North & South - - Cover Story -

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

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