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.
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.
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.
My marks out of 10
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).
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).
Little Kitchen Cafe, 118 Waterfront Drive, Mangonui, Doubtless Bay