Whakatane is not an idyllic place. It is a place, and there are parts of it that are picturesque but on the whole my childhood in Whakatane was more crude and rugged than the quaint views would have you believe.
And yet, along side my vivid memories of my Intermediate school peers claiming they [and I quote] ran out of condoms so just used glad wrap, or visceral stories of who-fingered-who on the stock-bank at the back of the school field, there are reminiscences of the bold primary colours and geometric shapes that distinguished the 1980’s anti-modernist design aesthetic.
Does anyone else remember the TV show Me and my Girl about a widowed father raising his tween aged daughter throughout the madness and massive hair of the 1980’s? For some reason there is an inextricable link between the style of that show and the over all aesthetic of well known New Zealand architect Roger Walker.
For those who don’t know who Roger Walker is (which I’m imagining is everyone who isn’t an architect or an older architecture nerd) he was the dude who populated this kind of building.
He also designed this wonder of the modern world: I give you Whakatane’s Teeny Tiny Airport.
As a child I remember coming to the airport was a great experience because there was a basket of lollies on the reception desk. They were supposed to be for the people who were flying, to help their ears pop, but I didn’t give a fuck. My brothers and I were all over those bastards like a rash.
And before you say it, yes it does have a little face…
I think it’s a duck wearing a hat.
I’m guessing Mr Walker was quite fond of LSD in his youth. Perhaps even finding himself inextricably imprisoned in a cupboard at a kindy, tripping balls, with nothing to sooth him but a collection of geometric blocks and a paper plate with a face draw on it.
Luckily, very little at the airport has changed. The decor is still firmly situated in the late 70’s early 80’s from which it was birthed. Amber lampshades, white painted breeze-blocks and “quirky” circular windows show their age in the nicest possible way.
The stairwell, which leads up to the viewing platform, has always been a favourite of mine. The terrible but fantastic look of the railings make the little kid in me smile.
I must admit that I don’t remember using the bathrooms as a child, but I know I don’t recall there being two. I’m pretty sure that they added the disability access toilet across the hall more recently to adhere to access and inclusion law.
From the look of it, this was not built to be a toilet, or even a public space. The main bathroom across the hall has retained some lovely features from the circular skylights, to the perhaps still working but a lil’ worse-for-wear radio.
Cleanliness : 6/10 It wasn’t filthy but I wouldn’t say it was very clean. It could do with a really good going over, like the grout between the terracotta tiles could do with a good water blast. I’m guessing that every year or two they just whack a new coat of budget white acrylic over any dirt in the corners rather than actually clean it. I doubt very much that the passenger turn over will ever be high enough to hire anyone other than preternaturally lazy teenagers who left school at 16 because it was “boring” only to realise they were stuck in Whakatane with no qualifications and were subject to no better job prospects than Pac’n’Save vs Farmers. Which means this little Beauty Queen will always be just a little bit grubby around the edges.
Interior : 7.5/10 Would I feel safe panicking here? Yes. The disability access loo is private enough, encased rather than a stall, and there are other loos available so I wouldn’t feel like I was putting anyone out if I had to stay there for a while. The main bathroom had 2 stalls and 1 sink, but even these were not busy so I would be ok locking the door and trying to regain my composure before attempting to people or travel again.
External : 8/10 The bathrooms are exactly where they should be, right by the entrance. As long as the building is unlocked, you’re all good to use the loo with no questions or stink eye from staff or customers.
Safety : 9/10 Whakatane isn’t free from violence, but I doubt much of the angry drunk, domestic beatery or gang related violence that we know is prevalent in the Bay of Plenty would find it’s way 10 minutes drive out of town, down a long winding road, past the golf course and into the silly world of geometric shapes and honey lacquered 2 by 4.
Snugglitude : 8/10 This place still makes me happy years after I left the Bay behind, only to visit for holidays and funerals. Visiting the airport has given me a desperate need to watch Me and my Girl, Birds of a feather, Brush Strokes or any other program you’d not choose to watch over say Ghostbusters, but you’d enjoy anyway because it’s 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, it’s raining and you want to stay in the TV room by the fire. Your Mum will let you know when your tomato soup and cheese on toast is ready, so settle into that ugly, green sofa your Granddad gave you because he was about the chuck it, and enjoy some lighthearted British merriment.
Total : 38.5/50