The Traditional New Zealand Bach

By Simon Woodhouse

A bach, for those of you who don’t know (and that included me before I moved to New Zealand) is a small, one or two bedroom holiday home. The word bach is a shortened version of bachelor. Back in the day, single men often used to go on prolonged hunting and fishing trips into the more rural parts of New Zealand. Whilst out in the bush they needed a retreat to return to each evening, something not too flash but enough to keep the rain off their heads, and thus the bach was born.

Over the years the role and location of the bach has changed. As the single man grew up, had a family, and spent less time out in the bush killing things for fun, he started to take the wife and the children to the bach for weekend breaks. As beach life is important to people in New Zealand, baches started to pop up all around the coast. Still built in the traditional fashion, which is typically a single-storey, wooden structure, with a large sun deck at the front and sliding doors to let in the sea air, the bach is perfectly suited to being right on the beach front. It’s a place from where the children can spend hours doing whatever it is children do on beaches, and adults can kick back whilst making sure the offspring don’t get up to anything they shouldn’t.

The bach holiday is relatively cheap, convenient, and encourages the whole family to get out into the fresh air. And if Dad gets bored of sitting around doing nothing, he can always spend a couple of hours on little bits of DIY. This is where the real charm of the bach comes to the fore. Maintained by the owner, usually on a budget, baches have a homemade look about them. They’re quaint, small, homely places filled with mismatching bits of furniture, second hand appliances, and anything that’s too tatty to be kept at home but too good to throw away. But that just adds to the atmosphere. Baches aren’t supposed to be five-star hotels. They’re all about slowing down the pace of life, sitting on the deck, staring at the view, listening to the sound of the sea or the wind in the trees. Baches are best when they don’t have a satellite dish, or a broadband Internet connection, or a home theatre system.

My first experience of life in New Zealand came in the form of a bach. I needed a cheap place to stay, but also somewhere within half an hours drive of Auckland (the largest city in NZ). At the same time I wanted to experience what I hoped would be a piece of New Zealand life off the beaten track. Before I left the UK I booked a bach in a small town called Stillwater, which is about thirty kilometres north of Auckland. The flight from England took approximately twenty-four hours, with a one-hour stopover in Hong Kong. When I arrived in New Zealand (bleary eyed from the flight) I hired a car at Auckland airport, and following directions provided by the owner of the bach, headed north.

Stillwater certainly turned out to be off the beaten track, with no shops and not even a public phone box. Access to the bach was via a driveway so steep I thought the hire car was going to give up. In typical, down to earth New Zealand fashion, I found the key to the front door hidden in the peg bag hanging from the washing line next to the carport. Exhausted after the flight, I went straight to bed and didn’t really pay much attention to the bach or its surroundings. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realised I’d made a good choice.

Stillwater sits at the mouth of the Weiti River, and it was a view of this waterway that greeted me as I stepped out onto the sun deck early next morning. After having been cramped up in a plane for twenty-four hours plus, looking down on the river and the yachts moored midstream seemed like gazing into paradise. A steep ridge on the other side of the water offered an unspoilt, tree-covered backdrop to the river. As I stood there, cup of tea in hand, I really didn’t think there was a nicer place to be in the whole world. Since then I’ve been to quite a few of the small coastal towns around Auckland, and come to realise most baches offer an experience similar to what I encountered in Stillwater. It’s all about the view, the tranquillity, the feeling of being far away from everything noisy and fast.

Since arriving in New Zealand I’ve not had a chance to take a proper holiday, but when I do, it’ll be in a quiet, little bach somewhere well off the beaten track, and surrounded by trees and sand and sea and sunshine.

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