Laconic Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has left New Zealand with much more to savour than tyre marks on Ninety Mile Beach.

In today's column for the UK Sunday Times, Clarkson writes: "If you were God and you were all-powerful, you wouldn't select Bethlehem as a suitable birthplace for your only child because it's a horrible place. And you certainly wouldn't let him grow up anywhere in the Holy Land. What you'd actually do is choose New Zealand.

"New Zealand causes anyone to question the wisdom of God. Because if he really were all-knowing, children at Christmas time today would be singing 'Oh little town of Wellington' and people would not cease from mental fight until Jerusalem had been built in Auckland's green and pleasant land.

"Jesus would have been from Palmerston North.


"I'm in New Zealand right now and it really is absolutely stunning; bite-the-back-of-your-hand-to-stop-yourself-from-crying-out lovely."

Clarkson was vastly less complimentary about Australia, calling Sydney Harbour "a river" and local photographers "convicts" during a visit last week.

After Palmerston North was tarnished as the country's suicide capital in a scathing attack by comedian John Cleese eight years ago, word that Clarkson thinks the Manawatu city should be recognised as the birthplace of Jesus had Mayor Jono Naylor rejoicing.

"Jeremy Clarkson is obviously a very wise man - on this occasion at least," said Naylor. "Isn't it good to see there are some enlightened Englishmen after all?"

Naylor reckons the parents of a modern-day Jesus would be opting for a home birth in one of the city's poorer suburbs rather than booking into the maternity wing of the local Palmerston North Hospital.

"I reckon he would have been born in a state house in Highbury."

Naylor was happy to publicly bury the hatchet with Cleese.

Cleese, who visited the city during his "My Life, Time and Current Medical Problems" tour, famously wrote: "If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick."


Said a conciliatory Naylor: "Everybody has an off day. So yes, I think we can forgive John Cleese."

See Opinion: Palm branches, sure, but holier ground higher up