Regional Cafe Guide May-June 2017

Well folks, here we are again with our Top Five cafes for the past two months. And no, there will be no feature on cheese rolls, or Southland sushi as it is called down here. I gave up on them after the second sample. I’m starting to have more respect for food critics, as I am for truck drivers and people who run tourism businesses.

At number one we have the Copley Bush Bakery, coffee rating 0.9/10. Yep, you do not travel 3031 km northwest from Te Anau for the coffee. It’s the quondong pies that you come here for. Quondongs are a bush fruit. It cooks up to a lovely crimson colour and tastes like a cross between rhubarb, quince and sour plum. The quondongs are collected by the locals (presumably the Adnyamathanha) and the owner assured us that this fruit has a far more intense flavour than that grown in an orchard. 

Here’s Dave demolishing his pie. He looks hung over but in fact he has a horrible head cold.

Copley is 563 km north of Adelaide, in the fabulous northern Flinders Ranges. There’s not much left of Copley, like so many South Australian country towns. The bakery used to be housed in its own building but now it’s combined with the caravan park. 

It’s on the 4wd touring routes, but visitor numbers are many orders of magnitude fewer than you’d find in Te Anau. It seems to be a purely domestic market. We were struck by how quiet it was, but the owner – who chatted with us for a little while – seemed pleased with his level of trade. He had been making quondong jam that day and the jars were walking out the door before he had the chance to label them.
The important thing to remember about the Copley Bush Bakery is that it only closes on Christmas Day. During summer it is the only food vendor open north of Hawker: the cafe also offers four versions of a meat pie and a meat pasty. The owner assured us that there is some summer demand, which we found hard to believe. The heat and flies that time of year are something else, as Dave’s boss Geoff found out a couple of years ago when he went just north of Hawker for Christmas lunch. From Wellington. We still do not understand why.
Winter’s the best time to visit. You visit the Flinders for the scenery and the geology and the indigenous culture. You turn right here to go to Nepabunna (an Adnyamathanha community), Arkaroola (famed for its Ediacaran fossils) or Innaminka in serious desert country. If you keep going north you’ll end up in Lyndhurst and more serious desert country. Or you can travel 5km south to what is left of Leigh Creek, which is facing an interesting stage in its ‘development’. Leigh Creek used to be a coal mining company town: think of sprinklers and the immaculate green lawns of the town at the end of the film Walkabout and you’ll have it. The Port Augusta power station used to be fired by the brown coal mined here, but both mine and power station suddenly closed down last year. The population has collapsed. There is now only the supermarket in the shopping centre and a pub, and a police station and school. It even has an Olympic-sized swimming pool: presumably it will get to the stage where each inhabitant has their own lane. 
Not only has Leigh Creek suffered, but the closure of the Port Augusta power station combined with an under-utilized gas-fired station at Pelican Point has left South Australia’s power supplies in a dire state. Though it has lots and lots of wind (much of this financed by New Zealand money) and solar, it lacks base-load power generation capability. I read recently that electricity prices in SA will soon be the highest in the world. So yes, the state needs your tourism dollars, and the owner of the Copley Bush Bakery will be thrilled to see you.
Ah, yep, we were talking about cafes… 
Number two is Industry, in Invercargill. Coffee rating 9/10, the best coffee (Supreme, I think) on the South Island so far on this trip. We were loitering in a new big-box slab-concrete industrial area getting some repairs for Tonka – this time replacing the rear mud guard that sheared off when we ripped off the back – and we saw this place. We were expecting egg and bacon rolls, chips and a Coke for $2.50, but this is a seriously good cafe in a seriously weird setting. Industry is the building clad in brown in the photo below.
This cafe was excellent and would thrive in any capital city, but unlike many cafes of its calibre, there was no pretension at all. Is this a Southland thing, I wonder? The staff were professional and busy and seemed to be having a good time.


Apparently Industry has only just opened. It is a sister to the inner-city cafe, The Batch. On the way back from Stewart Island we shared a bus with the Batch’s owner’s mother. Industry is her daughter-in-law’s project. She was so proud of them both. “Best coffee in Invercargill” she proclaimed to us on the bus (all 6 of us), and we can only agree.

We did have a 9.5/10 coffee in Canberra recently – in New Acton (enough said?). The premises were very stylish and probably have won awards. But the service was so bad that the cafe doesn’t rate a mention in our top five. There were plenty of staff, all Bright Young Things, but when we walked in there was no acknowledgement that we existed. Disdain or even frank contempt would have been easier to deal with. And when we were served, we might as well have been at the Mitre 10 buying some countersunk cabinet screws in a little plastic container. The coffee and food there was pretty special but you had the impression that the staff all had their minds on other things. You could not help but contrast them with the Copley bloke who took pride in his baking.

