Ruth Pettit snips away in her fragrant garden, gathering an armful of aromatic gardenia and lemon verbena to steep for tea. It’s a sample of what awaits the hungry visitor in search of both beauty and sustenance in the North Island’s stunning Coromandel coastline along the northeastern shore. When asked about farm to table cuisine, Ruth seems a bit flummoxed. “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” she says with a shrug.
Ruth and her husband Andy own the Colenso Country Shop & Cafe, an outgrowth of the family orchard business. “With four children to put through school, we needed more than mandarins,” said Ruth, who opened the cafe and shop 22 years ago.
Perched on a scenic hillside overlooking Mercury Bay, the cafe is on “state highway” 25-A – one of the ribbons of gorgeous roadways crisscrossing the North Island. The Cafe’s menu is all about fresh and seasonal comfort fare, usually starring herbs, veggies and fruits from the garden out back. Dishes might include local lamb enfolded in buttery puff pastry, wedges of feta and spinach pie and grilled ham and cheese panini featuring happy porkers from a nearby pasture. Homebaked scones, with clotted cream and fresh peach jam, are the perfect accompaniment for Ruth’s just-picked herbal tea.
After lunch, browse through the stylish shop for a few New Zealand made goods to take home. At the very least, buy a jar of local Manuka honey, a tonic for just about anything that ails you. Then again, the same can be said for New Zealand, a destination that’s definitely good for the soul.