Wish You Were Here: Sipping Espresso Aboard Jacques Cousteau’s Old Ship, Physalie (Now Espresso Ship), Port Tarakohe, New Zealand

by Owen James Burke

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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I was convinced this was a gimmick, and you might imagine my immediate disbelief after haphazardly stumbling upon Cousteau’s old ship amidst this craggy, rusty old shipyard in–for all intents and purposes–the middle of nowhere. Photo: Owen James Burke.

The other morning, I was driving along a coastal road in New Zealand’s Golden Bay looking for a place to sit by the water and have an espresso. Coming out of a hairpin turn through a cave-tunnel in the road, I saw a sign for the “Espresso Ship”. Perfect, I thought. Plainly and simply rhapsodic. Those may well be the two things I love and covet most in this world.

Little did I know, as I would soon come to learn, this floating cafe formerly belonged to my late hero: a French naval officer, scientist and explorer by the name of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

How had I never heard of this boat?

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Physalie, or Physalia–the latin name for the Portuguese man-of-war–was built in Marseille in 1957 and acquired by Commandant Cousteau before he sailed her to New Zealand in 1969. She was sold shortly thereafter, subsequently joining the fishing fleet in Napier on New Zealand’s North Island before moving to Nelson on the South Island where, in 2007, her current proprietor Ollie purchased and made home aboard this long-lost sister to Calypso, who, I might add, could stand a little attention herself, along with some considerable tender love and care.

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“Physalie”, her maiden name, is still visible on the transom. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Ollie, who’s generally open from 10-4 during summer months–but more or less when he feels like it–sells his own brand of organic fair-trade roasts. Rumor has it that Physalie, or Espresso Ship (as you like) is also available for private events. Contact him on Facebook to see about booking.

Read more about Espresso Ship and find directions here.


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