We're hard on our towns and cities. Hamilton cops a lot of flack, Palmerston North likewise.
And let's be honest, Whangārei and Kaitaia aren't rated highly by most New Zealanders.
Many of us not living in Auckland (and many who do) would smile at the English writer Rudyard Kipling's description of Auckland in his poem The Song of the Cities. He eulogises thus: "Auckland, last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart". That was 1891. What he saw and loved then is most likely long gone.
One of the reasons we're tough on our own is that New Zealand towns and cities are in an unfair contest with places overseas that have much longer histories; and many more writers, artists, photographers and filmmakers eulogising them over the centuries.
All filtering through to us via the books we read, the movies we watch.
Not many of our cities and towns can compare with overseas places mythologised so thoroughly in our imaginations.
Yet our Dannevirkes and Dunedins, Kaikohes and Kaikōuras, Wellingtons and Wellsfords, are what we have. These places are still growing in their storytelling.
In appreciation of our plain towns at the centre of their worlds, I offer some brief recollections of those I passed through and stayed at on a recent road trip to Palmerston North to drop my daughter at university.
A name that suggests English gentility, but when you walk around not as posh (or rich) as you might think.
Discovered Lake Te Koo Utu, hidden in the centre of town. It's way below the level of the main streets. You miss it just driving through. The lake is surrounded by truly massive oak trees and other English varieties planted in the 1880s.
Buried in the hill next to the lake is a 2.7 million litre tank built during World War II to store fuel. It was camouflaged to conceal from possible Japanese reconnaissance. You wonder, though, at the wisdom of storing so much fuel in one very bombable location.
Population 12,000. A work-a-day New Zealand town. People going about their lives knowing they don't live in a desirable location or tourist hotspot. Admirable. I didn't see a statue of New Zealand's most popular bards, Tim and Neil Finn. A missed opportunity? Or maybe Te Awamutu is above that kind of thing.
To get there from the north has always been difficult. It feels isolated and a throwback in time. I love it. A moody river, revered by Māori, with a romantic history. Where New Zealand's great romantic guilt-ridden poet James K. Baxter founded the Jerusalem commune and wrote some of his best poems.
We shared our dining experience at a Mexican restaurant with a table of old hippies: tie-dye, beards and ponytails, badges, the works. Like Whanganui still has its hippies, they've still got most of their old buildings.
We arrived to rain and wind, the city flat and featureless. The university campus, however, has a charm. 1960s modernist architecture (the stuff Hundertwasser would have thrown a hissy fit over), situated in a forest of mature trees. Vines grow up the sides of aged concrete walls. Probably bleak in winter, but would be lovely to see in autumn.
The sun did come out while we were there, and our bed and breakfast host (who used to be the council CEO) took me to see the cycle and walk track that runs along the Manawatū River.
Rather than focus on the city's centre, the council is drawing attention to its periphery, which is interesting. For some reason, it reminded me of stories I've read of people living in London in the 19th century who would walk from the city's inner suburbs to the surrounding countryside for picnics. The poet John Keats was one of those eager walkers. A comparison with old London is enough to lift Palmerston North in my estimation.
Wow, Feilding, who knew? Some people obviously, if the house prices are any guide. Blocks of old brick and stone buildings, with well-considered modern improvements in keeping with the old architecture.
Looks authentic. It was a stunning day, though. Maybe if I went back under cloudy skies, I wouldn't be so impressed. Incredibly wide roads, like you could fit a rugby field between the houses on either side.
I've never been in Taupō when it wasn't overcast. I had no idea you could see Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe on a clear sunny evening while sitting in an overpriced touristy bar near the lake's shore.
My beer cost a fortune, but worth it for the view of the lake and volcanic cones in the distance.
Getting a coffee early in the morning, when it was grey and cloudy, I witnessed 20 men and women of generous age, wearing an assortment of bright fluoro activewear, on paddleboards moving slowly across the lake, like emissaries from an alien world.
They stopped nearby to do stretching exercises while still on their paddleboards. A sight that will stay with me for a long time. There's a poem there, I'm sure.