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.
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.
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.
Afterwards, I wandered around the neighbouring cable car museum and bought a tin of Wellington Breakfast as a souvenir.
Described as a “strong and flavoursome” breakfast tea, and a “good strong tea to stand up to the job of living in one of the world’s windiest cities”, it seemed like the sort of gutsy tea that would appeal to my beloved.
It does, and I am tasked with replenishing supplies every time I go to the Capital.
So how does Wellington Breakfast differ from the more common English Breakfast?
A chap at T Leaf T puts it like this: “The difference between our English Breakfast and the Wellington breakfast is that the English Breakfast is broken-leaf style, with teas originating from both Nilgiris region and Assam region in India. The Wellington Breakfast also originates from Assam but is a CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) processed tea, which results in very tight little balls of tea leaf.”
Broken-leaf tea is (generally) black tea made from leaves that been torn or broken into largish bits. Think orange pekoe.
The CTC process, on the other hand, is a more industrial process started in the 1930s which involves passing the leaves through toothed rollers that tear it and roll it into tight balls, and which creates a dark cup of tea after a short brewing time.
Assam tea, however, comes from the north-east of India, near the Himalayas, and is the classic black “breakfast” tea.
Wellington Breakfast comes as a loose-leaf tea, but because my beloved prefers making tea with bags (I know, I’m working on it), I buy the packets of pyramid teabags made from cornstarch. T Leaf T says the tea in the bags is proper loose-leaf tea, not fannings.
Cost: $0.68 per cup (a packet of 20 teabags is $13.50).
Best time to drink: During the first break in the working day, when you’ve got time to contemplate.
Bought from: Initially the shop at the Cable Car Museum in Wellington, then at the TLeafT shop in Willis St, Wellington.
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).
Pandoro has been a fave since 2006 when I discovered the to-die-for fruit-mince pies while working near the Mt Eden store in Auckland.
So there are no arguments from me when the team I’ve just been with at a meeting in Wellington suggest a quick coffee (or in my case, tea) at Pandoro in Willis St.
In theory, the tea should have been good; not only are the folk at Pandoro serious about what they do, this cafe is just a couple of doors down from the TLeafT shop, so there is plenty of expert tutelage on hand, not to mention a ready supply of good-quality tea.
Sadly, Pandoro doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of its privileged position, and is currently not in the running for the title of best tea in Wellington.
It’s a desolate feeling to realise that breakfast – and therefore breakfast tea – is going to be at Auckland Airport.
The world brightens, though, when, strolling through the domestic terminal, I spot The Bach Alehouse.
It’s a place usually associated with night-time travel. You know, burgers and wine. Which are usually pretty good, by airport standards.
For some reason, I’ve never thought of having tea here. Inside, I scan the menu, and order poached eggs to fortify me for a hard day conferencing.
What about the tea though? Will this be the outlet that finally challenges the supremacy of Freshbites in Wellington for New Zealand’s best airport tea?
My marks out of 10:
Cup, Acme, 2: This is more than I am inclined to give my old nemesis, but the fact that an airport cafe is using something other than a paper cup makes me generous. Thanks to repeated exposure to this range of heavy-duty coffee cups, I immediately recognise this one as the Tulip Cup (Grey) featuring “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black.”
Tea, Pickwick English breakfast teabag, 2.5: Crazily, that’s a high mark for tea in at Auckland airport. Initially I gave it a 3, but just couldn’t go through with it. It’s served as a pot of hot water and I’m left to make the tea myself. I do this immediately, and, in an effort to get a decent brew, leave it to draw while I eat my eggs. It doesn’t work.
Setting 4: Given this is an airport, The Bach Alehouse at least offers weary travellers a chance to escape the crowds for a bit. The decor is designed to be reminiscent of a typical Kiwi bach, complete with 70s modular wall units, a Crown Lynn swan and ducks on the wall. Hilda Ogden where are you; I bet you’d give me a better cup of tea.
Paekakariki is as far as I get out of Wellington before I have to stop for tea.
I know there will be a cup waiting for me at my destination in Levin, 50 kilometres away, but you know, addiction.
My plan is to get a takeaway coffee to keep me going, but what’s a girl to do when the waitress at the Perching Parrot, just off the main highway and across the railway lines at Paekakariki, is thrusting a tea menu at me?
Settle in for tea and cake, that’s what.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 7: The cup itself isn’t so good (heavy) but gains marks for shear audacity; who mixes a bright yellow Rockingham coffee cup with a rosebud-patterned Crown Lynn saucer (in what seems to be bone china; must check with Crown Lynn guru Val Monk whether this New Zealand pottery made fine china) and tops it off with a classic Crown Lynn Autumn Splendour side plate?
Tea 7: TeaTotal loose-leaf Special Blend Breakfast. The first cup is a little weak, possibly because I poured it too soon. Second cup is better, and matches to perfection the moist date, walnut and ginger loaf. There’s no pot of hot water.
Setting 7: The Perching Parrot is sandwiched between the wild west coast sea and the Paekakariki Hill, described by the website Dangerous Roads as one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Inside the cafe, I’m captivated by the faux French decor, which extends even to the toilet. Proceedings are watched over by a well-loved bear that a local tells me has lived in a few shops.
Dog-friendly? A black dog walks past but doesn’t stop. Perhaps he knows something.
