hukerenui, there’s the Towai Tavern waving a free-range menu at me, and on impulse I stop.
It’s not without trepidation. Northland is full of historic old pubs with decor circa 1970 and a clientele more interested in whether Lion Red is on tap than in discussing the merits of afternoon tea.
So it’s fair to say my expectations are low, a position that would have probably been justified if I’d arrived just a few short weeks earlier.
But the 145-year-old Towai Tavern is under new management, taken over by a family with no pub experience but with a penchant for good food and hanging white lace curtains at the windows in the public bar.
The bloke behind the bar greets me as I enter and doesn’t look at all put out when I tell him I’m hoping for tea.
There’s a sign on the bar advertising pork sandwiches and I ask if it’s free-range.
“Absolutely,” he says. “My aunty won’t have factory-farmed meat in the place. And it’s all New Zealand produce too,.”
He points to a sign saying the Towai Tavern features all-New Zealand produce (later, I find a Facebook post by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who visited on August 13 and was photographed with the winners and the losers of the inaugural Mangawhai/Towai pool contest, and made the point that the pub’s grub would be 100 per cent New Zealand produce if only coffee beans didn’t have to be imported).
The barman and I chat about the advantages of good-quality New Zealand produce while he makes my tea and I choose a piece of carrot cake from the display cabinet (the home-made pies look fantastic, but would spoil my dinner). Then he suggests taking a seat in the “history corner” of the dining room (old photographs on the walls) and says he’ll bring my afternoon tea over.
Towai in the old days. The dirt road in the foreground is State Highway 1.
The photographs are right up my alley. There’s a cracker of the Towai Railway Station (1897), another of a group of guys and gals (some of the former in uniform) in 1939, looking like they might have hit the town, and one taken a few kilometres up the road at the Ruapekapeka turnoff, when Towai was a proper bustling township.
There are plenty of the 145-year-old tavern too, but my favourite is a picture of the Ralls family – Emma, Eileen (nee Collier), Lyonel, Ernest V and Ernie – taken in 1929. They look like they’re good sorts and they’re having fun, especially Eileen, who’s swigging from a beer bottle.
A woman walks through the dining room and my hunch that she’s the aunty turns out to be correct. A dairy farmer from Mangawhai (they sell raw organic milk from a shop on the farm) who had no plans to take on a pub, but it was for sale and her husband thought it was worth a shot (“if it doesn’t work out, it’s an eight-bedroomed house on State Highway 1), so they are giving it a shot, and it turns out Sandra loves running a pub.
I get the feeling she’s responsible for most of the changes, and she confirms that she did hang the lace curtains in the bar, and that she has a lot of other ideas too, all revolving around good Kiwi food and hospitality.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 5: Respectable mass-produced Home and Co cup and saucer. Proper tea-cup shape.
TEA 6: Dilmah organic English breakfast. This is tricky. I like the fact it’s organic, and that it’s made in a pot by the bloke behind the bar while I dither over the cake selection, and that he uses a pot. I don’t like the fact it’s a teabag, and that the pot (admittedly big enough for two people) is only half full (yes, I can drink four cups of tea on my own, and expect to if you give me a pot that size, even if I only ordered tea for one), and it wasn’t quite as piping hot as I would have liked it. But it’s early days for the Towai Tavern yet and I feel that things are only going to improve. And I like what they’re doing so much I want to be kind.
SETTING 8: This is where the Towai Tavern comes into its own. Not as elegant as the Prince’s Gate Hotel where we had a glorious high tea last month, the Towai Tavern has, nevertheless, a charm of its own. Some might call it rustic (the dining room is open to the public bar, and it’s not hard to imagine a bit of down-to-earth language might float through from time to time), others might say it’s quirky. But I would call it authentic, not because the owners have recreated a slice of times gone by (they haven’t) but because it’s the food, decor and people you’re likely to find in a genuine Northland farmhouse.
Railway station cafes are legendary for strong tea and slabs of fruitcake. Kawakawa’s keeping the legend alive at the restored historic station, complete with steam engines and a fully functional tearoom.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 6: Gibson Housewares, small and heavy but a good shape.
TEA 7: Dilmah English breakfast.
SETTING 9.5: Will give it a 10 when steam engine Gabriel is back in service – diesel loco Timmy is doing a good job, but is just not the same.
Gate-crashed a catch-up between my husband and an old colleague for this one, but once again I’d been driving for hours and really needed a cup of tea.
Serenity cafe in the Whangarei Town Basin is a favourite, mainly because of it’s sublime beef-and-mushroom pies. The tea’s not bad either.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 3:– Look at it – heavy, flat, everything you don’t want in a teacup.
TEA 7: English breakfast – (true story, during the British Lions rugby tour this year I saw a team supporter order an English breakfast thinking he was getting a cooked breakfast. He was horrified to learn he’d order a cup of tea – he didn’t even drink the stuff!).
SETTING 7: The Town Basin is lovely. This cafe is back from the water, next to the clock museum gardens.