Visitors (and many locals) are surprised when they find out New Zealand has over 9,000 eateries.  As a result of this large number, New Zealand has become known for its café culture with cafes found in great numbers in all the country’s cities. Cafes are also part of life in most towns and villages across the nation. A number of these offer unique settings.


The interesting little Railway Station Cafe is situated in an old country railway station, complete with railway-themed décor and the historic trains of the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway chugging by. Since 1985, the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway has been operating daily excursions through the rolling hills of Northland. What makes this trip unique is that trains run right along the middle of Kawakawa’s main street before crossing several bridges to a picnic area 4.5km (3miles) away.

Just over 150 years ago this railway was constructed to transport coal from the local mines to the port in Opua. The trains soon also carried the region’s meat and dairy products and passengers to the harbour. Traditionally the train is pulled by Gabriel, a 1927 steam engine, which was restored in 1986. When Gabriel is undergoing repairs, other classic engines take over. Back at the Railway Station Cafe, to add interest and to reinforce the railway theme, antique locomotives like Charlie (1967) and Ruby (1973), both imported from Burton-on-Trent in the U.K, are on display.


For over 30 years the popularity of the Colenso Cafe at Whenuakite has remained intact. The cafe is positioned at the end of a pathway that leads through the citrus, fig and feijoa tree orchard and is surrounded by a charming garden backed by tall pine and eucalyptus trees. Raised vegetable beds, trimmed bushes, and herb and flower gardens centred around a vine-covered pergola are all part of this tranquil setting. Tables and chairs are placed in the dappled shade beneath the branches of spreading plum trees. Lichen on the chairs and tables attests to the cafe’s long life.


With a population of just over 4,000, Whangamata is a small town even by New Zealand standards. However, it is home to a gourmet burger bar that makes all its burger patties by hand and tops them off with homemade sauces and seasoning. The café has even been recommended by Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. It has the appearance and atmosphere of a central city burger bar in Auckland’s swankiest café scenes and is packed out over the holiday season when Aucklanders flock to the area for relaxation. Apart from this, the menu is a real hoot with burgers such as Blues Brothers, Going Tropo, The Lost Soul, The Guilty Hippy, Local Chick, Mojo and Crankin Cranberry. This is a great example of a stylish restaurant located in a small New Zealand country town.`


For a small settlement, Tairua, a holiday town on the north bank of the Tairua River, has an excellent range of restaurants and cafés. The Old Mill Cafe began life in 1864 as a timber mill, and by the 1870s, provided employment for almost half of Tairua’s population. As the flow of timber from the region slowed, the mill was repurposed to make lime from locally collected seashells. Once its working life was over, the building was moved to its current site with views of the Tairua Marina and estuary which provides a charming setting for the cafe.


Whilst driving to Auckland from Tauranga John Gourley commented to his wife Glenda about the numerous cafes they passed and how you can never remember the names after you have been to them. Glenda then asked him what he would call a cafe. His initial response was ‘buggered if I know’. But then after no more than 30 seconds thought he said if he owned a cafe it would be called “bugger’. Glenda dismissed his stupid idea. However, by the end of the journey John had convinced her that Bugger Cafe would indeed be a great name as long as they could create a memorable, uplifting, fun cafe experience. The idea got a hold and things started moving fast. Six months later, they found a site at Pipiroa, a tiny settlement in the Waikato, and opened the first Bugger Cafe in December 2013. A year passed and they opened a second Bugger Café at Tirau, another small Waikato town but one which sees many tourists who stop to view the corrugated iron buildings in the shapes of various farm animals which the town is noted for.


In 1926 Englishman, Fred Rush Munro, with just ten pounds in his pocket,  rented a small shop in Hastings with his wife Catherine. Using a coke fired stove, they began making seven varieties of toffee and candy for sale. That same day, they sold out their entire stock. Following that success, they introduced 100% natural real fruit ice creams and chocolates, all made to his own recipes. In 1931, the original shop was destroyed in the Hawke’s Bay earthquake but Fred found a tent and was able to carry on his business. The new location evolved into today’s Ice Cream Gardens, surrounded by the prized roses of Frederick Rush Munro himself. It is now a world-famous landmark, and New Zealand’s oldest ice cream producer.


Founded in 1991 on bare farmland containing just one rundown house, this unique café was the first eatery on the road between Ruby Bay and Motueka. The complex is part café, part magical adventure, with massive gardens to explore, tame eels to feed, and heaps of games, playground equipment and curiosities to discover.  Jester House was NZ’s Cafe of the Year in 2013 and is rated the number one place to eat in Tasman on TripAdvisor. 


The Astro Café is located at the Summit of Mount John, and as Lonely Planet put it, ‘quite possibly one of the best locations for a café!’ Effectively a large glasshouse, the café offers breathtaking views across the wide-open space of the McKenzie basin to Lake Tekapo and the majesty of mighty Mt. Cook. It is part of the Dark Sky Project but the café’s unique position makes it one of the most dramatic locations for a café in Australasia. There is a nearby road but many choose to undertake the 45 minute walk up Mount John to the café. It is possibly the most featured New Zealand café on Instagram because of its dramatic location and visually appealing glass structure.

Astro Café (curious kiwi)


Just north of Timaru in the little hamlet of Seadown, the Shearers Quarters café overflows with rustic charm. The unique corrugated iron buildings from an old silo to a disused shearing shed make this café unique. It has become a popular destination for Timaru families because of the farmyard animals who roam around the place. There is also a maze to negotiate and mini golf to play. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up with old fashioned Kiwi country charm.

There are many more interesting cafes across New Zealand and as the popularity of ‘going for a coffee’ continues, no doubt there will be more to add to the list of ‘memorable New Zealand cafes’.

Ceidrik Heward