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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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).
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.
Open after 3pm? Yes (we had dinner here last night).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Open after 3pm? Yes – 7am-6pm.
From The Heart Wholefood Cafe, 312 Hibiscus Coast Road, Orewa.
The Misses Plummer were my great-great grandmother, Ellen Eliza Plummer (a widow), and her three maiden daughters, Olive, Lillian and Nellie.
Sometime between 1912 and 1914 they were joined by Ellen’s son Horace and his wife and daughters, my grandmother among them, fresh from Broken Hill, where Horace and his brothers had worked in the silver mines.
In 1914 he and Ethel took over the Kiosk lease, and while the Dominion Post says that in 1915 it became a hospital for soldiers coming back from the front, documents show my family was still there in 1916 when my great uncle Jack was born. By 1917 though, they had moved to Wadestown, where Horace became a grocer.
The Kiosk itself went on for years, and was still standing – as a pub called The Skyline – when I was a child. In 1982 it burned down in suspicious circumstances (two fires, less than a month apart, at a time when some people were pushing to have it pulled down and others were fighting to save it) and was replaced with the current Athfield-designed building.
But back to tea. My grandmother always insisted that The Kiosk was a classy place that knew how to do tea, and a walk around the cable car museum suggests she might have been right. Silver teapots, fine white china with a gold rim, and a photo of an elegantly set table from 1915 – when my great grandmother Ethel was at the helm and my grandmother was three years old – evoke a time when tea was king.
So it’s fair to say that it’s not without some trepidation that I pick the Kiosk (it will always be the Kiosk to me, even though it is now officially called Kowhai Cafe) when a newspaper reporter says he wants to see me do my tea stuff. Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to Kelburn, and find out.
My Marks Out Of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. I seem to be running into them a lot these days – at the Matterhorn and at the Rusty Tractor. They’re not getting any lighter. It is a tea-cup shape, but I would much rather be using my great-granny’s china.
Tea 7: T Leaf T English breakfast bag in pot. Disappointed it’s not loose-leaf (my grandmother refused to her dying day to use teabags) but the flavour is good and the pot is a great little pourer. No hot water though for a top-up, and I’m struggling to get a second cup.
Setting 10: It’s not the Kelburn Kiosk as it was, but this is a place that has seen six generations of my family (my mother and I brought my son here when he was small, and last year he and I had lunch here, sans tea). And while I will always wish they’d build a replica of the “real” Kiosk, there are nods inside to the old building (wooden panelling and a photo on the wall), and just look at the view.
Dog friendly? Unknown.
*If anyone know what “Broadways, Christchurch” was please drop me a line. We think it was probably a department store (family lore says Ellen worked in a store in Christchurch after coming to New Zealand from South Australia), but we are not sure.