Aucklanders make up majority of visitors to Northland Hundertwasser Art Centre

Whangārei’s Hundertwasser Art Centre with the Wairau Māori Art Centre has celebrated its first birthday. Photo / Supplied

In the past year, the Hundertwasser Art Centre has defied closed borders and a rain-sodden tourist season to prove it is a hot ticket on the bucket list of many.

The iconic centre with the Wairau Māori Art Gallery housed inside celebrated its first birthday this week after the doors opened on February 20 last year.

Around 81,000 people have since marvelled at the homage to Austrian artist, philosopher and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser adorned on the Town Basin waterfront.

Inside its crooked walls is the largest exhibition of original Hundertwasser artworks and models to be found outside of the Austrian capital, Vienna. The Wairau Māori Art Gallery boasts the status of being New Zealand’s first public gallery dedicated to contemporary Māori art.


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Daily visitor numbers hit new highs in the first week of January as more than 900 people walked through the door on several different days.

Of those keen to see inside, most were from Auckland (43 per cent) followed by Northlanders (31 per cent), Kiwis from other regions (22 per cent) and international tourists (4 per cent).

Andy Morris, 60, from Auckland was weaving his way through the centre’s interior on Friday after dropping his boat off to undergo work.

Even though he was just filling in time, he had thoroughly enjoyed a walk around the Hātea Loop which led him to the doorstep of the Hundertwasser building.


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“It’s so good,” he said.

Visitors enjoy the wonders held within Whangārei's Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery. Photo / Karina Cooper
Visitors enjoy the wonders held within Whangārei’s Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery. Photo / Karina Cooper

The centre has been on the bucket list of Sharon Tulloch, 55, from Makarau in Auckland, for quite some time as she often passes through Whangārei on trips north to her bach.

She said her dogs, children, and husband were usually in tow but she was without on Friday so made the most of her opportunity to learn more about Hundertwasser at the centre.

“I’ve always loved his work and the story behind it,” Tulloch said. “This place is amazing, I just love it.”

Not only did Covid delay the centre’s opening but the pandemic also foiled the forecasted number of overseas visitors. A Deloitte 2015 business case study predicted the group would make up more than 50 per cent of visits.

Jill McPherson, interim chief executive and Hātea Art Precinct Trust chair, still had confidence in the study’s project figures for international tourists.

“It’s noteworthy to acknowledge the accuracy of the Deloitte study was spot-on for local and domestic visitor numbers, actually exceeding the projected number of visitors by 20,000-plus visitors.”

Even though the Tourism Export Council predicted more than 2.1 million international arrivals would touch down on New Zealand soil in the year up to May 2023, tourism is expected to take three years to fully recover.

But that hasn’t stopped the gallery – a work of art itself as it fuses art and nature – from gaining recognition as a destination gem.

In November last year, the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery was recognised among the best of New Zealand tourism when it received a Gold Qualmark.


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The gold sustainable tourism business award heralds businesses that are leading the way in making the country’s tourism industry a world-class sustainable visitor destination.

While the Hundertwasser centre is welcoming its first birthday, it was 30 years in the making. The Austrian artist first proposed the idea back in 1993 while living in Kaurinui – his home until his death in 2000 – but was met with rejection.

However, the plan was resurrected in 2008 and came to fruition last year with a bang as all opening day tickets sold out.


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