The Rusty Tractor, Kerikeri

Rusty tractor bike
A yarn-bombed bike is a wonderful welcome.

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.

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The Rusty Tractor’s rusty tractor – a great setting isn’t everything.

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.

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We finally get breakfast at the Towai Tavern, where the food’s fast and the tea’s plentiful.

The Rusty Tractor, 582 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri.

Econo Lodge City Central, Auckland

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Stained glass in the lobby lifts this budget hotel above the ordinary.

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.

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The glass frontage and ceiling dome were imported.

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.

 

Miner’s Rest Cafe, Hikurangi

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The Miner’s Rest and Coal Town Traders, Hikurangi.

“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.

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Tea with a coal-mining theme.

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.

The Miner’s Rest Cafe, 49 King St, Hikurangi.

Sky Cafe, Auckland

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Tea is a serious business for Sky Cafe’s Teresa Reiferscheid.

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.

sky cafe signTea 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.

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A view from the Sky Cafe, down Auckland’s Nelson St to Princes Wharf (where the sailing ship Tenacious waits to take my friend Fran around Cape Horn), across Waitemata Harbour to Bayswater and out to the Hauraki Gulf.

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. 

Vic Books, Pipitea, Wellington

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Tea is supped under Colin McCahon’s massive Gate III painting at the Vic Books Cafe.

“I drink, therefore I am,” I think (with apologies to Descartes) as I sup tea on Victoria University’s Pipitea campus.It’s difficult not to feel philosophical with Colin McCahon’s 10.5 metre Gate III painting about the end of the world – or at least of Western civilisation – above me, and a morning debating how to avoid catastrophic climate change ahead.

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The cafe at Vic Books.

Working life brings me to the Pipitea Campus in downtown Wellington quite often, and the Vic Books cafe, in the refurbished Rutherford House (the old Electricity Corporation HQ) has been the scene of many a meeting. On this day, however, I am alone, eating a breakfast muffin and ready to make another assault on a tea blend that got the better of me last time I was here.

Yes, I was defeated by a pot of tea. I couldn’t drink it all, not because it was insipidly weak (a problem that occurs with frightening regularity) but because it was too strong.

Determined not to be beaten for long though, I’m back with new resolve to master this mystery tea.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 4: Tea-cup shape, but heavy.

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A tasty tea Ritual.

Tea 7: Ritual loose-leaf organic English breakfast (although the company’s website doesn’t mention such a beast). It was exciting to be trying a new locally (Wellington) blended tea, and difficult to admit, drinking that first cup, that I wasn’t enjoying it. It was strong to the point of bitterness, and by the second cup, undrinkable. This time, I break the habit of a lifetime and ask the woman behind the counter to make it slightly weaker than usual. The tactic works, and the result is a very acceptable morning brew. However, I suspect it can be better, and am putting it on the list of teas to experiment with.

Setting 7: Handy to Parliament, the railway station and lots of government departments. A good spot for mingling with students and power-brokers alike. Slight hipster vibe and a great selection of books.

Dog-friendly? None in evidence.

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Cafe with a hipster vibe.

Vic Books cafe, Victoria University Pipitea campus, 27 Lambton Quay, Wellington.

Hukerenui Hotel, Northland

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Hukerenui Hotel, on a lazy summer afternoon.

The talk in the Hukerenui pub is of country things. Rain is needed, the woodchopping at the A&P Show was good, and so were the horses, but they could have done with a bit more shade.

The rhythms of country life are soothing, jogging memories of life in the rural North.

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Deserted public bar – the action is all in the cafe.

It’s a blowsy summer afternoon when I haul in thirsty from the road, and hungry to boot, and it turns out the Hukerenui Hotel is up to the job.

My marks out of 10:

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A hearty afternoon tea for travellers.

Cup 5: White Arcoroc cup and saucer. Another blast from the past – this was big in the ’80s.

Tea 7: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag. At first Laurel, who runs the place, can’t remember the brand. “The red one,” she says. The tea is good – as hearty as the club sandwich Laurel makes me (the display counter is empty; Laurel would rather make each sandwich fresh, so the bread doesn’t curl). I compliment her on the tea, and she says the secret is to heat the pot, and to not bring the extra hot water out until the customer wants it, so it doesn’t get time to cool.

