A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa

By: Jill Malcolm

A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa
A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa
A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa A short stopover in colourful Kawakawa

In an attempt to woo the interest of passers by, small towns all around the country are reinventing themselves. One of them is Kawakawa in the Far North.

A few years ago, a friend of mine returning from holidaying France expressed her disgust that Kawakawa had done nothing to beautify itself. "Nearly every French village makes an effort to look attractive," she said peevishly. "Why can't they do it here?

I didn't mention to the Francophile that for a start the little town has one of the most celebrated outhouses in the country. The toilets in the main street are designed by the celebrated German artist Friedensreich Regentag Dunklbun Hundertwasser who for a time lived in the north.

Since its appearance, Kawakawa had been dubbed the 'toilet town' and no one seems dismayed that their place is names for its bog. The famous artist's design has also given rise to copycat decorations with the same bulges curves and colours, and to a renewed pride in the town's appearance. Today travellers are giving Kawakawa a second look.

Concrete sofas decorated in colourful mosaic and painted shrub pots add interest to the pavements. There are several country-style cafes with curb-side seating. The best known is called The Train Spotter.

Much photographed is the crazy, colourful wall mural painted by local school children. Its theme and execution looks Hundertwasser-inspired like other aspects of the town.

A small park called Art Space is crazier still, made up of murals, mirrors and mosaics that are fashioned into shapes weird enough to curdle the mind. This was a much more extensive than it is at present. The rear part was crushed by a landslide during a recent flood and awaits repair.

I was trying to make sense of the intact part of this display when a hissing, rumbling sound alerted me to Kawakawa's other main attraction. Gabriel came steaming down the main drag with a gaggle of local children joyfully racing along beside her. The restored steam train, carriages in tow, rocks through the main street on Friday to Sunday. It doesn't go far, just five kilometres up to Taumarere Station and return, none-the-less the short ride is a thrill for train buffs and small fry.

"No one in their right mind would stop in a place like Kawakawa," my France fancier friend had once said.

Well they're certainly stopping now.

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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