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A brief history of the bach
Short for ‘bachelor pad’, the word bach is deeply embedded in the Kiwi psyche - unless you’re from the south of the South Island, where they use the word ‘crib’ when referring to a holiday house.
After World War II, as better roads made remote places more accessible, New Zealanders began building haphazard holiday houses in gorgeous places up and down the country. In those days, a bach was "something you built yourself, on land you don't own, out of materials you borrowed or stole." You’ll still see some of these original baches, steadfastly refusing to fall down, in New Zealand beach towns. Made of corrugated iron, fibrolite and used timber, they’re often painted crazy colours. The most authentic will still have a ‘long drop’ toilet out the back.
Thank goodness for evolution
Over the years, the majority of New Zealand’s baches have evolved into comfortable holiday houses on legitimately-acquired land. Some have even gone on to become mansions with four-car garages, a private beach and a mooring for the superyacht.
At the basic end of the scale, baches are furnished with hand-me-downs from the ‘real house’. They’re like family museums - full of odd furniture, kitsch art works and hilarious knick-knacks from previous decades.
Others have become interior decorating projects, complete with top-to-toe colour coordination and designer accessories. If you browse around any of New Zealand’s ‘book a bach’ websites, you’ll see the full spectrum of bachology - from livid 70s orange and brown to super-stylish minimalism.
Sometimes baches acquire nicknames, which get hung on a plaque by the front door. Classic names include Duck-Away Cottage, Works End, Lazy Dayz and Thiseldome (this will do me).
Life’s a bach
What you do on a bach holiday depends on where the bach is. If it’s on the shores of an alpine lake in the Southern Alps, winter is all about skiing and snowboarding, while summer presents a menu of hiking, biking, fishing and sailing. If the bach is at a beach, nine months of the year (spring, summer and autumn) will have you in or on the ocean. Certain elements of bach life are common to all - barbecuing, sleeping at any time of the day, not getting dressed up (jandals and shorts are standard bach wear) and embracing the great outdoors at every opportunity
The bach advantage
So why would you book a bach instead of a motel or hotel? There are two key reasons - cost and location.
Cost: Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, a three-bedroom bach in subtropical Northland can cost as little as $80 a night. At the five-star end of the spectrum, a four-bedroom beach-front house at Mount Maunganui will cost $275 a night off-peak, $550 during peak times.
Location: You can discover parts of New Zealand that are too small and too remote to have a motel or even a camping ground. A few that spring to mind are Waitete Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula, Nine Mile Beach in Westland and Anaura Bay on the East Cape.
One other reason to build a bach into your New Zealand holiday is equipment. Baches often come with bikes, surfboards, fishing gear, kayaks and dinghies that you can use during your stay. You might even score a spa pool!
Top bach spots
Baches aren’t confined to far-flung corners of New Zealand. In top tourist towns like Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Hanmer Springs and Queenstown, privately-owned holiday houses are everywhere.
To get you started, here are some jewels from the treasure chest of Kiwi bachland:
- Beachside Cottage, Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island. Ideal for those who want to get back to the simple things in life. Feast your eyes on panoramic seaviews and watch the fishing boats going about their daily business. Walk the tracks and enjoy the native bush, beaches and wildlife.
- Marlin Maison, Russell, Bay of Islands. A 1926 whaler’s cottage lovingly renovated to provide spacious open-plan living with fantastic views of the ocean.
- The Shack, Lake Rotoiti, Rotorua. An original 1920s kauri fishing lodge at the lake’s edge. Complete with beach, jetty and boatshed.
- Karamarina Bay, Kenepuru Sound, Marlborough. Romantic escape on a secluded, safe swimming beach. Birds, glow-worms, fishing, dinghy and canoe.
- Carinya, Hanmer Springs. Overlooks the Hanmer Valley to the south and Conical Hill to the north. Views of snow capped mountains. In winter months, open a bottle of wine from one of the local wineries and relax in the outdoor spa.
- The Black Shack, Lake Hawea. Remarkable views looking out over Lake Hawea and surrounding mountains. Beautiful camellia and rhododendron garden with lots of pathways.