Whau cafe interior. Photo: Alex Blackwood

Whau, a new cafe opened halfway up Mt Eden, is a love letter to the maunga it's built on

With every aspect carefully considered to honour the nearby mountain, Whau (a new cafe up the side of Mt Eden/ Maungawhau) is as much a letter of aroha to the maunga and Māori culture as it is a cafe.

Surrounded by native bush with tui and kereru swooping amongst the pohutukawa and kawakawa trees, looking out over the Waitematā Harbour is W­­hau, named for the cork tree to which the Mount Eden’s Māori title refers. Maungawhau means mountain of the cork tree, a tree used in Māori medicine which was once abundant here. A small, potted whau sits on a table and a picture of the plant hangs on the wall. A cork path runs through the cafe toward a discovery centre with an interactive model of the maunga and panels detailing the history of the area.

Whau interior and exterior. Photo: Alex Blackwood

Whau is owned by Dane Tumahai and his cousin Paora Puru – Tumahai has been running a real fruit ice cream shop out of the heritage building for two years already. Now they’re able to open the whole building as a cafe, having won the support of the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau, the legislating body of the 13 iwi and hapū of the Tāmaki Collective.

The view of the city from Whau and the dicovery centre's model of Mt Eden. Photo: Alex Blackwood.

Tumahai and Puru are direct descendants of the Māori chiefs living on Maungawhau before New Zealand was settled. “In fact it was my chief, Āpihai Te Kawau… who invited governor Hobson down from up north at the time of the signing of the treaty, who gifted 300,000 acres to establish Auckland city,” Tumahai says. Though the discovery centre is run by Mike George of Tūpuna Maunga cousins also run a tourism business giving guided tours of Auckland, Taupua Tours, so guests will find themselves in good hands if they’re looking out over the city wanting to know what’s where. 

The little potted whau tree at Whau cafe. Photo: Alex Blackwood.

Every aspect of Whau consciously honours its place on the maunga. Topographical maps of Auckland’s 14 Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) decorate tables throughout the cafe while blue insets in two of the tables represent the Waitematā and Manukau harbours. The fit out is by Garrick Numan for Millé Design and the colour scheme is largely red, green and blue, representing Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and Ranginui, the sky father. Look out the windows of Whau, or climb a little higher (Maungawhau is Auckland’s second-tallest volcano, pipped only by Rangitoto) and you’ll be able to see all the mountains they’re paying homage to, along with the pits Māori once used to store kūmara through the winter.

The road up to Whau and Whau through the trees. Photo: Alex Blackwood.

You’ll also find kūmara on the menu, as well as kawakawa, horopito, fried bread crumpets, kai moana, kamo kamo and mussel fritters. All the dishes have Māori names and Puru says tourists have been giving proper te reo pronunciation a good go. There’s ika mata, te ahi kōmau (vine tomatoes, goat cheese and kumara sourdough) and kūmara o rongo (kūmara pancakes) all cooked by Nick Ravilich whose name you might have heard in connection to Stokehouse, a fine dining restaurant in Melbourne, and Hawker and Roll, a Malaysian Auckland restaurant.

Ika Mata, raw fish and coconut dish on a table with a topographical design of Mt Roskill. Photo: Alex Blackwood.

Huri Rapana, who manages the cafe along with Tumahai and Puru’s business partner Jacqui Perillo, explains all the dishes have been given Kiwi aspects; the roast pork roll, called Tāmaki Makaurau on the menu, has been smoked over Manuka chips. The menu has words for a karakia (Māori blessing) on it in both English and Māori. And of course, they’re still doing soft serves and are proudly serving Kōkako’s fairtrade organic coffee. 

Whau's soft serve (I'm sorry my manicure isn't as good as Albert Cho's). Photo: Alex Blackwood.

The passion of everyone involved is evident and ardent. They’re committed to Māori values first, business second - more interested in feeding patrons and treating them like family than making a profit. As Tumahai explains, the café’s motto, “Te Ipu Kai O Te Aroha” – “The Food Bowl of Love”, conveys both a love for the food and a love for the people. They’re running the cafe and discovery centre with a love of people, food and the mountain, trusting that success will follow.

Dane Tumahai and Paora Puru. Photo: Alex Blackwood.

Next, The team behind Whau looking to start guided tours of the Maunga, explaining its story and significance and passing on the immense respect they have for it. They’re keen to share their passion. And it’s contagious.

Puhi Huia Rd,
Mount Eden

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