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Setting 8: Who can resist a 127-year-old historic pub? The Huka, as it’s known, was opened in 1890. The railway went through around 1901, and gradually the main road north, from Whangarei to Kawakawa, got broader and busier. The interior of the pub’s not in original condition – more late 1980s than early 1890s – but there are huge historic prints on the walls, horses in the paddock and lamb and mint pies in the chiller.

Dog friendly? Bound to be.

Hukerenui Hotel. 2444 State Highway 1, Hukerenui, Northland.

 

Best Ugly Bagels, Wellington airport 

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Best Ugly – a welcome sight for harried travellers

Can the tea live up to the bagels’ high standard?

“White rabbit, EBT with splash,” sings the chap behind the counter. “White rabbit, EBT with splash,” the crew chorases back.

A white rabbit is a toasted bagel with cream cheese, tomato, basil, olive oil and black pepper, and I’ve been obsessed with them for months.

My usual MO at Wellington airport is to skip between Best Ugly Bagels (a chain founded by chef Al Brown, of Logan Brown fame) and Freshbites, where I know that by airport standards, they make a half-decent cup of tea AND serve it in a cup.

 

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White rabbit and EBT with a splash, bag in.

But it’s time to put Best Ugly through its paces, so, taking a deep breath, I order a cup of English breakfast.

The serving chap asks if I want milk (yes, the “splash”) or sugar (no).

“And would you like the bag left in?”

Suppressing a shudder, I tell him I want it strong, and it’s up to him how he achieves it.

My marks out of 10?

Cup 1: Paper. Serving chap comes over to ask how I’m enjoying my lunch, and we talk tea for a bit. They have to use paper cups, he says, because they don’t have a dishwasher. “We’re really a to-go kind of place.”

Tea 6: T2 English breakfast bag. I’ve reviewed one of their cups, but they make a reasonable blend of tea as well. The bag is left in.

Setting 5: 20171128_143627-e1511892773819.jpgIt’s an airport, and some days there are just too many darned people clustered around Best Ugly. But today there are just two of us sitting up at the bar, and the chirpy staff singing every order in unison never fails to bring smiles to the faces of otherwise harried travellers.

Dog-friendly? Probably only for guide dogs and customs dogs.

Best Ugly Bagels, Wellington Airport.

 

The Lazy Graze, Eketahuna

Tea – but no rugby – in Bush country.

Ashhurst, Woodville, Mangatainoka, Pahiatua…the tea-party towns of my childhood roll past the car window on a leisurely Saturday drive from Palmerston North to Masterton.

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Scrubbed tables and a country theme.

But it’s Eketahuna – a town some people aren’t convinced even exists – that produces something close to the perfect cup of tea.

I admit I wasn’t expecting much. The Lazy Graze is what you might call an honest country cafe: what you see is what you get. Country folk stopping in for lunch and a chat. Lasagne. Sandwiches. Cake.

And tea.

My marks out of 10?

Cup 8: Springfield, an English pottery founded in 1962. The pattern isn’t my cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s a quality drinking experience.

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A quality drinking experience…
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…fueled by quality tea.

Tea 9: t Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. An array of little bottles of different teas on the counter gives me the first hint that I might be in for a better cup of tea than I thought. “It’s loose-leaf,” I think, my expectations jumping a couple of notches. t Leaf T (that name really does annoy me) is a Wellington tea company, and I’ve had their tea before, at the Schnappa Rock cafe in Tutukaka. It was good. Anticipation builds, and is met. One thing puzzles me though; the tea in the pot is in a bag, when the counter display clearly promised loose-leaf. I call the waitress over. “We put it in bags ourselves,” she tells me. “It means you get a good cup of tea and we don’t have to deal with the leaves.” She demonstrates, and I’ve got a hand-filled tea-bag to take away with me. Whatever next!

Setting 6: Comfortable, with a rural theme. Lots of extra seating in a room out the back, but space is, nevertheless, at a premium.

Dog-friendly? Probably, though none in evidence today.

