Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Country charm

I've driven around various parts of rural New Zealand countless times over the years, gradually increasing the surface area of the terrain I cover while also retracing the main arterial routes, particularly in the lower North Island. As we were driving back from our ski trip on Sunday night, I was reminded of events or things I'd seen when searching for food or drinks at particular locations.

In some towns, there is a little more evidence of successful urban crawl. In others ... well, let's just say that the effort is appreciated and could even be considered delightful, but I'd say they're better off sticking to specialising in country charm. I've come across several of these places over the years.

Coffee fix
One morning, after several late nights in a row, I had an early start and needed to be in Marton (about 2 1/4 hours north of Wellington) by 9 am. We left home around 6 am and were looking to be early so decided to stop off at a little cafe in Bulls that we could see was just opening for the day. Coffee time! We were offered fruit muffins straight from the oven and I asked for a long black to go with it. The owner proceeded to make me a short black (espresso), then boiled the kitchen jug and topped it up with boiling water - right in front of me and all the while still chatting animatedly. I was so shocked, yet in such desperate need of sleep, that I couldn't simply give it back. I don't think I finished that cup.

Speaking of coffee, the Chatham Islands are not exactly known for their café culture so I was interested to see that a new café had opened up not far from us. I didn't expect the earth but was looking forward to some 'real' coffee, after stretching my ground beans to last for nearly a week when using my stovetop espresso maker. I decided to check the café out the first day they were open after the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, the plane from Wellington that morning hadn't brought coffee beans as promised, but I was offered instant coffee instead if I wanted it. Thank you, but no.

Another time, while staying with a group of friends at Himatangi Beach one summer, a few of us decided to visit the local cafe for a morning coffee. One tea-drinking friend ordered English breakfast tea, instead. However, she was served with Earl Grey tea, something she describes as 'tasting like dishwater', which she'd drink if she liked dishwater, but unfortunately she doesn't like dishwater. She endearingly pointed out her dilemma to the manager and he happily replaced her dishwater with English breakfast tea, but remarked that he knew nothing about tea and that "it all tastes the same to me - horrible". Actually, I agree with him on that one! ;-)

Eat (and drink) much
Driving from Wellington to Auckland (about 8 hours) after work on a Friday night, we were starting to get hungry. The further north we drove, and the later the hour, the fewer food places were open for business. Not too keen on the usual takeaways, we came across a Chinese smorgasboard in Taihape which looked promising. The sign on by the door still makes me laugh all these years later; it simply said, "Eat much you like". Well, I guess the description was accurate. ;-)

Finally, travelling through Lyttelton, we had caught the bus across town from Christchurch city (very much pre-earthquakes) and were waiting for a ferry to take us to Diamond Harbour for a wedding. It was an incredibly hot day and we were sweating in our wedding clothes while carrying our overnight bags. We spotted a corner pub and decided to pop in for a cold drink. Someone ordered a refreshing Red Bull and vodka. The publican looked disgusted. His response: "We don't serve any of that fancy stuff here." Ouch! We'd been suitably told off!

Have you encountered country charm that, despite the best of intentions, has not quite got it right?

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