Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Picking on small towns

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People love to pick on small towns of New Zealand, including Dannevirke. But these rural gems all have something to offer.
People love to pick on small towns of New Zealand, including Dannevirke. But these rural gems all have something to offer.

Our female comedians are getting stuck into small-town New Zealand. As reported in the NZ Herald, "[c]omedian and TV presenter Rose Matafeo has apologised after scandalising the town of Waiuku by naming it her worst holiday destination". Waiuku's "town manager" immediately leaped to its defence with the claim that we "are the tourism hub in West Franklin".

Tourism hub? Waiuku? Really? It makes more sense when you realise that there doesn't appear to be a "West Franklin" in New Zealand. So Waiuku then is the imaginary tourism hub of a nonexistent place. That's kind of weird but whatever.

When the Comedy Gala 2014 was screened on television, Urzila Carlson described her hometown in South Africa as "Ngaruawahia with 8-million people". I don't think the description was meant as a compliment to either place.

Small towns in New Zealand are perceived as low-hanging fruit. They're ripe for picking on. I've visited Waipukurau, Dannevirke and Eketahuna but I have no complaints about any of them. They're just authentic examples of small New Zealand towns. They each have some endearing characteristics and some dull elements. They're no better or worse than any other little place.

Said to be boring and sadly lacking in nightlife, Hamilton (aka the Tron) comes in for more than its fair share of bagging. Ex-Hamiltonian Jesse Mulligan has tried to explain the source of the hatred: "The general public love an agreed punchline - something they can make a low-risk joke about at work. So I'm afraid Hamilton is it." And, for the record, Hamilton is not "the chlamydia capital of New Zealand". (Latest reports indicate that honour goes to Rotorua.)

People also used to sneer at Invercargill but, somewhere along the line, our southern-most city reclaimed its inner cool. Even Lonely Planet makes it sound desirable: "Discover the town's arty bits, some good restaurants, and a great little microbrewery."

Just as importantly, I think that any place close to the sea, by definition, must be okay. Somehow the ocean lends a certain je ne sais quoi even if the town concerned seems to have resolutely turned its back on the water. (I'm looking at you, Hokitika.)

When it comes to Kiwi places of dubious merit, I have a degree of sympathy for the extreme views of John Cleese. Although two favourite aunts live there, Palmerston North is one city that does not resonate with me. Despite living there for ten months in the early 80s, I struggled to identify a redeeming feature. It's landlocked. It is overrun with students. Its geography is unexciting. Its weather is gloomy - and, being an awkward size, it lacks both the quaintness of a small town and the cosmopolitan appeal of a larger city. (Okay, its square is quite pretty but that's it.)

As revealed in Basil finds Fawlt with 'grotty' Palmy, Cleese called it "the suicide capital of New Zealand". Evidently, having had a "thoroughly bloody miserable time" there, he said: "If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick."

They are harsh words but, unfortunately, Palmerston North's own tourism website does little to enhance the city's image. Apparently, its main attribute is that it is "[l]ocated a short two hour drive from Hawke's Bay Wine Country, the 'Coolest Little Capital in the World', Wellington and the ski fields of Ohakune". When even the people who are paid to promote the place start with advising how easy Palmerston North is to escape from - and how accessible locations with genuine merit are to it - you know there's a problem.

Which town or city gets your vote for worst place in New Zealand? And why? Which would you like to defend?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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