Open after 3pm? At 3.30pm the kitchen is closed, but they’re still serving tea (and coffee if you must) and food from the cabinet.
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.
The first leg of a nostalgic trip through Horowhenua
My sister and I spent a lot of the ‘seventies leaning over the back seat of our grandparents’ Zephyr 6 as we drove around Horowhenua, Puppa telling stories about his farming childhood and Gran looking for good spots for tea.
Sometimes the tea was in a Thermos on one of the wild west coast beaches, or made in a billy on a fire by a river. Other times we went to one of the cosy tearooms that seemed to be everywhere in those days.
Baby brother Matt missed out on these excursions, and I’ve always felt a bit sad about that. So early on an autumn morning, while it’s still dark, I collect him from his home in Wellington’s Mt Cook and we head north on our own road trip, Matt getting in the mood by playing ‘seventies music on the car stereo and me trying to retell the stories I heard so long ago.
The first stop on our road trip is Otaki’s River Cottage, a cafe in a converted stable on State Highway One.
I know this place of old; it was one of Gran’s favourite stopping places. In those days it was called The Stables and you sat in the bit that is now a shop.
There’s a hand-written history on the wall, starting from 1939, when the newly opened tearooms were filled with a metre of silt from the flooding Otaki River.
“In 1939, World War Two began,” the author says. “By this time I had two young brothers, Jim and John. Dad cleaned out the tearooms and erected a large neon sign overlooking the highway, in the shape of a large horseshoe, and called it the Green Horseshoe Tearooms. Mother took over then with a waitress and they served light meals such as spaghetti and baked beans and eggs on toast, hot scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, which became very popular, and of course, gallons of tea.”
That’s the way I remember it, scones and gallons of tea. Served on cake stands three tiers high and with butter shaved into little curls. But will the tearooms atmosphere have survived the Age of Coffee? Anxiously we hang about until 8am, when the doors open and we can find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 9: Temuka Riverstone cup and saucer. How do they know I’m collecting it?! This set was huge in the 70s and my aunt was an aficionado.
Temuka is made by New Zealand Insulators, a 94-year-old company whose main business is making electrical insulators. But clay is clay, and in the 1930s, it started producing tobacco jars, mixing bowls and teapots as Christmas gifts for customers. They were popular, and a side industry was born.
Tea 6: Tea Total English breakfast loose-leaf. One of my new favourites, so expectations are high. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite met. The pot is small and there’s no hot water for a top-up (though they might have given me some if I’d asked), but the biggest disappointment is that the tea is weak. Eventually, by drinking bits and adding more tea to the cup, I produce a reasonable cup, but I’ve had this tea before, at Loretta in Wellington and Sky Cafe in Auckland, and know it can be better.
Setting 10: My brother and another customer try to convince me to sit outside in the courtyard but my warm northern blood is having none of it. It might be sunny, but it’s 8am on an April morning and cold. The mere fact there is a pile of blankets handy confirms that outside is not a good idea. Much better inside by the fire.
The decor is cheerful if slightly whacky, and the food (vegetarian cooked breakfast for Matt, pancakes for me) is delicious, but it’s nostalgia that tips this cafe over from a 9 to a 10.
Open after 3pm? Yes.
Dog-friendly? None in evidence, but it’s not hard to imagine a pup or two in the courtyard.
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.
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.
It’s a stifling afternoon in late summer when my mother and I take a walk through historic Greytown for tea at the Main Street Deli.
A hundred years or so ago my great great uncle Percy Plummer (another son of Ellen Eliza Plummer, of Kelburn Tea Kiosk fame) had a carting business here, first with horses and then with trucks. His brother Douglas was here too, working with Percy in the carting trade and on nearby White Rock Station, until the Battle of the Somme put paid to this and everything else for him.
Few of them could afford to buy land here today, however, and the town is now full of cafes and boutiques catering to nouveau settlers and the coffee-swilling Wellingtonians who sweep over the Rimutakas every weekend.
Luckily, I have a local guide to help me choose an eatery, and once again I discover that Mother really does know best.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 4: Bevande durable porcelain. The colours make me give this tea set a higher mark than it deserves. Yes it’s for tea, but as with the Acme cups I’ve been finding almost everywhere lately, the weight is really off-putting.
A rock legend, summer frocks and good tea – what else could a girl want?
Tom Petty has been dead just two short months when I hear him playing at Cafe Vessel in Wellington.
I’m still in mourning, and listening to Refugee while waiting for tea and a breakfast smoothie is bitter-sweet.
Vessel is yet another one of those cafes I’ve been to before but haven’t had the you-know-whats to try the tea. But now that I’m a tea reviewer, it’s time to dig deep and do it.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but heavy heavy heavy.
Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. It’s a good strong cup of morning cha, but there’s no hot water for a second cup. The making man tells me they’ve always stocked T Leaf T. “The factory’s in Petone , so they can resupply quickly.”
Setting 6: It’s always pretty cheerful in Vessel, and on this summer’s day Wellington women have got their summer dresses on. Vessel is handy to the railway station and right next door to the Hotel Waterloo, in all it’s faded art deco glory. Having a gaming lounge in the back is an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your leanings.
Open after 3pm? (A new category because of my frustration with all the cafes that close BEFORE afternoon tea-time). Yes.
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.
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.
“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.