New Zealand is better known for its gorgeous outdoor attractions, and many travelers simply pass through the towns and cities on their way to the mountains, lakes, beaches, and national parks. Plus, modern New Zealand is a new country, with very little of the charming old architecture that draws travelers to places in Europe or Asia. But, that's not to say there aren't some interesting, beautiful, unusual, and downright quirky architectural examples throughout the country. Travelers interested in design and the built environment will find some standout examples throughout New Zealand. Here are some of the most striking.
The Beehive, Wellington
The Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in Wellington is nicknamed the Beehive, and you don't need to look twice to understand why. The round, latticed structures resemble a natural beehive. Designed by British architect Basil Spence, construction on the building started in 1969 and continued until the early 1980s. It's now listed as a Category 1 Heritage Building and is a must-visit for all visitors to Wellington. While you can get a good enough view from outside, it's also possible to take a free guided tour from the Beehive Visitor Centre.
Hundertwasser Public Toilets, Kawakawa
Undoubtedly the most famous public toilets in New Zealand, and among the most famous in the world, the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa, are worth a detour. With the beautiful Bay of Islands nearby, Kawakawa would otherwise be a town overlooked by tourists, were it not for their toilets designed by Austrian-born New Zealand artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), who lived nearby. The colorful medley of arches, curves, columns, ceramics, mosaic tiles, and repurposed glass bottles was constructed in the late 1990s, just before the artist's death. In the summer, there's often a queue out the door to use these restrooms.
Dunedin Railway Station
The South Island city of Dunedin has more than its fair share of grand old architecture, and the Flemish Renaissance-style Railway Station is one of the grandest. Built in 1906 from black and white stone quarried in Otago, the Railway Station is often likened to a gingerbread house. It's not just the exterior that's impressive: the floors inside are adorned with 750,000 Royal Doulton porcelain tiles. While it does still house the offices of Dunedin Railways, the primary function of the building these days is not so much Railway Station as an events center, art gallery, and restaurant. On Saturdays, a farmers market is held on the lawn in front.
The Ratana Church is a Maori religious sect that has been influential in New Zealand politics since its founding in the 1920s. They have aimed for trans-tribal unity among Maori in the face of grievances against the New Zealand government. Ratana churches are interesting from an architectural and design standpoint because the symbols of the Ratana Church are very different from those of other churches in New Zealand. The main symbol of the Ratana Church is a five-pointed star attached to a crescent moon. Churches are usually small, simple, whitewashed structures with two square spires topped with domes. The headquarters of the Ratana Church is at Ratana Pa, near Whanganui in the lower North Island. Still, there are individual church buildings dotted throughout the country, including on the drive up to Cape Reinga in the Far North.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Waitangi is an essential place in New Zealand's history because it was here that, in 1840, Maori chiefs signed an agreement with representatives of the British crown, ceding sovereignty of their land. The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) is the founding document of modern New Zealand. At the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, visitors can learn about Northland and New Zealand history.
There are several buildings on the spacious grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands, but the most architecturally significant are Te Whare Rūnanga (the House of Assembly) and the Treaty House. Te Whare Runanga is an elaborately carved timber Maori Marae, and dates from 1940, 100 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The styles of carving and weaving on display within, and the stories they tell, represent Maori iwi (tribes) from all over Aotearoa New Zealand. The Treaty House is where the treaty itself was signed. The small cottage with pretty gardens was home to James Busby, the first official British Resident in New Zealand. Built in 1833, it's one of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. It's a Category I Heritage Building.
Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch
New Zealand is a seismically active country, so many places have been touched by devastating earthquakes over the years. One of the most recent big ones happened in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island, in 2011. Christchurch's eponymous ChristChurch Cathedral, in the center of the city, had to be demolished because of damage it sustained in the earthquake. To fill the spiritual and community gap in the local Anglican community, the ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral (aka the Cardboard Cathedral) was constructed, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and opened in 2013. As its name suggests, the A-frame building is constructed mostly out of cardboard tubes, but is more sturdy than it sounds! The colorful triangular glass windows at the front are inspired by traditional stained glass windows in churches.
Art Deco in Napier and Hastings
Napier's contemporary character continues to be defined by the earthquake that hit it in 1931. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Hawke's Bay in the eastern North Island, devastating towns and killing hundreds of people. The Art Deco artistic and architectural style was popular at the time, so when Napier and nearby Hastings were being rebuilt, lots of buildings followed this style. As it's a style that has aged well and is still widely loved, Napier is a very attractive city and a favorite among art and architecture lovers. As well as Art Deco, the 1930s Stripped Classical and Spanish Mission styles can also be found. A major attraction of visiting Napier is taking an Art Deco tour, either on foot or in a vintage vehicle. If you happen to be in town in February or July, you can also attend the annual Napier Art Deco Festival.
Rongomaraeroa Te Marae, Te Papa
Rongomaraeora Te Marae at Wellington's Te Papa Museum retains aspects of traditional Marae design but is a modern take on the pillar of the Maori community. The first significant difference from a conventional Marae is the fact that it's housed within the Te Papa building, and is not a freestanding structure of its own. Unlike more traditional Marae such as the one at Waitangi, where elaborate and detailed figural and decorative carvings are in dark natural wood, the sculptures at Te Papa's Marae are colorful, delicate, and light, while still reflecting Maori traditions and stories. The adjacent stained glass windows shine a colorful glow onto the floor in front of the Marae. This is not just a decorative space: Te Marae is very much a functioning part of the local Maori community and is used for ceremonial and community functions.