Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand in the moments just before sunrise.

With the Red portion of The Palette Project safely in the can, the production is moving on to Blue (and I’d love it if you checked out the film’s homepage, by the way, or even, dare I suggest, the tax deductible contribution page). While I do want to tackle the underlying reasons for heading to New Zealand as our location of choice for Blue on the color palette. I think some lighter fare is in order to get us settled in. So with that in mind, let’s delve into lighter fare… by talking about lighter fare – our food related travails on our travels.

I’ve come to realize that many of my observations along the road to producing The Palette Project have much less to do with how different cultures are amenable to the goals of the visually impaired traveler, and much more to do with how those cultures are not amenable to the needs of the thirsty one. Say what you will about the pervasive nature of American culture. Until we manage to export the concept of the free refill, we have a long way to go.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the idea that while the portions of meals we were having in Australia and now New Zealand were equivalent to anything we would eat in the United States, there seems to be a universal disparity in the size of the drink portions. Everything was smaller. The average bottle of anything was usually at least 1/3 smaller than the United States equivalent. Even beers often arrived in a form called a stubby. Water bottles were often smaller than a liter, and coffee… my word, the coffee.

The search for the endless, or even refillable, cup of coffee became my obsession while in Australia and New Zealand. While in Adelaide, the hotel buffet became my Notre Dame like sanctuary, if only for the unlimited coffee refills here, and apparently nowhere else. I never got over the idea that a cup of coffee seemed to be, quite literally, a foreign concept.

This came to an unexpected head in Auckland.

Let me first say that The Sitting Duck Cafe, on the edge of Auckland Harbour astride the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, is a place you absolutely must visit, even if you don’t sail or have any entree into the place. The breakfasts are well above average, I would even say superlative, but the real attraction is the location. Sitting on the dock overlooking the marina and its abundance of multi million dollar boats and views of the same value, with the early morning sunrise illuminating the harbour. Having your breakfast within feet of the waterline, served on sparkling china is surprisingly affordable and extremely pleasurable. With the cool morning breez  on the April morning we were there, and, after Australia, refreshingly free of flies… it’s one of those experiences that makes a traveler strongly consider abandoning all other plans in favor of whatever new tack will result in the ability to have breakfast here every day.

This view from the Sitting Duck Cafe is a great way to dive into New Zealand
This view from the Sitting Duck Cafe is a great way to dive into New Zealand

The only drawback was the coffee.

My cinematographer and I were awaiting the crew of the boat that would be taking us on the water this morning, both of us hoping they might be a little late, in order for us to enjoy this brief respite in our ramblings. After two weeks shooting the Australian outback and a ten hour layover in Melbourne before a very turbulent flight into New Zealand we were a bit frazzled by this point. Upon our arrival in Auckland the day prior, at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. we managed to find our way to the hotel… hidden as it was in plain sight on the wrong side of the street. Our GPS, which I named Ethel, for no other reason than to see if I could get my cinematographer to call it that also, insisted the hotel was on our right. The hotel, however, had other plans, and insisted on planting itself, sans signage, on the left side, and added insult to injury by making its signage roughly the size of a postage stamp… providing ever yet more grist for the mill of my other post thread about mistakes not to make when reserving a hotel room. We found ourselves unable to check into our room because, while the room was in fact ready, the elevators were not. both were broken. With our rooms being on the twenty first floor and our eight bags of camera gear taunting us, we had spent most of that first day pinballing from cafe to cafe, waiting for the hotel’s elevators to be fixed. A side note – thank you, Auckland Starbucks for the comfy armchairs, I will never ever forget you. Big hugs.

However, with this new day, expertly prepared French brioche and the freshening excitement of a new adventure in a new country (well, new to us), all was forgiven. I had gulped down my coffee with the exuberance of a six year old inhaling a Pixie stick and was ready for more.

I had long since resigned myself to the reality that if I was going to indulge my coffee addiction, it was going to cost me. I had already factored in the costs of additional cups of coffee… seconds, thirds and often fourths… while on the road. Seriously, beer would have been cheaper. So when the waitress materialized by our table to see if we wanted anything else but clearly hoping we did not, I was ready, with that now practiced air of resigned acceptance, to ask for a refill.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.

“Yes, may I have a refill on the coffee?”

“I’m sorry?”

“A refill on the coffee?”

“I beg your pardon? Are you saying there was something not to your liking with your coffee?”

“No,” I said. “The coffee was great. Actually, it was so great, I’d like another.”

She clearly did not understand, and looked at my cinematographer, perhaps in the hopes he could shed some light on the situation, since there was clearly something wrong with me. He was too busy suppressing his laughter to be of much help, though.

“You know,” I said. A refill. More coffee.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

I wondered what the language barrier could possibly be. The waitress appeared to be Indonesian, but her English up to this point seemed excellent.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I know I have to buy a new cup, or you have to charge me for a new cup.”

“There’s something wrong with the cup?” she said. “Is there a crack?”

“No,” I said. “The cup is fine. I just want more coffee in it.” I mimed the act of pouring liquid into a cup, but all I was getting was a blank stare.

“Let me get the manager,” she said and walked away.

My cinematographer was, by now, almost on the dock he was laughing so hard. “She doesn’t understand how you could possibly want more coffee,” he finally managed. “It seems just ludicrous to her that anyone would want more than one cup of coffee.

I realized he was right. Once again, it wasn’t then, it was me. The very concept that anyone would want more coffee than that which was allotted in the first cup did not compute. It was like trying to explain the idea behind a Where’s Waldo book to a chicken.

I never did get my second cup of coffee that morning. At a certain point, it becomes more trouble than it’s worth. Not long after “The Incident’ as it became known, our compatriots for the sail arrived, and as they ordered, and enjoyed, their own single cups of coffee… they all stopped at one, and even left some in their cups, I noted with barely contained misery… I soldiered on. We had a good day on the water ahead of us, and I was determined that my single jolt of caffeine in its 5 ounce serving would go the distance.

However, I am now on a mission. There are six locations remaining on this around the world filmmaking odyssey. Attention corporate sponsors, especially those with caffeinated subdivisions. (I’m looking at you, Starbucks). I have an announcement.

I’m in love with the refill and I’m ready to deal.

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