John Cleese didn't look on the bright side of life in Palmerston North; Mick Jagger got no satisfaction from Invercargill. Both missed the point about travelling around Aotearoa: you'll find real New Zealand outside the main centres.
Thinking about school or summer holiday destinations? These might not be on your radar. If you haven't seen them, you don't know what you've missed. If you have, maybe it's time for another look.
Before we head off, this is a Lord of the Rings location-free zone. Ditto wineries, artisan foodies and craft brewers. You can find those anywhere. Unlike Cleese, we're looking for something completely different.
Dargaville: Visit… We dare you!
Some places beg you to visit with sassy slogans. There's no sweet-talking here: "Visit Dargaville – we dare you."
There couldn't be a less threatening spot than this, built on the northern Wairoa River in the 1870s ( Māori had lived here for centuries) to service the kauri felling and gumdigging industries. Most settlers were Dalmatians and their presence is still strong, though most prefer to be called Croatians.
Heritage is obvious in 19th-century buildings repurposed into cafes, galleries and shops. There's a Gumdigger Statue but fans of eccentric local monuments may be distressed to learn Dargaville doesn't honour its other great contribution to our lifestyle. Where's the Big Kūmara? Nearby: Matakohe Kauri Museum; Kai Iwi Lakes; rugged Baylys Beach; driving 107km Ripiro Beach (longer than Ninety Mile Beach); shipwrecks, seabirds and shellfish.
Where: 55km southwest of Whangārei, 172km northeast of Auckland
Fact Dargaville (briefly) had NZ's largest population
Local monument Gumdigger Statue
Famous locals Cricketer Dion Nash, All Black Mark Taylor, singer Mark Williams, Irish rugby player Joey Carbery. Winston Peters went to Dargaville High.
Kawerau: A sleepy little town
John Rowles and his little sister Cheryl Moana Marie put their hometown on the map but not too many Kiwis could find Kawerau in an atlas. You leave the Rotorua-Whakatāne highway and drive to the end of a road that goes nowhere else.
In the early 1950s, Tasman Pulp and Paper was looking for a giant paper mill site. This spot promised geothermal power, Tarawera River's water supply and was close to Kaingaroa pine forest. Kawerau was built to house a multi-national workforce.
In 2012 the mill owner planned to axe nearly half its jobs. The town would have died but, like Twizel, the locals said: "We don't think so." They won.
For extreme sports, it's nirvana - the ultramarathon through the forests and gruelling Pūtauaki Mt Edgecumbe race are Australasia's toughest runs. The Tarawera 100 motorbike enduro, whitewater championships and Woodfest timber sports are no place for the faint-hearted.
For everyday travellers, dramatic Tarawera Falls, the river flowing through the town with rafting and kayaking courses, surrounding ranges, lakes, hot pools and native bush are a place to bike, tramp – or just appreciate the wonders of Aotearoa.
Where 100km southeast of Tauranga, 58km east of Rotorua
Fact Kawerau is one of three NZ towns where the majority identifies as Māori
Local monument The wharenui at Rautahi Marae; carvings represent the community's nationalities and iwi
Famous locals John Rowles; Sarah Walker, BMX champion.
Hāwera: Quirk place
Hāwera is slightly conflicted about Ronald Hugh Morrieson, who lived virtually all his life in the same house in the town. The Scarecrow, Came a Hot Friday and Pallet on the Floor were less than flattering about his birthplace. Some locals campaigned the council to save that house in 1992; it was bulldozed for a fast-food restaurant. You'll also struggle to find mention of another literary genius born here: Fiona Kidman.
But Hāwera does quirk really well. Nigel Ogle has turned a former cheese factory into Tawhiti Museum. Life-size models moulded from real locals capture domestic and rural life through the decades; miniature dioramas depict 200 years of history. Weta Workshop helped create a Disneyland-style boat ride through colonial history; a bush railway recalls the region's logging past.
The King is always on Kevin Wasley's mind at the Elvis Presley Memorial Record Room – Okay, Wasley's garage - a shrine of memorabilia, movie reruns, greatest and not so great hits.
At the landmark water tower, built when insurance companies demanded Hāwera store water after three fires all but destroyed the town, visitors can climb 54m for views of the countryside – including that mountain.
Where 75km south of New Plymouth
Fact The name means "burnt place" from a historic iwi stoush; the town nearly burned down in 1884, 1895 and 1912
Local monuments The Big Cow
Famous locals Journalist Pat Booth, comedian Ben Hurley, sportsfolk Michael Campbell, Issac Luke, John Mitchell, John Plumtree, Conrad Smith, Elijah Taylor, Adine Wilson.
Masterton: Leader of the flock
Pretty little siblings just down the road – Greytown, Featherston, Martinborough – are adored for arts, artisans and antiques. In Masterton, sheep-shearing is an art form. Headquarters of the world's premier shearing and wool-handling competition, the Golden Shears, Masterton has been living off the sheep's back since 1854.
