Slow Life In The Fast Lane

“There’s something about Port Albert,” says Dave Pratt, meditatively. “It’s…” He looks at the ceiling. Authentic? “Yep,” he agrees. Big, twinkly Dave and his partner Grace own the Port Albert store. It’s famous for its fish and chips. Dave is famous for his shed. 

Port Albert is eight kilometres off SH16, only about ten minutes from Wellsford. There are rolling hills, historic cottages with red roofs, and sudden, glorious views of the upper reaches of the Kaipara Harbour. 

Dave and Grace bought the store four years ago. For many years, it was the lifeblood of the community, stocking everything from bread to tractor parts, but it closed over two decades ago. The couple were living in Puhoi, with Grace working in the store there when it came up for sale. “We drove in here and just went ‘yeah, this is the place,’” says Dave. 

He likes the fact that in Port Albert you don’t have to dress up to go out. “We have shearing gangs, local ladies in their gumboots, farmers parking their tractors and plenty of tourists who pop in for coffee.” Grace’s locally-roasted (Rush) flat white would certainly give Ponsonby Road cafés a run for their money. 

Dave left school at 14 to do a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. He had a solid grounding – “I pretty much grew up in Dad’s shed,” he says nostalgically. He has been involved in Speedway for around 20-25 years, working with mini sprint cars, TQs and now midgets. Ex-motocross star Hamish Dobbyn (featured in our January Edition) began driving the Port Albert Midget car last year and Dave is also mentoring 15-year-old David Pellow, who’s been on the track most of his life. 

Dave set up the workshop to craft the interior fit-out of the store, but has since acquired the machinery needed to fabricate from scratch most mechanical parts he needs. He also builds motorcycles. His gear is old-school. “I’m a parts man, I use dials, not computers. I can just about manage to send an email,” he says wryly. 

His extensive signage collection has been mostly sourced via a mate’s scrapyard. Thursday nights is when the boys come around to Dave’s snug bar in the back corner of the shed. It boasts a disco ceiling, TV and a collection of model Nascar vehicles. “Quite a few of the guys here have set up bars. Some are pretty amazing,” he says. 

“It’s just something social we like to do since we don’t have a pub.” 

A quick tiki-tour takes in spectacular harbour views and the wharf, then it’s back to the store to grab some local avocados. Port Albert is an hour and a half from Auckland, but it’s more like time-travelling. And yep – it’s definitely authentic. 

58 Wharf Road, Port Albert

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