Toilets are rarely tourist attractions, and I would not normally make a detour simply to photograph them. But the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa, in New Zealand’s Northland, are different. These are the “most photographed toilets in New Zealand”, and they are mentioned in all the guidebooks. So I had to see what all the fuss was about.
The Hundertwasser Toilets
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The Hundertwasser Toilets were the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist and architect. He lived in Kawakawa from 1975 until his death in 2000 and is closely associated with the town. He was famous for his dislike of straight lines. Judging by these toilets, it seems that he was also an advocate of bright colours and quirky designs.
The toilets are full of tiles, pillars and decorative features. Part of the design philosophy was to use reclaimed materials, and the building is constructed from an eclectic mix of ceramics, brick and glass.
I was not the only tourist there; I arrived to find several people already busy with their cameras. I would have liked to photograph inside the toilets (as interesting as the outside) but unfortunately I had to be quick as there was a long queue of people waiting!
The Amazing Amaze Space
An added bonus is that Hundertwasser’s influence seems to have spread across Kawakawa. Behind his toilets is a small municipal toilet, apparently trying to rival his design with coloured glass windows, pictures on the walls and a garden on the roof. And across the main road is the Hundertwasser gift shop with multi-coloured pillars outside. Beside the shop, on the pavement, is a mosaic bench, covered with images of birds and plants.
But the biggest surprise was Amaze Space. This is a sculpture park with the most fantastical creations by local artists. It is only a small area but clever use of different levels and hidden corners makes it seem bigger. As you walk around you encounter all sorts of colourful sculptures, murals and mosaics. And there are mirrors everywhere: you can’t avoid taking selfies here.
I came away astounded at so much colour in such a small space. It seems that Hundertwasser’s legacy to Kawakawa is not just his Toilets. It is also his distinctive artistic vision, which continues to attract and inspire artists today.