Just over the road from Wellington’s Lyall Bay beach, backed by the weathered warehouses of Rongotai and flanked by the runway to the airport, is the Spruce Goose café.
The Spruce Goose’s rambling old wooden building holds a special place in Wellington’s history. Originally it was the domestic terminal of NAC (forerunner to Air New Zealand), then, for fifty years it housed the Wellington Aero Club. Now, although opened up, pared down, painted with a marine-themed murals, furnished with bright, simple functional café tables and chairs, it still has the feel and (if you listen carefully or happen to be there in a rare quiet moment) the creaking sound of one of those iconic wooden Wellington houses.
The Spruce Goose’s interior, however, could well fade into a pleasant background blur, because the views, from here, are sensational. On the left, planes land and launch – a heart-stopping sight in a fierce Wellington wind and a heart-lifting one on a rare still day. Out front, there’s a great sweep of sea with, always, a surfer riding, or waiting, for a wave. On the right, in the distance, are the hills, with bush and rickety wooden houses clinging to their faces or huddled in their lee.
These stunning vistas might also distract from the Spruce Goose fare, if it weren’t so good, and from the service too, if it weren’t so efficient.
When I first discovered the Spruce Goose, we were on the way to the airport to catch a plane. It was Sunday morning, the place was packed, we had a little time to spare, but none to waste. I doubted that we’d get a table but a gracious young waiter found us one immediately, by the window. We ordered coffees. They arrived minutes later and they were hot. (“So what?” you might say, but to me, when it comes to coffee, temperature matters!) Encouraged by the coffee experience, we ordered breakfast. It was just eggs on toast, nothing time consuming or complicated, it’s true, but given the crowd and the pressure at the time, I did expect a wait. The eggs, too, were delivered promptly. They were steaming and the toast was crisp. The bill arrived at the wave of hand (or rather an air scribble!) Minutes later, we were on our way, satisfied and calm.
My next Spruce Goose experience was a month ago. We had just landed at Wellington airport. It was a warm, perfect, late afternoon. Where better to enjoy those first moments back in Wellington than at the Spruce Goose, overlooking Lyall Bay?
It was quiet, the lunch crowd had long gone, and the after-workers had only just begun to trickle in. Over a rich Spruce Goose coffee, we watched the light fade on the sea. A perfect return to Wellington, in a very special place – the Spruce Goose.