‘My old boss wants to meet us for lunch, in a place called Matakana,’ said The Boyfriend when we were planning our recent New Zealand trip. Pretty sure, ‘Oooh, we can go to the toilets,’ wasn’t the answer he was expecting, but, the fact is the Matakana Toilets near Auckland are a sight to behold.
Designed by local art student Steffan de Haan they were installed in the town of Matakana, about an hour’s drive from Auckland in 2009. I hadn’t managed to get up that way on my trips between now and then – this time, I had an excuse.
After all, when a toilet has been named among the most amazing toilets in the world by Lonely Planet (who wrote a book about such things) it seems rude not to visit them. And the Matakana Toilets have that very honour.
When we get to Matakana parking is a bit scarce so I’ve been driven past the toilets a few times before I get up close and personal with one. They actually are rather impressive.
The design is supposed to be based upon the shape of a boat hull, but the faces that guard the entrance give it a far more surreal feeling. You get the feeling Picasso is looking down from above whispering- ‘get in there son, go as weird as you like.’
Their fabulousness is added to by the fact that they are installed on a hill overlooking some of that amazing scenery New Zealand likes to chuck around every corner – there are blue skies, there’s green grass, there’s a river flowing between them – which admittedly could play havoc with your bladder if you had to queue.
Sadly, time has not been kind to the inside of the Matakana Toilets. The Men’s was out of order when we arrived, people have scratched their names all over them – and pinched some of the quirky men and women signs from outside.
The Women’s has fared better and so I popped in. it’s a bit dark, and in fact, because of the stained glass window, it feels a bit like going to the bathroom in a church which is novel.
I skipped around them gleefully taking pictures for about five minutes before I thought someone might report me for loitering – then headed off for lunch.
Now, I admit, most of you are not going to drive up to Matakana to visit a toilet alone and so the good news is there is actually quite a few other cool things to do in Matakana, or nearby. Like these…
Have lunch in The Matakana Hotel
This recently restored pub was our lunch venue and it was a great choice. The outside garden gives you the chance to watch the world go by and inside is full of quirky touches like a stuffed pig’s head wearing a leather biker’s cap!
I went for the taco of the day which suited their quirky image as it had kimchi in it. While this made it a bit tricky to eat it was actually really good!
Visit the Matakana Market
The weekly Farmer’s Market is the normal reason people visit Matakana, it’s on Saturday morning and people really do come from miles around to shop. Apparently, parking can be tricky so get here early.
Go see the Giant Pink Snail
There’s a lot for quirky art lovers around this area of the North Island: not only are the Matakana Toilets pretty awesome, but there are three sculpture exhibits very close to Matakana
Sculptureum, however, is the only one that has a giant pink snail as one of their exhibits.
I didn’t get a chance to go on this trip as they say to allow at least an hour and half to visit which I didn’t have but it looks really cool. The curator and owner Anthony Grant says he wants it to be a place where people smile as no-one smiles in art galleries in anymore – and from what I’ve read about the exhibits it’s absolutely going to do that.
There are three gardens and six galleries on the property all filled with some amazing works of art from international artists (although I admit, I was totally only going to go to see the snail). They are open five days a week (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) and tickets cost $39 See more on their website.
Also check out Gibbs Farm, which also looks amazing but only opens a few days a year or the 2km Brick Bay Sculpture Trail.
Soak Away Your Troubles At Waiwera
Whenever my parents came over to visit me in Auckland, they wanted to do one thing – head to the thermal water park at Waiwera Thermal Pools and spend the morning soaking in the hot pools.
I would have done the same on this trip, but Waiwera is currently undergoing a huge makeover – which, even last time I went, I admit it needed. The idea that it’s getting a new look is therefore very exciting. To check when they are reopening, visit their website.
Head out in a Clear Kayak
We combined our lunch outing with a short drive further North to the Goat Island Marine Park which is home to New Zealand’s first clear kayaks. These allow you to float around watching fish without getting your feet – or pretty much anything else wet.
They cost $60 an hour to hire – but that is for a double kayak. To see more about where to book and the type of fish you’ll see, check out the full post here.
Yes, we know all the sheep jokes that come with a trip to New Zealand – Sheepworld is where you go to keep that fantasy alive. You can learn all about sheep life in NZ, watch herding, see sheering if you’re lucky – and yes, feed baby lambs if there are any around. It’s a fun half a day out.
Take a Detour to Puhoi
It’s just a short turn off the main road to/from Auckland, but there’s a quirky old pub which will send lovers of minimalist decor screaming for the hills, you can grab all the yummy cheese you need at the famous cheese shop and, if the tides are right, there’s the chance to kayak down a beautiful river.
Hopefully, that’s enough to convince you that a day trip to the toilets isn’t such a bad idea after all. And I haven’t even talked about the beaches, parks and amazing views you find around here – but I figure you’ll spot those for yourself as you drive through this gorgeous part of the world.
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Snail image Anna Kidman. Used with the permission of Sculptureum.