Little Kitchen Cafe, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay

little kitchen outside
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.

little kitchen penny black
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.

little kitchen auckland cpo
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.

little kitchen old pic
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.

little kitchen wharf.jpg

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).

little kitchen view
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 Oak, Mangonui

old oak signs
The Old Oak Inn has been around for a while.

Tea, history and the All Blacks-Ireland game.

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.

old oak sandy
Tea is on the way.

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.

old oak old pic 2
The Mangonui waterfront hasn’t changed that much.

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.

old oak old pic 1
The Old Oak as it was…and is now.

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.

old oak bathroom.jpg
Old features, like a fireplace in the bathroom, have been preserved.

Outside, there’s an old-style garden modeled on historic gardens in the nearby Bay of Island (those at Kemp House, the Pompellier Mission House and the Waitangi Treaty House) providing flowers for the rooms.

old oak cave
A cave where, apparently, publicans hid sailors who had jumped ship.

The Old Oak, 66 Waterfront Drive, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay, Northland.