When Sir Thomas More wrote of Utopia in the early sixteenth century, he was not thinking of New Zealand. This fact is less surprising when you consider that Europeans were yet to discover New Zealand. Had he known of New Zealand’s existence, however, I doubt he would have placed Utopia in Northland.
Don’t get me wrong: The Bay of Islands is lovely. It’s just you don’t expect to find Utopia at a toilet stop on the way up to Whangarei. Said toilet stop is the tiny town of Kaiwaka; said Utopia is a somewhat ambitiously named café.
Well, okay, it’s named Eutopia, not Utopia. There is a difference. A quick google comes up with the following Wiktionary definition for “eutopia”: a place of ideal well-being, as a practical aspiration (compared with utopia as an impossible concept). Huh. I always thought Eutopia was how fanatical Remainers referred to the European Union. But I digress.
You’re wondering why I bothered to write about a random café in Northland, right? Surely, being called Eutopia doesn’t automatically make it a eutopia! Well, in truth, it could be called anything. This café’s special simply because the entire building it’s in is a work of art.
The best way I can describe it is if a time traveller kidnapped Antoni Gaudí and immersed him in the Age of Aquarius with a few fantasy novels and a few more psychedelics, before dumping him in modern-day Northland, next to a large pile of concrete mix, and instructing him to build a café with a budget of – I don’t know – three number 8 wires. It’s not to everyone’s taste and teeters on the edge of tackiness, but you know what? I love it.
It’s full of beautiful murals, relief wall sculptures, mosaics and delightful alcoves, as well as strange chairs and stained-glass windows. It has a water feature that kind of looks like a scrying pool in a witch’s cave. (Or, at least, the set of a witch’s cave from an eighties fantasy movie.) The entrance is guarded by an enormous albatross – I mean what more could you want as you sip your flat white? (Or your kale smoothie?)
Eutopia was originally built by a self-proclaimed wizard, because of course it was. (Not The Wizard, in case you’re wondering, because New Zealand does have a The Wizard.) It was bit run down for a while, before being bought, restored and improved by the current owners. If you’re driving up through Northland, check it out. It’s not exactly hard to spot. And make sure you explore the whole place, inside and out, including the toilets, male and female. There are so many enchanting, little features to find!