When Kawakawa's most famous work of art was unveiled in 1999, hundreds of people urinated on it.
The attention of Austrian artist Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser - Frederick to his Kiwi mates - encouraged artists to populate what was otherwise a farm town.
The public loos Hundertwasser designed are decorated with recycled green bottles, miscellaneous tiles and randomly coloured columns. They are so popular, they've inspired a Hundertwasser park, grass hut store, and town sign. Although the town serves both Kaikohe and Paihia and is on State Highway 1, its population of 1,218 is in decline. Dairying remains in the hinterland, but tourism is the most obvious earner.
Kawakawa Engineering's Kevin Davidson says most banks have pulled out of town, leaving a Kiwibank/Post Shop as the main banking option. The town's primary and secondary school are both decile 1. Members of the four-odd police force are also on the college's board of trustees. Some boat servicing remains as part of the town's economy. Despite the slowdown in population and economy, art remains, Mr Davidson says.
"We've had to build another set of toilets, behind, to cope with usage.
"It attracts artists, they live throughout the blocks of land in the bush. It's absolutely made this town."
The Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park Trust president, Noma Shepherd, said: "The council are buying extra land [around the toilets] for all the buses to turn around.
"Tourist boats come into Paihia now, and you'll see four to five buses at the time pulling up [outside the toilets]."
The toilets are so popular, the Far North District Council funds three women, led by Susan Henare, to clean them - as often as every hour, on some days.
Appointed head custodian just three months ago, Mrs Henare has become a visionary, too.
"I'm passionate about Hundertwasser's vision of sustainability. It's not my dream job but I saw the opportunity of improving cleaning practices. Since September I've introduced recycling bins. It pains me to throw even a bottle in the rubbish.
"I'm trying to get the council to buy us eco-friendly products. I ordered us all-new uniforms and got us organic uniforms made of bamboo."
"When tourists see it for the first time, they're in awe. It makes me feel happy when I see someone walk in for the first time. A lot of them are so happy they leave a donation."
Hundertwasser's former personal assistant, Richard Smart, remains head of the Hundertwasser Foundation. Hundertwasser, who died months after the toilets' completion, was on site every day as the "cistern chapel" was built, he says.
"It was the biggest event Kawakawa has had in a long time. The toilets have pretty much revived the town."
Mr Smart remembers the excitement after the facility opened.
He has had concerns over the copyright status of the recently-approved Hundertwasser Park and visitor centre, although Mrs Shepherd said the park "will hopefully use Hundertwasser's ideas and philosophy" around recycling and ecology.
Mrs Shepherd said Kawakawa had "got over the embarrassment" of being New Zealand's Toilet Town.
"Now we're rather proud."
Things you didn't know about Kawakawa
• Icon: Hundertwasser toilets
• Population: 1,218
• Distance from Auckland: 211km
• Famous names: Former PM Mike Moore was raised there and it is also where John Key's sister, Susan, was born
• Cool feature: Tourist train named Gabriel travels down Kawakawa's main street several times a day
• Watch out for the: Annual flooding