*For the record, Eketahuna is at the southern end of what was known as the Seventy Mile Bush, a stand of heavy native forest that ran from southern Hawke’s Bay to Wairarapa. It was destroyed in the 1870s by Scandinavian settlers, acting at the behest of the Government, which wanted the forest turned into farms. At that time, Eketahuna was called Mellemskov, which meant heart of the forest. Confusingly, the area was also called the Forty Mile Bush, which usually meant the southern part of the Seventy Mile Bush. The rugby union got around the problem by simply calling it Bush (as in Wairarapa-Bush). For some reason, many people think it’s a made-up place, like Erewhon, Brigadoon and Waikikamukau (try saying it out loud).

The Lazy Graze, 40 Main St, Eketahuna.

Jamaica Blue, Auckland Hospital

Finding a decent cuppa in a hospital coffee shop

Hospital visiting is all very well, but there is a limit to my charity, and we reach it when the tea trolley comes around.

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Plenty of tea for all.

Fortunately, there’s a Jamaica Blue cafe two floors up, so we skedaddle off there for a late lunch (lasagne for me, fish burger, or “slider” as the menu has it, for him) and a pot of tea. Or two.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 4: Tea-cup shape but heavy. Lost a mark for bragging about coffee on the side of it (this place is all about coffee).

TEA 6: Elmstock loose-leaf English breakfast – an Australian brew of Ceylon tea, which comes served in two substantial pots. Plenty of tea for all (I have three cups, he has two). Good hearty flavour and nice and strong.

SETTING 4: that’s a high mark, given this is a hospital. They’ve made an effort, with plants and comfy seats and even a double swing seat (though it’s bolted to the floor; health and safety is big in hospitals).

DOG FRIENDLY? What do you think?

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Jamaica Blue. They do go on about coffee.

Jamaica Blue, Auckland Hospital, 2 Park Rd, Grafton, Auckland.

 

Breaking news….new tea at New Day!

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There’s a new tea in town…

Popped into New Day Cafe at Parua Bay to grab a bite on the run and look what’s on the counter!

Last month I was less-than-complimentary about this otherwise excellent  local cafe serving tea-bag tea, so am very excited to see this and to learn from Frank (the owner) that Kerikeri Tea’s Black Darjeeling is also now on the menu.

No time for a cup now, but will be back asap to give it a try.

 

Delissimo Delicatessen and Cafe, Eden Terrace, Auckland

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That’s me on the left in the reflection, leaving after a good lunch.

Lunch at Delissimo is one of the perks of visiting the Auckland office.

It’s a short walk from the Forest & Bird base, up Charlotte St and along New North Rd, and by the time I get there I’m always more than ready for my cup of tea. And often cake as well.

On this day, my colleagues Rebecca and David are with me. Rebecca (the same Rebecca who discovered the wonderful high tea at the Prince’s Gate Hotel in Rotorua with me) is also an out-of-towner, and it’s her first visit. David is a regular.

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Once again, I give in to the temptation of cake.

 

My marks out of 10?

CUP 6: Crown Lynn willow pattern. Although it’s not fine china, it scores highly in the nostalgia stakes; not only is it Crown Lynn (shout-out here to my old pal Val Monk, who literally wrote the books on this lost and lamented New Zealand pottery), but it’s also identical to a set I had about 10 years ago (there’s one cup left. It has no handle, and lives in the flour bin).

TEA 5: English breakfast, unknown brand. It’s a bit weak. The owner tells me he would have made it stronger for me if I’d asked. In fact, he offers to make me another one now. Unfortunately, I haven’t got time, so I’ll take him up on his offer next visit.

SETTING 7: The courtyard out the back is a little haven in an otherwise drab slab of New North Rd.

DOG-FRIENDLY? As Jess wasn’t with me, I haven’t put this to the test, but the answer is probably no, as there are no seats out the front, and the courtyard is small and has to be reached through the cafe itself.

Delissimo Delicatessen and Cafe, 48 New North Rd, Eden Tce, Auckland.

Schnappa Rock, Tutukaka

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Idyllic Tutukaka, a safe-haven for boats and tea-drinkers.

“Have tea with me today,” my beloved says, and so we drive 52 kilometres north, over Mt Tiger and along the coast.

toots-sign-e1508567005332.jpgIt’s more than two decades since either of us has been to Tutukaka, and then it was to the Toots (Tutukaka Hotel) to see some now-forgotten band. No tea was consumed.

