Hokiangas Boatshed Café

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm


Jill Malcolm shares her latest adventures and experiences from the road, this time visiting the Boatshed Café in Hokianga.

With the incoming tide, beige-coloured water sloshed around the foundations of the boatshed in the same way that it has, twice a day, for more than 50 years. From the outside, this little building is the same red tin shed that once rang to the sound of hammers, a place where small water craft, of which there were many on the Hokianga Harbour, were repaired.

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The only sounds now are happy chatter, the clink of cutlery and the occasional cry of a seagull. The little building has all the charm of rustic old age and is possibly the most photographed in Rawene.

It might have slowly sunk into the tide had it not been for a local couple, Craig and Kirsty Joiner, who more than 20 years ago saved its life and turned it into the Boatshed Café. Despite a vigorous revamp, they kept its understated sea-shed look.

It has a simple interior with touches of rusty corrugated iron on the walls, tables made from old floorboards, a bamboo and beamed ceiling, and an outdoor verandah hanging out over the Hokianga Harbour.

Although I have eaten at the Boatshed on several occasions, I heard that it had changed hands in July this year, which gave me a good excuse to go there again. It is now owned by long-time Rawene residents Melanie and Julian Gielen.

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The Boatshed’s owner, Melanie Gielen

Their daughter-in-law, Brianna Patino, is the manager and she comes to the role with experience in hospitality in the United States and her adopted home. They make a happy team and say they love to make food that makes other people happy too.

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Boatshed manager Brianna Patino

The cheerful attitude was apparent as soon as I walked in the door. This long-standing and popular café is still the best place to eat in the tiny Northland township, and that hasn’t changed at all.

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A small gift shop sells local products

Inside the café, the smiles and the rich aroma of coffee are persuasive. A message etched on one of the ceiling rafters reads, ‘You’re on Hokianga time now’, and it felt like a welcome without actually saying so.

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A kind of welcome

"The menu is much the same as it has always been," says Brianna. "Locals keep coming back for their favourites. The Rawene community is very supportive of us and are proud of what we do. Boatshed Bene is the most ordered dish, maybe because we use Edith’s eggs which are laid by happy free-range hens."

Edith lives just down the road, and as many other ingredients as possible are sourced nearby. Herbs grow in pots on the café’s verandah, and some of the vegetables come from Julian’s garden.

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Nearly everything is made in the café’s small kitchen

The eventual aim, Melanie says, is to grow as much of their produce as possible. Most of the food is made in the eatery’s small kitchen and anything that isn’t, such as the bagels, salami, and cheese, is sourced locally.

"Our food philosophy is to make simple dishes and do them well," said Melanie. She suggested I try the creamy leek and mussel pie. I took her advice, and the pie was so crisp and tasty I went back for lunch the next day.

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Mussel and leek pie with a local wine

I had then to make the hard choice between another leek and mussel pie, locally caught flounder baked with croutons or baked camembert with house-made focaccia bread. I couldn’t get past another pie, and this time I accompanied it with a glass of Marsden Estate sauvignon blanc.

The choice of desserts was seductive but on the counter, artfully displayed at eye level, was an arrangement of enticing slices straight from the kitchen. I’d just eaten a large and satisfying pie and yet my gaze kept roving from the chocolate fudge to the coconut mocha and chocolate raspberry slices and eventually came to rest on a gathering of afghans.

I bought two, one for now and one for later, and was very glad I did. It was a pleasurable way to pass the time, sitting among the potted herbs on that peaceful verandah, consuming a memorable afghan and coffee as the Rawene/Kohukohu ferry slid smoothly over the harbour. A seagull landed on the railing eager to hoover up any crumbs. Not a chance. If I’d been alone, I’d have licked the plate. 

Café information

  • Boatshed Café, 8 Clendon Esplanade, Rawene, (09) 405 7728.
  • Monday to Friday: 7:30am to 4pm,
  • Saturday and Sunday: 8am to 4pm.

Win lunch at the Boatshed Café

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Be in to win lunch to the value of $75 at the Boatshed Café.

Click here to enter before 13 December.

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