Little Kitchen Cafe, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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 Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe, Kaeo

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Unside 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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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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 it’s 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.

From The Heart, Orewa

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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.

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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.

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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.

39 Gillies, Kawakawa

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Matterhorn, Wellington

Genuine sixties string picture.

We get to the Matterhorn just in time time say goodbye.

The cafe closes on February 15, 2018 after serving Wellingtonians for 55 years, falling victim to an earthquake and developers.

The Matterhorn opened as a coffee-house in 1963. It was narrow and dark, reached by a corridor off Cuba St, near the Bucket Fountain and right across from Plum. It was the place where I had my first asparagus roll (circa 1973; my great-aunt thought I would like it, I didn’t).

In 1997 the Matterhorn morphed into a restaurant and bar, expanding sideways into extra spaces, but holding on firmly to its sixties vibe.

My brother is of this generation of Wellingtonians, and can’t quite believe that the scene of so many of his best nights out is about to disappear.

But disappear it will. In November 2016, a 7.8 earthquake hit Wellington, shaking the foundations of the Farmers store next door to the Matterhorn. It’s coming down, and, apparently, the landlord has decided to redevelop the whole site, including the bit the Matterhorn stands on.

The Matterhorn’s owner and staff are off to a new Italian restaurant in Tory St, in the remains of the old Lone Star, but that doesn’t help those who love the Matterhorn for its pastiche, it’s verve and for it’s sheer longevity.

So on Valentine’s Day 2018, the day before its scheduled closure, my brother and I hit the Matterhorn one last time. For tea, of course, and to raise a glass.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but small and heavy. Better suited to short blacks.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf. I break a reviewing rule and have Earl Grey Blue Flower, because it’s late and I have already had eight cups of tea. Or is it nine? Matt has Jasmine Dragon Pearl’s Green. I have to ask for milk. The tea is made in fat cast-iron pots which keep it hot. I find it a little weak, then remind myself it’s Earl Grey.

The fact that tea has it’s own section on the menu is heart-warming. So is the complimentary shortbread.

Setting 10: It’s the Matterhorn’s second-to-last night. Need I say more?

The Matterhorn, 106 Cuba St, Wellington. For now.

Dog-friendly? Possibly.

There’s always a tea in Christmas

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Christmas is a summer affair in the Southern Hemisphere.

A merry tea-drinking Christmas from New Zealand to the people of the north.

It’s more sandcastles than snowmen for us in the Southern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean we’re not supping plenty of good hot tea.

In Northland, at the very top of New Zealand, it’s warm and humid, and the air is full of the sounds of birds, insects and kids.

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Christmas lunch, NZ-style.

We started the day as we meant to go on – with tea (Dilmah Classic) in bed. Since then we’ve opened presents (mine included a Zealong Tea gift pack and cup and Whittakers Oolong Tea chocolate), eaten platters of tasty things like cake, local cheeses, and cherries from the South Island,  walked the dog, and generally lazed about.

When it gets cooler, we’ll have our traditional Christmas dinner of baked ham, new potatoes and salad, and this year I have been persuaded (somehow!) to make a trifle instead of the usual pavlova.

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Zealong cup and gift pack.

Later, we’ll watch a movie, or maybe go to bed with our new books, but first we’ll have another walk along the beach.

So right about now, if you’re waking up in the Northern Hemisphere to a day that’s cold and dark, have a cup of tea and think of us here in the sun, glad to have survived another year and ready to relax and enjoy ourselves.

And as we say in New Zealand, have a meri Kirihimete,

 

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PS the fabulous cup and saucer in the picture at the top are from the Australian company T2.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking news….new tea at New Day!

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There’s a new tea in town…

Popped into New Day Cafe at Parua Bay to grab a bite on the run and look what’s on the counter!

Last month I was less-than-complimentary about this otherwise excellent  local cafe serving tea-bag tea, so am very excited to see this and to learn from Frank (the owner) that Kerikeri Tea’s Black Darjeeling is also now on the menu.

No time for a cup now, but will be back asap to give it a try.