The pub burnt down in 2001, and a multi-coloured, multi-million-dollar apartment building stands on the site.

But a bit past there is the Schnappa (their spelling) Rock restaurant and bar, and after ascertaining that it is, indeed, dog-friendly, we take a seat for a long-postponed birthday lunch.

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Delicious lunch.
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Best-ever sticky-date pudding, for two.

The food is delicious; fish (sustainable) for him, chicken (free-range) for me, after which I introduce my beloved to the wonder that is sticky-date pudding, and it is the best I have ever had.

But the real proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the tea-drinking.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 2: Coffee cup. Sigh. Again, I lecture the person waiting on our table. Again, I get a courteous hearing. The young man looking after us today goes as far as saying that while he doesn’t know much about drinking tea, he is very interested in its history. For the record, or in case you’ve forgotten, here is the scientific explanation for why tea must never, ever, be served in a coffee cup, especially not one of the modern, heavy, shallow cups used by rock-star barristas.

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Tea – off the menu.

TEA 8: t leaf Tea loose-leaf English breakfast.  It’s not a good start when I realise that tea isn’t even on the menu. This is early in the piece, when we’re ordering lunch, and I challenge the waiter immediately. He assures me that not only do they serve tea, but that they have a good range of it.

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Bad name, good tea.

Me: “Why isn’t it on the menu then?”

Him: “The menu gets changed a lot and sometimes things fall off.”

I go into a decline; any place in which tea matters so little that it falls off the menu is unlikely to make a good brew.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a job to do, and so I order a pot. Obviously, given what’s gone before, I’m not surprised to be given a coffee cup. But I am surprised by the tea itself. It’s good! Summoning the waiter again, I ask what it is. He fetches the caddy from the kitchen, with a warning that I can’t take it home. t leaf T (annoying name, makes it very hard for writers who care about starting sentences with a capital letter) is a Wellington company. As someone who spends quite a lot of time in the Capital, I make a note to pay them a visit.

SETTING 10: It’s the second time in a row I’ve awarded full marks for setting, but Schnappa Rock is friendly, laid-back and rustic, with a front-row view of the harbour.

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Tea and lunch by the harbour.

DOG-FRIENDLY? Definitely (the Hairy Maclary-looking dog on the left is our Jess).

Schnappa Rock restaurant and bar. Marina Rd, Tutukaka, Northland.

Dirty Little Secret, Wellington

Where high tea takes on a new meaning.

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.secret-1.jpg

“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.

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Secret uncovered – a container bar on the roof of the Hope Gibbons Building.
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How not to make tea.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 2: Coffee cups. Need I say more?

TEA 2: Dilmah English Breakfast for me, Dilmah Green Tea for Matt. Served with the bags sitting in the cups. The water isn’t piping hot. “Our grandmother is turning in her grave,” I tell Matt.

SETTING 10: Sitting high above Courtney Place at dusk, watching aeroplanes disappear behind Mt Victoria and looking out over the harbour is enough to make me forgive a lot. Even the tea.

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Bad tea, bad cup, but a view that makes bad tea worth drinking.

DOG-FRIENDLY? I suspect not.

Dirty Little Secret, 7-11 Dixon St, Wellington.

Mezze Bar, Auckland

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Mezze Bar – serving tea and tapas for 25 years.

Taking tea down memory lane.

A day of drinking conference tea is enough to drive anyone out into the night in search of drink, and so 9pm finds me ordering tea in the Mezze Bar, one of the few decent eateries within walking distance of my uptown Auckland hotel.

The Mezze Bar and I both arrived in Auckland in the early ’90s. In those days, she was on the corner of Queen St and Mayoral Dr, and I was not too far away, in a newspaper office on Wyndham St.

We’ve  moved on, me to a dozen different tea-drinking lives, and the Mezze Bar to a bolt-hole upstairs on Durham St East.

At first I didn’t realise where we were going when one of my climate-change-conference companions suggested this place to a group of us. But it was good to see her again, even if my tea wasn’t served on the wonderful tea-tray in this video.

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By candlelight, the tea looks better than it is.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 7: White with blue flowers, not fine-bone, but a good shape, promises much.

