I and several others are partial to a drive in the country and a pub lunch. Last Sunday spring was in the air. (That didn’t last. It’s 7C, the wind even sounds cold, and I’m told the snow is low on the surrounding hills – I’m not going outside to see for myself.) We threw a dart at the Hawkes Bay map and landed on Onga Onga.
Before European settlement the area was covered with dense indigenous bush (forest). Onga Onga, a native stinging nettle, was plentiful. The sting can be fatal – something I have no trouble believing. I’ve had a sting from that stuff – it’s more vicious than the southerly that’s battering our house this afternoon.
Onga Onga is a small town. Actually, town isn’t quite the right word, not any more. Settlement, village, hamlet, might be more accurate. We once had neighbours who were refugees from Auckland (population 1.42 million and growing) seeking the quiet life here in Napier (population 58,800 and declining – temporarily, I hope). After a couple of years they moved on to Onga Onga (population too few to mention – no results on Google). I wondered if we would bump into them during our visit. We didn’t.
Onga is truly a blip on the map. It wasn’t always like that. The township was established in the mid 1800s and according to Kete Central Hawkes Bay reached its zenith in 1914. At the outbreak of World War I nearly all the men from the area enlisted. This apparently marked the beginning of the decline of the township. (It would, wouldn’t it.)
We’d heard that these days the locals are a bunch of history buffs, that there’s a museum and a store and, most importantly because our trip was all about lunch, a country pub.
We made a pact before we left: whatever they served we’d eat. Too bad if it was only a toasted sandwich. We are explorers, we declared. We will take what comes.
Sadly, our research was lacking. The pub, The Sandford Arms, only serves meals on Fridays and Saturdays. And at just after midday on a Sunday there wasn’t another car in sight. And there wasn’t a welcome or an open sign. There was a For Sale sign. Sadly, several of the country pubs we’ve visited over the last couple of years have been for sale. We assumed The Sandford Arms was shut. Our pact forgotten and our adventurous spirit weakened by rumbling stomachs we headed five minutes down State Highway 50 to Tikokino. The pub there, the Sawyers Arms, (we call it The Tiko) is a favourite of ours. Once again they did not disappoint.
The special of the day, homemade pie with potato, peas and gravy was the big favourite. One of our number, there’s one in every crowd, bucked the trend and ordered curried kumera with cashews.
We scored our meals. The other two pie eaters gave scores of only 9/10. Picky, very picky. One who is, to quote my mother, “a big eater” fancied another scoop of potato. The other docked a point because the pastry was short instead of flaky. Honestly, some people. That pie meal cost a grand total of $14:00 and it was jam packed with tasty beef mince. I suspect the curried-kumera-eater was also rather picky when he scored his meal 9/10. Not having tried the dish myself I can’t directly challenge his rating but when asked on what grounds he’d docked a point he said, looking rather sheepish, he’d fancied another handful of cashews.
If the proprietors of the Sawyers Arms should happen to read this post, I urge them not to take these ratings seriously – my companions are harsh markers. The meals were delicious. I, however, scored my meal a perfect ten. Judging by how busy the place was a lot of people agree with me. And so do the judges in the 2014 Hospitality New Zealand National Awards. The Tiko Pub is a finalist in the Best Country Pub section. Go Tiko!!
I’m pleased to report that all four of us have, however, learned from previous expeditions, our trip to Mangatera springs to mind, and this time we didn’t order desserts. Some of us are on a health kick. Another was heard to claim, a teeny, tiny bit earnestly, they do have abs … beneath the comfy rolls of middle – age. They were a bit hurt when the rest of the group laughed (!).
On our way home we passed through Onga Onga again. Opposite the pub, still no customers as far as we could tell, there’s a group of restored buildings, which provide a glimpse into the past. They include an old school-house which is now a museum; a military hut, similar to those used in World War II, although our Dad spent months in a tent right through the winter; a back country hut similar to those we’ve stayed in during tramping trips; a farm hand’s shack; and, a Victorian era cottage. We only had a few minutes to spare this time, having lingered over our lunch. We all want to go back. We’ll take our time and throughly explore all the old buildings, including the museum. Who knows, we might splurge on an ice-cream from the General Store.
The locals are very proud of their small community and its history, with good reason. The Historical Society has a Facebook page which is full of fascinating information and photos from the early days of the community.
Onga Onga even features on YouTube. Check it out!
How did we rate our likely return?
To both Tiko and Onga Onga Village
Keen as (You bet!)
We almost count as regulars at the Sawyers Arms – we’ll definitely go back there. And Onga Onga deserves a return visit. If the pub isn’t serving meals, we’ll take a picnic and eat on the green.
Good idea: Some of us are considering an overnight visit. Maybe Could be talked in to it Not if I’m paying
Categories: Off The Beaten Track in Aotearoa