I’ve been to Eutopia, not a mythical ‘utopia’ such as Shangri-La or other castles in the sky, but a concept of heaven solidly manifested in the small Northland town of Kaiwaka. Five years ago, the Eutopia Café was not living up to its name. It was quirky and creative but in need of serious repair.
I heard it had re-opened and, when next passing through the little town on SH1, I called in. I was astonished. It was like walking inside an otherworldly work of art. This metamorphosis has not happened easily. When Marijke Volkanburg and her husband Robert ter Veer bought it five years ago, it was an unfinished project, run down and in need of extensive work.
They felt they could rescue it. “In 1996, we moved to a wonderful piece of land near Kaiwaka,” says Marijke. “Over 10 years, we established ourselves there and, similar to the cafe, the house we built is very unusual. Now that we have reinvented the cafe, we can say we live in paradise and work in Eutopia.”
But if attaining their paradise was arduous, rescuing Eutopia was even more challenging, and often more hellish than heavenly. The five stressful years it took to create this extraordinary concept sometimes pushed them to breaking point. For me, merely a voyeur, there was wonderment and admiration but no stress.
The interior’s structural and decorative lines curve as in nature so that even cold and hard building materials produce a soft and flowing effect. Nearly all the elements – the paintings, mosaics, carvings, walls and lighting – reference Aotearoa’s flora, fauna and landscapes. “Everything has an underlying meaning,” says Marijke.
I was reminded of an enchanted forest from a childhood dream. Everywhere, there are details, colours, shapes and contours. Some of them are beautiful, some humorous, some bizarre, but all of them fascinating. Besides the central semi-indoors area, there is an outdoor patio and, at the back of the building, is a larger courtyard enclosed by an undulating fence with top-knots of coloured lights.
The ideas behind the cafe are the couple’s own, and so are most of the structural and artistic works. “Marijke’s ideas are very out there,” says her husband. “I’m not a professional builder, but I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience. I often take her ideas and figure the best way to create them.” Robert and Marijke are great admirers of the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, and I could see hints of this influence in Eutopia’s one-of-a-kind structures.
“Gaudí’s ability to conceive wildly different ideas and make them work structurally was remarkable,” Robert says. At Eutopia, Robert undertakes the joinery, structures, and practical requirements. Marijke creates the mosaics, artworks and ceramics, and they collaborate on the concrete carving. There’s nothing tacky here. I was so gobsmacked by the place that I almost forgot to look at the menu.
The food is made onsite and consists of simple dishes mainly made with organic whole foods. It’s all served with flair. I had already eaten, and so I sat in one of the alcoves sipping my coffee. Three well-dressed women chattered past me, their faces alight with admiration. “How wonderful,” one said. “Extraordinary,” said another. (Alas, they weren’t talking about me.)
Marijke says she’s noticed that Eutopia makes people smile. “People relax more when they are surrounded by symbols of nature rather than angles and straight lines.”I am one of the smilers, and in the way that I always keep the icing of the cake till last, I’m going to go back for the food. I think I’ll choose the green-lipped mussels poached in chardonnay with Asian spices. And the cakes looked irresistible, too.
Win lunch for two at Kaiwaka’s Eutopia Café (including coffee or tea and cake). Enter here to win. Competitions before 18 October 2019.