Did you know that New Zealand has a world-famous loo? Imagine a frequently photographed toilet block that is actually a tourist attraction, and you have the Hundertwasser Toilets. Internationally acclaimed artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed the structure.
And, it remained the only Hundertwasser designed structure in the Southern Hemisphere for a long time. Or did it?
It’s a long story, made short here. For years, all reports stated that this is it. The artist passed away shortly after the 1999 opening; therefore, there could be no more of his designs. So imagine my surprise to discover the Hundertwasser Pavilion for Nature.
And now there is more. In February 2022, the Hundertwasser Art Centre, Wairau Māori Art Gallery opened in Whangarei. Another structure designed by the master himself, it is a masterpiece worth the trip up north. Of course, you will find plenty of other cool things to do in Whangarei.
First, a bit about the man himself.
Who is Friedensreich Hundertwasser?
Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian-born, somewhat reclusive artist, architect, and ecologist. Born in 1928 as Friedrich Stowasser, he officially changed his name to Friedenscreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser at some point.
In the mid-1970s, he visited and ultimately moved to New Zealand, purchased a farm east of Kawakawa, and gained NZ citizenship. He designed and gifted a proposed second New Zealand flag design, which can be spotted in the mosaic work in the toilet block.
His contemporary art style features vivid, multi-coloured mosaic collages, integrated sculpture and glass, and undulating lines. It’s fun and funky, and worth a stop to see.
See two of New Zealand’s Hundertwasser buildings
Hundertwasser Toilets, New Zealand
There is no question about it, this Kawakawa toilet block is a work of art. It’s also a working facility, with both a men’s and women’s side. To date, I have only entered the women’s side.
It opened in 1999, shortly before the artist passed away, making it his final artistic project completed during his lifetime. On one visit (many years ago), there was actually an official Hundertwasser toilet guide.
Okay, so she carried disinfectant and a toilet brush, but she proudly exclaimed, “I am more than the woman who cleans, I am an official tour guide, who also happens to scrub toilets.” She even showed us her badge, confirming that she was a representative of the Hundertwasser charitable trust.
A bit of history on the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa
Christine confidently reported, “As a result of the untimely death of the artist in 2000, this building will remain the only Hundertwasser structure in the southern hemisphere, as well as being his final major project.” And at that time, this was true.
She added a detailed history of the building, telling us that the local Bay of Islands College students prepared the ceramic tiles, the bricks were from a former Bank of New Zealand building, recycled bottles were used, and the construction was completed by community volunteers. Hundertwasser’s ecological background is apparent on the structure’s roof, which contains replanting of all vegetation removed for construction.
Christine concluded that these are considered to be the most photographed toilets in New Zealand, and possibly in the world.
It’s all in the details:
Hundertwasser Pavilion for Nature
For years, I have written and talked about these famous toilets, always pointing out that they are the only Hundertwasser-designed structure in the southern hemisphere. Then, through a random course of events, we discovered this at Birkdale Intermediate School:
Even without the sign identifying it, the bright colours, undulating lines, and the inclusion of nature screams Hundertwasser. We slowed down but drove past the first time we saw it, as school was in session and there were children everywhere.
The good news is that on our return, we read the signage that welcomed us to take a closer look, and we took advantage of this. Thus, we share with you the second public structure of Hundertwasser design that is built in New Zealand.
The “Pavilion for Nature’ is a Freidensreich Hundertwasser design released after his architectural design sketches. The design was dedicated to us by The Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation in Vienna, Austria. Built in 2014.
When the school is open you are welcome to come in and take a closer look. Our office has an information pamphlet should you wish to know more.
Apparently, I was the first to ask for this information in years. Here’s a summary of what I learned about the structure:
- Built after his death, it is based on Hundertwasser’s architectural design sketches, and he even provided the name ‘Pavilion for Nature’.
- The key elements of the structure are the onion dome, the columns, and the planted roof. Each has significant meaning to Hundertwasser.
- Under supervision, students participated in the creation, adding tiles for the mosaic designs and doing the planting. Hundertwasser had regularly used local creative input.
In Hundertwasser’s own words
A few quotes from the artist, obtained from the school’s literature:
“I think the onion shape means richness and happiness and wealth and opulence and fertility . . . it’s a dream out of the Arabian Nights.
“Against the disease of the modern architecture of far overhanging canopies, balconies, and building proportions, we have only one remedy: columns . . . Next to a column one feels as under a tree. A column must be beautiful and colourful and shine in the rain and in the moonlight of its own accord. Each column is unique and does not resemble to another one.”
“The true proportions in this world are the views to the stars and views down to the surface of the earth. Grass and vegetation in the city should grow on all horizontal spaces – that is to say, wherever rain and snow falls vegetation should grow, on the roads and on the roofs.”
Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei
The latest Hundertwasser structure in New Zealand was designed nearly 30 years ago and now sits proudly along the Whangarei waterfront. Despite construction delays (due to lockdown), the centre opened in early 2022.
Called the Hundertwasser Arts Centre, it is home to the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, New Zealand’s only dedicated public Māori Art Gallery. It is also scheduled to have the southern hemisphere’s largest rooftop garden.
Like the Pavilion for Nature, construction was overseen by the Hundertwasser Foundation, and by German architect Heinz Springmann, who personally collaborated with Hundertwasser on many past projects.
