Boat Café

139A Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Wellington
Opens 8am every day; closes 9pm
Muesli $11, porridge $13; L’Affare coffee, T-Leaf -T tea

The Boat Café, more commonly referred to as simply the ‘tugboat’ is indeed a repurposed tugboat. The deck has been closed in, so you eat on what were formerly open areas, and there is a bit of a slope upwards at the stern. The vessel was commissioned in 1958 for Auckland Harbour Board and named Aucklander. It ended its life as a working ship in 1986 and was brought to Wellington. Here is was renamed the Tapui II and opened as a café in 1992.

I was attracted by the menu listing the muesli as paleo muesli with ‘roasted nuts, seeds grains, dried fruits, coconut, served with seasonal fruit and almond milk’. Well, yes, all those ingredients were there, but a key feature of paleo diets is the absence of grain, since grains were only consumed in quantity when humans first settled down from hunting and gathering in paleolithic times to farm. And this muesli is heavily based on oat flakes (yes, a grain).

Tugboat interior counter and bench seating

The fruit, as you can see, is served in large squares in a separate bowl. Is there a good reason for this? I’m not sure, but it’s fine. And there was a large serve of very sweet almond milk in a jug.

I was very disappointed by the muesli. Not just that it didn’t come anywhere near matching its title as paleo, but also that it was clearly straight out of the catering packs you buy at Moore Wilsons. So that’s just lazy. And it has banana chips in it, the worst crime against muesli in my view. Plus dates and other sugary dried fruit.

As for drink, I decided to have green tea instead of my usual muesli accompaniment of coffee, and it was fine, though the tea pot was a dribbler. Although the tea was served in a coffee cup, it was the right shape sort of coffee cup for tea (narrow).

Tugboat interior downstairs seating

I was there at around 1.30pm and no problem getting served with muesli: the breakfast menu is available through to 3pm. It was a rather grey, windy day though, and I felt like I was dining at a deserted seaside resort in winter. I think the Boat Café is at its best on a sunny afternoon. I suspect it is rather more popular on fine weekends.

Tugboat interior stern seating

On the two other occasions I’ve been to the Boat Café I’ve noticed the upstairs seating area roped off. Apparently it is a bar and lounge, and only open in the evening. A pity, as I’m sure that’s the best part. But I did take the opportunity to check what is below decks, and it turns out there is a functions space, perhaps used for dancing and large groups (weddings?) It is actually below the waterline, and you can hear the water lapping against the curving sides of the hull.

The tugboat was formerly painted with a deep blue hull, white topsides, and a red and black funnel. Heaven knows why someone had taken a beige brush to the entire boat at the time I visited. A dull, unship-like colour. However, maybe they read my comments(!) Now, at August 2020, the forward part of the superstructure is painted a more suitable red. Just remember you can’t go up into these more interesting parts of the boat (not even the forward deck).

Tugboat exterior red

Packaged, low quality muesli that doesn’t live up to its listing as ‘paleo’. I think this café needs a spruce-up on all fronts, from menu to appearance, or it risks going out of business.

Reviewed December 2019.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.

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