How The Bach Became A Classic Kiwi Icon

The traditional Kiwi bach is an iconic reminder of summers past, evoking memories of sun-kissed family holidays full of laughter, exploration, ice-creams, and barbecues.

Families who have experienced regular holidays “at the bach” know the nostalgic feeling that these retro holiday homes have created over the years, often with generations returning to favourite locations and accommodation shared with friends and extended family. The traditions and memories created are part and parcel of growing up in New Zealand for many Kiwis.

Himatangi Hideaway Bookabach

Himatangi hideaway, Manawatu

The evolution of the bach

The term ‘bach’ doesn’t have a clear origin, though it’s thought it could be a shortened version of ‘bachelor pad’. An alternative is that it came from the Welsh phrase ‘ty bach’ (meaning small house or outbuildings), as there were Welsh mining settlers early in NZ’s history.

While baches have origins from the early 1900s, it was the improvement to NZ roads after World War Two making remote places more accessible, as well as a thriving economy, that led to a flourish of baches springing up around the country. Families with enough money to buy a section by the beach or lake snapped up the opportunity to escape city life during summers or weekends when most shops and businesses were closed.

The middle-century bach was usually a ramshackle abode, built from whatever materials were available like corrugated iron, second-hand windows, and reclaimed timber. Facilities were basic or non-existent. Over time they were extended and upgraded (an indoor loo!). Furnishings were a mish-mash of styles – basically anything that you could get cheap or free was a perfect fit.

With a beach on the doorstep and a big grassy lawn, there was room to play, while bunks and fold-out beds created space for everyone to rejuvenate for the next day of holiday fun.

Colourful beach property Bookabach

Colourful beach property, Matarangi

Kiwi bach nostalgia

If you spent your summers (or even one summer) staying at a bach, recalling those holiday memories brings with it a big dose of Kiwi nostalgia; sun-scorched days and warm evenings, jandals, mid-afternoon naps, togs worn basically constantly, and sand everywhere!

The bach was the central hub for activities – with kids ducking in and out for snacks and ice-blocks or respite from the sun, before rejoining cousins and friends to play and explore without a device in sight. Days were spent swimming, kayaking, hunting for seashells or tadpoles, climbing trees, bike riding, fishing, playing hide and seek, pole tennis, bats down, badminton, and spotlight, then stargazing before collapsing into bed.

Tents would pop up on the lawn and caravans would come and go as more family joined the idyllic retreat.

Meals were quick and easy – barbecued sausages, bread and tomato sauce or fish and chips from the local shop served on mismatched plates and watered-down juice poured into plastic cups.

Late night board games or card games would be played on a formica table with players seated on whatever chair, bench or stool they could pull up.

It was simple, it was care-free, and it was perfect. And families would return year after year, generation after generation, to relax and recharge.

Bach 78 Islington Bay Rangitoto Island Bookabach

Bach 78, Islington Bay, Rangitoto Island

Experience the bach life

The traditional Kiwi bach still exists, but there are now also beach houses and holiday homes across New Zealand that can be hired for an overnight stay, a weekend, or a full family holiday, opening up the dream of experiencing a Kiwi bach holiday to more families.

The essential elements of the Kiwi bach remain – relaxation, embracing the great outdoors, sharing fun, and spending time together away from the stresses of day-to-day life. There may be better facilities and a few more home comforts, but the bach is still a New Zealand icon that’s as Kiwi as chocolate fish and lime milkshakes at the end of a stunning summer’s day.

Stunning harbourfront bach Bookabach

Stunning little harbourfront bach, Whangarei Heads

her world julieWritten by Julie Scanlon

Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire. 

Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”

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