This isn't a one-flock town. Masterton prides itself as family-friendly: Queen Elizabeth Park is one of the country's best playgrounds. Hood Aerodrome holds one of the world's largest collections of vintage aircraft, largely thanks to a certain film director who lives nearby; the Wings Over Wairarapa air show is scheduled to return in February 2021.
Pūkaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre is a conservation jewel, with tuatara, kōkako, kiwi and takahē in native bush surroundings. Stonehenge Aotearoa, built on a similar scale to that other one in England, shows how ancient peoples learned about astronomy and explains Polynesian navigation.
Where 100km northeast of Wellington
Fact Masterton doesn't have traffic lights
Local monument Golden Shears gateway
Famous locals Conchords Jemaine Clement, actor Pat Evison, comedian Raybon Kan, musician Ladyhawke, Nobel Prize winner Alan MacDiarmid.
Westport: Old ghost town
Westport was a gold town, then a coal town. Now it's mining a renewable natural resource – its astounding surroundings.
There are people who pedal rate the 85km Old Ghost Road as "the best mountain-bike trail in New Zealand". You can also tramp it or run the ultramarathon. Warning: none are for the newbie. Recreating a planned 1870s bullock track connecting the coast and old mining towns, it crosses native forest, open tussock tops, river flats, forgotten valleys and four ghost towns, evoking the spirits of old miners.
Nearby, Buller Gorge's Adventure and Heritage Park offers adrenalin experiences with a 160m zipline, the country's longest swingbridge, jet-boating, gold-panning and forest walks.
West of Westport (that's possible), Cape Foulwind has a large seal colony; whales and dolphins hang out too.
South, Paparoa National Park is famous for the Pancake Rocks and blowholes, backdropped by coastal cliffs, river canyons and caves. Take advantage of the newly built Paparoa Track, the first purpose-built walking and mountain bike trail on the Great Walks network. The three-day, 55km tramp or two-day ride is a memorial to the 29 Pike River miners and explores some of the most rugged, diverse and untouched environments in the country with views to the Tasman Sea. Westport is less visited than neighbours Abel Tasman, Hanmer Springs or Greymouth and the glaciers. Bad call.
Where 100km north of Greymouth, 222km southwest of Nelson
Fact After a 1929 earthquake, part of Westport was rebuilt in Art Deco style. Sound familiar?
Local monuments Clocktower
Famous locals All Black Ben Blair, comedian Jeremy Corbett, netballer Anna Harrison, writer Peter Hawes
Twizel: Village of the dammed
In the nicest possible way, Twizel shouldn't be here. The Ministry of Works created the village in 1968 to house workers on a massive hydroelectricity scheme; by the 1970s it was home to 6000 people.
When the job ended in 1984, the town was meant to be knocked down and returned to farmland. Actually, we'd like to stay, said the locals, because their village had something else going for it.
This is the closest town to Aoraki Mt Cook and the Tasman Glacier, paradise for fly-fishers with alpine lakes and rivers brimming with world-record trout and salmon, hiking, biking, snow and water sports, dark skies.
Twizel's location has proved a blessing and a curse. From mid-December, the town is overrun with visitors. If you like the great outdoors, this is the greatest. Just pick your time to visit.
Where 286km southwest of Christchurch, 164km west of Timaru
Fact This town of 1200 residents has two Four Squares
Local monuments Black stilt sculptures; Aoraki, which Abel Tasman saw but James Cook overlooked
Famous locals James Mackenzie, sheep-stealer and explorer
Gore: Great southern land
There's a lot of things that traditional Kiwi holiday spots have and Gore doesn't, like beaches. But Gore has a bunch of things that others don't, like our very own version of The Dukes of Hazzard.
Scottish settlers began bootlegging Hokonui whisky during prohibition in the late 1800s. The Moonshine Museum is temporarily closed but you can get a (legal) taste through the GoreNZ online store.
This is country music country, home to the Gold Guitar awards and nine-day festival, usually held around Queen's Birthday. Yep, there's a statue: the Hands of Fame, featuring musicians' handprints.
The Mataura River claims to be the "World Capital of Brown Trout Fishing" and yes, there's a large fish statue.
What more could you want? Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre lets you fly in a Tiger Moth, and at ground level are some of our most scenic cycle trails and motorhome routes.
Where 64km northeast of Invercargill, 150km southwest of Dunedin
Fact One of NZ's most motorhome-friendly towns
Local monuments Big Trout, Hands of Fame, Gore Ram, Sergeant Dan the Creamoata Man
Famous locals All Blacks Jimmy Cowan, Justin Marshall, Stu Wilson; double international Brian McKechnie, artist Shona McFarlane, PM Jenny Shipley.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com