THE BELOVED AND ENDANGERED BACH
It’s a bach in the north and a crib in the south, but the traditional Kiwi holiday retreat remains a muchloved – if endangered – feature of the country’s cultural landscape.
In a 1995 essay in New Zealand Geographic, architect Nigel Cook described the bach as “the only truly indigenous building type the second wave of immigrants to these islands have thus far produced”. But he told North & South that its typical appearance – cobbled together from fibrolite and corrugated iron, surrounded by kikuyu grass with a long- drop down the back – is only a small part of its essence. What makes it important, he says, is what it says about us.
“After our newness, our safeness is the most characteristic thing about New Zealand. No wild animals, no dangerous insects, our borders are 1200 miles away from our neighbour, and they say they’re friendly. It’s a unique situation to be in and we don’t recognise it intellectually often enough. This is what the bach was doing, unconsciously. What did you have there between you and your neighbour? Very often a bit of mānuka, some long grass and a flax bush.
“It was a place where all the suburban rules and regulations were loosened, so you could slop around in old clothes and didn’t have to pay too much attention to the housework and all those things. It was a place that was as close as you could get to total relaxation.”
Museums Wellington deputy director Paul Thompson, who wrote a book on baches in 1985, warns the iconic makeshift homes of early-to-mid last century are an endangered species. “They were originally built at beaches because they weren’t really desirable places to live and people tended to live in suburbs. Since then, beach properties have become more upmarket, luxurious and valuable.”
Although some people retain a humble bach on a million dollar