TEA 6: English breakfast of indeterminate origin. Sadly, the tea doesn’t live up to the promises of the cup and the cool blue-enamel teapot. Still, it’s way ahead of the conference tea.

SETTING 8: Comfy cushions, relaxed atmosphere. It might not be the original Mezze Bar, but it still scores on the nostalgia stakes.

DOG-FRIENDLY? No.

Mezze Bar, 9 Durham St East, Auckland.

 

The Towai Tavern, Towai, Northland

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Tea-time in Towai. The first thing in the Towai Tavern’s favour is that it’s actually open at afternoon tea time.

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.

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The Towai Tavern was a popular stop for train passengers, but the rail fell into disuse after the main road went through, and in 1933 the hotel was moved to its present location on State Highway 1.
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.

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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.

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The Ralls family in 1929.
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.

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Tea and cake in the History Corner.

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.

The Towai Tavern, 3827 State Highway 1, Towai, Northland.

Roadrunners Cafe, Dairy Flat

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Tea that is genuinely on the road.

Sometimes, low expectations can be a blessing.

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

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It’s time for home.

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).

Prince’s Gate Hotel, Rotorua

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Perfect. Just perfect.

High tea in Rotorua … in which I breach Norwegian table etiquette.

Bars and barricades around Rotorua’s Old Bath House shatter our plan for tea on the terrace.

It is a blow; we’ve been focused on tea and scones (properly served) since we left Taupo more than an hour ago.

Ever-intrepid though, we set off on foot across the Government Gardens in search of a new teahouse.  The Art Deco Blue Baths building is a likely contender, and early indicators (a bar, with coffee machine, in the foyer) lift our hopes.

The ticket-seller woman confirms that they do, indeed, serve tea in the first-floor tearoom overlooking the baths. But not in winter.

We deflate. The chances of a town having three proper teahouses seem remote. We look along the lakefront, but our hunt is desultory. My travelling companion is as wedded as I am to the proper tea experience, and we are not in the mood for the clatter and clunky cups of the modern cafe.

“Let’s try that old hotel on the corner,” Rebecca suggests.

I agree; it’s a long-shot, but worth a punt.

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Prince’s Gate Hotel in the old days.

The 75-room Prince’s Gate Hotel was built in Waihi in 1897, and carried to Rotorua by bullock train and steam engine in 1917, where it was reassembled near the entrance to the Government Gardens.

Miraculously, it has retained its character, we note approvingly as we walk across the

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High tea at The Prince’s Gate is all about tradition.

wooden verandah and into the charming reception (stained-glass windows, leather chairs, huge bevelled mirrors). There’s no-one behind the counter, so we venture further. Rebecca spots a large sign offering High Teas.

In the bar, a couple of businessmen (their conversation suggests they’re in advertising) are ordering port. I ask the barman if high tea is still available. Recent experience has damaged our confidence.

“Of course,” he says, and ushers us through to one of the dining rooms, where a waitress lays a table by the fire for us.

We opt for the traditional high tea – no cocktails, no champagne, but plenty of salmon and cucumber sandwiches (crusts off), fresh scones (there will be a short wait while they are baked) and a mountain of little pastries.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 8: Proper fine china cup and saucer, rose-patterned. As soon as the waitress disappears, I turn the saucer over, as I always do, to see the maker’s mark. (Harbro fineunder saucer harbro porcelain, Wakbrzych, Poland). Rebecca is amused. She’s half Norwegian, and starts explaining the complicated tea-party rules of her mother’s country (different cups for mornings and afternoons, a strict ratio of cakes-to-guests etc). “And you must never, ever, look at the mark on the plates or the cutlery,” she says. “It is a huge insult to the hostess.”

TEA 9: Dilmah English breakfast for me, a herbal infusion for Rebecca. Made in pots and poured by the waitress!

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High tea by the fire is an elegant affair. Although we should be in floral dresses.

SETTING 10: So good that we book rooms for the night (they’re surprisingly cheap) and wish we’d brought suitable dresses.

*Rotorua”s Old Bath House, which housed the town’s museum, is closed because it was damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake in November 2016. It is not known when it will reopen.

