Any trip to Wellington now involves changing planes in Auckland, and with connections being what they are, that often means a mad dash from one departure lounge to another (a former colleague was amused to see me running through the terminal recently in a fur coat and hat, but that’s another story).
Or we can face a long period cooling our heels.
Tea at the domestic terminal is a desultory affair, so if it’s a nice day, I often walk over to the international terminal, where things are marginally better.
This is one of those days, and with three whole hours to kill before my next flight, I order a pot of tea and settle down in a seat in the sun to do some reading.
Concentration eludes me though, because a chap at the next table (his name is Henry) is talking tea. “I’m a tea drinker, preferably white tea,” he tells the coffee-drinkers at his table.
I go over and we talk tea. Henry has asked for a bigger cup, and says the cafe should be using pyramid-shaped tea bags , as they give the tea leaves room to brew.
“And you really should try white tea,” he tells me. “I think you’ll like it.
My marks out of 10:?
Cup 2: Coffee cup. Say no more.
Tea 3: Dilmah classic teabag in pot. Well, it’s in the pot once I put it in there. And the pot is only half full of water. Sometimes there’s a woman behind the counter who drinks tea herself and makes a reasonable fist of making a good brew with what she’s got. Sometimes there’s a young woman who has never drunk tea. There’s a special tea menu on the counter and a wide range of teas – although no white tea.
Setting: The trend for ’70s fashion has got as far as the airport. It’s not an unpleasant place to be as far as airports go, and the 10-minute walk over is a change from all that sitting.
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.
Hot water from a coffee pot on a warming plate is NOT the way to make tea. Especially the first cup of the day.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Standard hotel cup, the sort you’ve had at every conference you’ve ever been to.
Tea 3:Dilmah English breakfast teabag: What would have been a dismal mark, based on the complete lack of understanding of why water for making bog-standard black tea should be HOT, is boosted slightly by the fact at least the teabag is Dilmah.
Setting 5: I’ve stayed here before, and the memories aren’t good – based largely on the fact that back then there was a building site across the road with jackhammers that started long before anyone should be awake. This trip there were no jackhammers, and the stained glass in the reception lifts this budget hotel above the crowd.
Dog friendly: No
Econo Lodge Central City Auckland, 37 Wellesley St West, Auckland.
Two years ago, Sky Cafe turned its back on Sri Lankan tea heavyweight Dilmah in favour of a local blend.
And while we’re Dilmah fans from way back (it’s been the principle brew in our house since the early 1990s), there’s no denying that the tea being served in the Sky Cafe is darned good.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 6:Accolade, Southern Hospitality catering ware. Described as chip-resistant, long-lasting and designed for continuous use, it makes sense to use it in a high-traffic place like this. And while it’s not fine-bone fancy, it is a good teacup shape, large, reasonably light (for what it is), and has a lip – all qualities to endear it to the discerning tea-drinker.
Tea 8: Tea Total extra-strength loose-leaf English breakfast. You know you’re in a place that takes tea seriously when the menu bothers to describe the tea as an Assam-broken orange pekoe blend. Tea Total is a New Zealand company based on Auckland’s North Shore. I’ve had their tea once before, an Irish Breakfast at Loretta, in Wellington’s Cuba St, when I described it as having “interesting notes”.
Today, it’s brought to our table by Sky Cafe assistant manager Theresa Reiferschied. An Irish woman who has also lived in Germany for many years, she is the type of woman who takes tea seriously.
“We changed (from Dilmah) a couple of years ago,” she tells me. “I felt we needed something a more, and Tea Total actually took me to their factory and showed me how they blend the tea.”
There are four black teas on the Sky Cafe menu (including, appropriately, because of the volcano that dominates the view out the window, Smooth Rangitoto Blend) as well as green and fruit teas.
My only criticism is that if I had been given a jug of hot water, I could have more than one-and-a-quarter cups.
Setting 7: When you’re 182 metres in the air, the view is, of course, fantastic. It’s a bonus to have a table with a view of Princes Wharf and the sailing ship Tenacious my friend would be joining to sail around Cape Horn.
Dog friendly? No.
*The Sky Tower is the 23rd tallest building in the world. Completed in 1997, it is 328 metres from the ground to the top of the communications mast, and was built as part of the Skycity casino.
Sky Cafe, Level 50, Sky Tower, corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland.
My brother knows Wellington’s Dirty Little Secret, which is fortunate for me, because I love it immediately.
We’ve just finished a slap-up meal at Little Penang (one of our favourite places) in Dixon St, and are in need of a walk before bed. I also need tea.
I tell him this as we stroll along Dixon St.
“I know somewhere we haven’t been,” he says, and ushers me to the historic Hope Gibbons Building on the corner of Taranaki St. It’s early, but there’s a chalkboard on the footpath and a bouncer on the door.
We ride the lift to the roof , and there’s Dirty Little Secret, a rooftop bar made from old shipping containers.
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.
Sometimes you order tea knowing it will be bad, but you do it anyway. This is one of those times.
Finding a decent teahouse at this time of night (7.30pm) might be theoretically possible if
I’m willing to come off the main road, hunt about among restaurants and the sort of cafes that open at night, and spend lots of time waiting for my order. But I’m not, so I ask for tea alongside my order of hot chips when I stop for petrol, and I find it’s not as bad as I think. Sometimes, low expectations are a blessing.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 2: Yes it’s a paper cup, but it’s really big (big enough for two cups of tea) and the thoughtful woman who makes it doubles the cups so I won’t burn my hands while I’m drinking.
TEA 6: Dilmah English breakfast teabags, made – get this! – in a teapot. The woman behind the counter brings it to me on a tray, with a pot of hot water, and the aforementioned paper cups, with instructions to allow it to brew and to then pour it into the paper cup. Full marks to her for doing her best under the circumstances.
SETTING 4: It is a motorway roadstop, but Roadrunners Cafe is tucked around the back and there are potted plants
Roadrunners Cafe, State Highway 1, Rodney (at the BP Service Station complex at Dairy Flat).