 

Wine-biscuit bonanza

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Today’s morning tea – dunking on the deck.

Help! Someone at the New World supermarket chain thought it was a good idea to sell  Griffins wine biscuits at three packets for $5.

I have a problem with wine biscuits.

It’s possible that wine biscuits are responsible for me starting to drink tea; when adults drew the line at we kids dunking yet another biscuit in their tea, we asked for our own.

The rest is history.

These days I don’t eat them often; not having biscuits in the house is the best way to avoid eating them.

But who could resist a three-for-$5 wine-biscuit bargain?

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Vanilla Wines – simply the best.
Obviously, I’ve eaten far too many.

There is an upside, however. For a long time, the issue of which of Griffins’ three wine-biscuit varieties is the best has been a source of contention.

Now, at least, after extensive sampling of them all, we have agreed that the best is not Round Wines (too dry), not Super Wines (too sweet) but Vanilla Wines, like the one disappearing into my grandmother’s Belle Fiore cup in the picture above.

Just as I said.

 

 

 

 

A stolen cup for stolen afternoons

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My favourite modern tea-cup.

‘Naturally, I protested, a bit, but then I took it home…’

The 700th time I admired this cup and saucer, my cousin gave it to me.

I didn’t mean to make him do it, but I couldn’t contain myself every time I saw it in his kitchen cupboard. I mean, look at it! It’s the kind of cup that makes you happy.

Paul is my antiques-fair buddy, and while he doesn’t share my thing with cups, he does understand what it’s like to become obsessed with an object. And so one day he opened the china cabinet door, took it out, and gave it to me.

Naturally, I protested, a bit, but then I took it home and now it’s my favourite modern cup and saucer. It gets everything right – balance, feel, weight, aesthetics – it’s the cup I sit down with in the sunshine in the middle of the afternoon, when no-one else is around, and let the day’s busyness go. It’s my time-out cup, my lovely afternoon cup, my reliable cup.

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It’s made by T2, which is an Australian tea-brewing company (it came with an infuser and a box of tea – more on that another time), and, sadly, doesn’t seem to be available any more.

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And yes, Paul is allowed to use it when he visits.

There’s no place like home

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You can tell it’s my favourite mug by the fact it’s so well-used.

This week I’ve been east, I’ve been west, but the tea at home is best.  Especially as the lads rustled up a sweet treat to go with it.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 9: My favourite tea-drinking mug. Fine bone china, good balance, a nice lip, and my great grandmother’s clan on the front.

TEA 10: Dilmah classic. Classic.

SETTING 10: O the deck, in the sun,  banana trees a-rustling, Whangarei Harbour a-sparkling.

DOG-FRIENDLY? Definitely.

I’m not mad, it’s science

 

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A hydrologist explains why cups matter.

August 16, 2017:  I have been known to get a little tetchy if I’m served tea in coffee cups, especially those thick, heavy, shallow ones designed for drinking flat whites and the like.

Well, I have science on my side. I was sitting at the Freshbites cafe at Wellington airport today with three scientists when my tea arrived – served in a well-shaped, reasonably thin, teacup!

Rudely, I interupted our conversation about serious environmental issues to let out a whoop of pleasure. Earlier in the day, I had had breakfast with my brother at Loretta in Cuba St. It was a superb meal (poached egg on Loretta’s own seeded bread, free-range bacon, tomatoes and basil with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic) but it was seriously let down by the cup the tea was served in.

You can read my complaints here. Suffice to say that it’s not a good idea to mess with my first tea of the day.

But here I was, in an airport of all places, being given a half-decent cup.

I took a photo and started babbling on about cups that make your tea cold. One of the scientists, hydrologist Dugald MacTavish (he knows about water) became interested.

“You’re right,” he said, muttering something about surface-to-volume ratio, so I got him to write it down in my notebook. Now, whenever I’m given tea in an inappropriate cup, I will fling that phrase at the perps, followed by my notebook if they don’t listen.

*You can read my review of the tea at Freshbites here.