 

Prince’s Gate Hotel, 1057 Arawa St, Rotorua.

 

 

 

Piccolo Cafe, Taupo

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It’s tea, but is it a teacup?

The cup at Piccolo Cafe in Taupo yesterday was so discombobulating that we had to go back today.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t really a cup. And not a glass either. More of a perspex tumbler. Instinct said I should hate it, but I tried to keep an open mind.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 7: Scoring this new tea-drinking experience was tricky. This was not a coffee cup, but neither was it a teacup. It wasn’t fine bone china, but neither was it heavy crockery. What to do? Fall back on my basic criteria and see where it gets me. The “cup” (strictly speaking, I don’t think you can really call a drinking vessel without a handle a cup) is a good shape; it keeps tea hot. It’s also nice and light (incredibly so), both points in its favour. On the down side, the aesthetics aren’t great, and the rim feels a little clunky in your mouth.

TEA 9: NZ Live. This is good leaf tea, made in a pot, and with its own tea-timer to tell20170905_134434.jpg you when it’s ready. I’d never heard of NZ Live, so I asked the waiter about it and he brought me a tea menu. A four-page menu just for tea, with brews like Kowhai Ceylon, Ruapehu Rooibus and Kakariki Green. I was drinking Morning Kick Assam, “strong, full-bodied, rich, malty and brisk. A real pressed leaf, great for breakfast tea and takes milk well”.  It was good, but a little on the weak side (despite me leaving it in the pot longer than the three minutes stipulated on the tea-timer). The waiter told me that the tea comes with its own measuring spoon, and strict instructions from the makers about much to use. “But now I know you, if you come tomorrow I will make it stronger for you,” he said. I did, and he did, and it was very good, full of complex teay flavours and with a great pick-me-up zest.

But who was this NZ Live tea producer? The answer was on the back of the tea menu: The Bell Tea and Coffee Company, 305 East Tamaki Rd, Auckland. Mum, I’m sorry, you were right, Bell can make good tea.

SETTING 8: Classy cafe a street or two back from the lake in Taupo, with staff who go the extra distance to lift your visit to a little above the ordinary.

Piccolo Cafe, 41 Ruapehu St, Taupo.

 

Stella Cafe, Hokitika

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Tea as weak as the proverbial – and I swear I didn’t put in too much milk.

My mother would say the tea at Stella Cafe, in Hokitika, was as weak as maiden’s water. Which was a shame, because it was to be my last cup on the Coast, and I had high hopes for it.

We were under time pressure; Stella doesn’t open until 8am, and I had to be at the airport at 8.40am.

Nevertheless, when I heard they used loose-leaf tea, my heart soared, and I was glad we decided it was worth squeezing breakfast in before my flight.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 5:– A real teacup! Okay, it’s a pretty basic one, the kind you can buy in bulk at homeware stores, but it is, at least, a cup made for drinking tea from.

TEA 4: Twining’s English breakfast, made with loose-leaf tea. The trouble with the teapots that hold the tea in a little basket just under the lid is that they don’t draw very well. So if you don’t put in a decent amount of tea , the resulting brew is, well, not brewed.

SETTING 7: Comfortable, stylish cafe in downtown Hokitika, plenty of room and good food, and honey, a delicatessen and cheese room to boot. Pity about the tea.

Stella Cafe, 84 Revell St, Hokitika.

DP1 Cafe, Greymouth

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Good gumboot tea.

Lunch-time finds us in Greymouth, getting ready to meet another reporter. “To DP1 Cafe,” said my travelling companion Jen Miller, who has supped in this town before.

It is a good recommendation. DP1 is down near the port, and is doing a steady trade when we roll in.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 1: We’re going backwards here; not only is this a coffee cup and huge, but it has one of those handles you can’t get your finger into.

TEA 7: English breakfast, unknown brand (I did ask). Made in a pot. A good, dp1 signsolid gumboot tea which perfectly complemented the delicious ginger crunch. The collectors’ teaspoon featuring Hawera was a nice touch.

SETTING 6: Nice cafe, lots of room. We have got a table in the sun, but possibly a little chilly further back. Looks like it might be open at night too, and that it might serve alcoholic beverages.

DPI Cafe, 104 Mawhera Quay, Greymouth.