‘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 – and one of the top things to do in Matakana.
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Why Are The Matakana Toilets so Special?
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. I, therefore, name the number one reason to visit Matakana to see the toilets.
After all, when a toilet has been named among the most amazing toilets in the world by Lonely Planet (as the Matakana Toilets have).
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 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!
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.
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 seven days a week with the last entry at 2.30 pm (it takes about 90 minutes to explore the site) Tickets cost $45 walk in, but you’ll save $13 if you book in advance.
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.
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.
See our longer post on our clear kayaking trip 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.
Tour the Wineries
New Zealand is known for its wine and the Matakana region is home to over 15 boutique wineries many of which are open to visitors.
The region produces over 28 different types of winemaking is one of the most diverse wine-producing regions in New Zealand.
You’ll find a full list of wineries here – including details of those that open to visitors and groups plus a list of companies that organise day trips.
Or, if you would prefer a personal touch, you can book a wine tour from Auckland
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.
What to Read Next
The Matakana toilets aren’t the only interesting loos in NZ – you should see the ones in Tirau which are shaped like a giant dog! Find our Tirau guide here.
You might also want to visit our guide to fun and unusual things to do in Auckland which finds a few quirky things to do in the big smoke.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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Snail image Anna Kidman. Used with the permission of Sculptureum.