Hawkes Bay

No Sting at Onga Onga

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.

Central Hawkes Bay

Central Hawkes Bay


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.

The Sandford Arms, Onga Onga

The Sandford Arms, Onga Onga

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.


Could be talked in to it

Not if I’m paying

14 replies »

  1. I enjoyed this post Jill it reminded me of some of the things that enchanted me in Kiwi-land.
    It is a country that is easy to fall in love with, it was the weather that got to me.
    Also thanks for the complement on my comment on Pauline’s post.
    I some times note good comments and am often prompted to follow them up.
    This is what is nice about blogging you make contact with like minded people.
    Some would say I am over the hill Jill, kind regards Jack. _/\_


    • I understand about the weather, Jack. It’s damp and dreary here at the moment.
      Pauline did warn me that blogging is addictive. And I can see why – the connections with other bloggers make the world seem both smaller and more marvellous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill, what a fascinating look at your part of the world.Your food photos are making me hungry. I had to look up kumera … and now I’m craving the curried kumera with cashews. 🙂 Are the pubs for sale because the populations are shrinking or are people eating elsewhere? ~Terri


    • A smart phone has no limits – it can make people in different hemispheres hungry – isn’t that amazing.
      Your question got me thinking, Terri. There are several factors. Most of the country pubs are over 100 years old – back then people didn’t travel as far or as readily as we do now. Increased urbanisation and increased mechanisation on farms means fewer farm workers. And, over the last twenty or so years our region has become famous for its wineries and cafes. (They are very good, many are world class.) The down side of that is that most people don’t think of going to the country pubs anymore.
      By the way, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed this week. Totally Awesome. Peace and tolerance to you both, too!


    • Thanks Pavanne. It was delicious and a real bonus was that we were able to sit outside in the garden bar. Couldn’t do that this weekend – it’s back to winter, freezing cold.


      • It is chilly here. In Connecticut at my sister’s. Down in the 50’s tonight. Not used to that. In the 80’s in Georgia. I shouldn’t complain. At least it isn’t freezing. 😀


  3. Well, I am going to be picky too and give your return to Onga Onga a 9/10, only because you did not order desserts at Tiko’s. 🙂
    Very interesting read! I visited my father’s birthplace in Greece earlier this summer. A small village in the northwestern part of the country. Most of the houses were deserted and in a bad condition. The remaining habitats, mostly ladies in their 80s and 90s, recalling the past and sharing memories of their loved ones that are no longer with us…


    • Ha ha. I guess I deserved that – good one Vasilis 🙂
      It’s sad to see the old places disappearing but, as they say, nothing stays the same. I hope someone is gathering all those stories that the old ladies from your father’s village have to tell.


Nau mai, Haere mai. Come on in and join the korero (conversation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s