Number 3 goes to the cafe at the Boat Harbour Surf Life Saving Club. Coffee 8/10. Boat Harbour is in north western Tasmania, just west of Wynyard, home of our friends Gary and Kathryn who are about to head off to seven months in China, Mongolia, Russia, the Baltic States, France and Spain. They are much better organised than we are: nearly every day in their itinerary has a plan of some sort. They put us to shame. They also took us to this cafe for lunch. Friendly staff, small but well executed menu and a wonderful location. There is a peninsula at Boat Harbour that splits the beach area in two. On the western side of the peninsula is the sewage outfall. On the eastern side is an immaculate white sand beach and the surf life saving club is perched right on it.

Sorry, I was too busy admiring the view to take a photo, but here’s one of a Sturt Desert Pea, taken in the Fabulous Flinders Ranges! It’s the state flower of South Australia.

Number four: the Pinnaroo Bakery. Coffee was OK, maybe a 5/10, but like Copley you come here for the food. This is a classic South Australian country bakery, located 250 km east of Adelaide. They do a range of pasties, including four vegetarian versions, various yeast buns – finger buns, scrolls etc, the usual cream-filled delicacies such as cream horns and Kitchener buns. And decent bread. So if you are traveling on the Mallee Highway between Sydney and Adelaide (maybe on the way to Copley?), do stop here and try the place out. It has a fabulous brand-new public toilets. And don’t forget to drop by the restored wetlands at the end of the Main Street. 

And I don’t have a photo of the bakery either but here’s one of refugee ducks during Duck Season in the wetland in the Invercargill gardens.

And at Number 5. Hmmm. Sorry, we’ll pass on this one. But stand by for the July-August issue where we will reveal the best coffee in Te Anau. We have a definitive opinion on where you’ll find the worst but we are trying to be positive.

Special mentions

Speights Ale House, Invercargill. This has a vegan menu! 

And a gluten free menu, and goodness knows what other specialist menu they have under the counter. We were driving into Invercargill one bleak night in May (why? – Tonka needed a Certificate Of Fitness which, of course, it failed), and wondered where we would eat. Dave whips out his phone and finds out that there is an Invercargill Vegan Society. It lists the Ale House along with Subway. And it turns out that the Ale House is a real find: the service is excellent and the food is fine. The business seems to be thriving. I checked the Speights in Wanaka recently and their menu only has one vegetarian option. So it seems that the Invercargill Vegan Society may be an organization with some clout. Wanaka needs one!

Big Fig, Wanaka. Coffee 7.5/10. This has only been open for a year, in the site of the ice cream shop in Ardmore St, just up from Kai Whakapai. It specializes in slow-cooked food, and has an interesting menu, which Wanaka desperately needs as their cafes all seems to come out of the same mould. The day we visited the soup was pumpkin, harissa and cashew. Clientele: young women who are Vegan For A Day. Prices are a bit high but I guess that reflects their rent. 
The Wineglass at Edgewater cafe, Wanaka. Coffee 7.5/10. One reason why you’d come here is because it is relaxed and comfortable, with an open fire and a view of the lake. It has a range of seating options (not shown in the photo below) including big leather sofas.

It’s an easy walk along the lake shore from the ‘CBD’. And the second major reason for a visit is its scone menu! There are five varieties, all baked to order. We had the crystallized ginger and rhubarb and there could be worse fates on a rainy day than to sit in front of the open fire, looking over the lake, waiting for the scone to bake. Clientele: women of a certain age with aged black Labradors, and house guests (it is an accommodation business after all) who tend to be families and older couples. And men of a certain age with the Saturday Otago Daily Times.

Update on Hydro Twizel. We’ve been there over the past couple of days and are happy to report that the coffee is still very good (8.5+/10) but alas their baking is not as good as our last visit. It looks like I baked the muffins – they are sunken in the middle, crisp on the top and liquid at the bottom. Their oven must be playing up. But to their credit they were playing contemporary pop music. We are totally over the 1970s and 1980s pop music that so many cafes and pubs play. Even the canteen at Ohau ski field was playing John Denver the other day. I ask you!

Here is Dave outside Hydro in minus seven degrees, anticipating his next coffee.

Speaking of frost, here is the frost in the beech forest near the Kepler Track today.

Keep warm!