Visiting the Hundertwasser Toilets, Pavilion for Nature, or Hundertwasser Arts Centre
All three structures are available for public viewing, at least some of the time.
- The Hundertwasser Toilets are easy to spot and well-signposted. They are located on Kawakawa’s main road at 60 Gillies Street.
- While you are in Kawakawa, take note of the railroad track. Kawakawa is the only New Zealand town to have a track running through the centre of town. It’s a remnant of the coal mining days.
- Visiting these toilets is one of the first stops on our around the top of the North island itinerary.
- The Hundertwasser Pavilion for Nature is located on the grounds of the Birkdale Intermediate School at 200 Birkdale Road, Birkdale, Auckland.
- According to the sign on the school gate about the pavilion, when the school is open, visitors are welcome to come in and take a closer look. We went a step further and tried to sign in at the office, but that wasn’t necessary.
- Whangarei’s Hundertwasser Arts Centre is open daily from 10am to 5pm. However, the architectural structure is available for viewing anytime.
More about Hundertwasser
If you want to know more about the man, check out one of these books:
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Did you stop at the Hundertwasser Toilets?
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Disclaimer: Thanks to the Birkdale Intermediate School for allowing me to share this information.
Wow…really amazing blog.
I really like the photos of the structures.
This was so interesting to see. I love seeing beautiful and creative designs like this!
No kidding, this is one of the most remarkable blog posts that I have ever read. This is an amazing post.
Never heard of the toilets before, but I get that they’re an attraction.
I have never heard or seen these toilets before, and I had no idea a toilet could be a tourist attraction. It’s interesting to know about it.
Two Sisters Abroad
Wow! Who knew that toilets could be so artistic! This is definitely one of the most unique and interesting posts I’ve read in a while. I bet the Hundertwasser art center will be so interesting.
Interesting article! Never been to New Zealand, but met some people from there. Next time I will ask if they know about this place 😀
So many interesting things to see when you sit and pee. We went in 2020 never seen anything like it. Beautiful. A must see in nz.
One of the strangest toilets I’ve ever heard of! Thanks for the cool post
Who knew! I mean why not have something artistic to look at while doing our business? Thanks New Zealand!
A toilet is a toilet as long as it works and has enough toilet paper. I remember when I needed to use a toilet in Curacao. I finally founded one but I had to pay one dollar to us it. The same thing happened in St. Maarten but it only cost me a half dollar. What would have happened if I didn’t have the dollar? Oops!
Have a great day Rhonda.
hahaha, this is awesome. I’ve never been to New Zealand but it’s super high up on my travel bucket list! This would definitely be a unique place to add to my ever-growing list of places I want to visit while I’m there! 😛
Wow. This is the strangest artistic design for a public restroom. HAHA It’s right up my alley.
This is amazing! I know many of his works but never heard of these toilets!
It’s so interesting! I had no idea that there is a world famous loo designed by such a famous artist. Amazing idea for a post, I always like to read about unique travel ideas!
Kawakawa is about 20 minutes away from us, I’ve driven past those loos many times but never stopped in there.
What an amazing attraction! When my brother was little, he was obsessed with toilets (is this a small boy thing??) but anyway, he would have loved this! my parents once took him on a ‘toilet tour’ to see notable toilets in a local city. I think if we ever managed to visit New Zealand we’d have to make a stop here to honour that tradition! Thanks for the great guide!
What an ingenious idea, to design artistic toilets! I’ve never heard about Friedensreich Hundertwasser, so I’m glad you gave me some background about this artist. It seems the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa
are the result of a collective effort, with the college students preparing the ceramic tiles using bricks from a former building and recycled bottles.
I’ve never heard of this artist, such a unique design!
If I ever go to NZ, I will be sure to add these 2 stops
Wow I’ve never seen any toilets that look like this! So unusual and unique!
Haha oh my gosh! What an interesting, quirky find! I had never heard of this before, but it is definitely a noteworthy stop!
The pavilon looks interesting all by it self but the toilets are looking really awesome, I have never heard about such a thing and I’m happy that I did
What an interesting post! Haha, the title got me so I had to look. And the toilets actually all look really cool! Never thought I’d see a restroom decorated with a big onion! Very clever
That’s a wild toilet. Nothing boring there at all.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
Hi Rhonda – I had come across this eccentric brilliant artist before – so knew of the toilets … but the new pavilion – I’d no idea … what a great addition to the school. Amazing man – definitely sui generis … one day I’d love to read more about him … thanks for the reminder of his extraordinary toilets! Take care – Hilary
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Hey, might as well be proud of what you do!
Great photos! The world needs more whimsy – and where better than the public toilet?
Wow!! The most photographed toilets in the world, huh??! That’s quite a distinction.. 😛 😛
Hilarious! 😀 😀
Beautiful toilets! Betty White had a great line on Hot In Cleveland. She said, At my age, I dress for going to the bathroom.” That pretty much sums up my life. BTW, where does Christine eat her lunch?
What a cool job! It’s even better than being a Walmart greeter.
Those toilets are just too pretty to pee in.
Wow that’s amazing. I think I went to Kawakawa, can’t remember now, but I never heard of the toilets before.