Living the Kiwi dream: Four families and their baches

By Gill South

A home by the sea is the Kiwi dream and many are living it.

Bach owners have commented that their beach houses are places to create memories. Photo / Supplied
Bach owners have commented that their beach houses are places to create memories. Photo / Supplied

Mangawhai

Many of us are ensconced at a rented bach at this time of year, and it's incredibly difficult to extricate ourselves at the end of the holiday. Sand stays in your clothes for weeks afterwards as a poignant reminder. The return home signals a change of gear, a step back into the rat race. But wouldn't it be great to prolong that feeling of ease and have it all year round?

For a number of lucky Aucklanders, they are living the Kiwi dream and have made owning a bach a high priority, often making sacrifices to do it. They commit to going there not just in the summer holidays but on as many weekends as they can.

Their weekends are vastly different from those of us pottering around the house in town, doing the usual long list of chores, ferrying kids to various activities. These beach-house owners say that doing chores at the bach are never as tiresome as doing them at home.

According to Kirsty Cameron, the author of The Kiwi Bach Companion, the bach is not like home where there are always deadlines, it is associated with relaxation. "Our lives and our kids' lives are so structured, the bach is a place where all that pressure goes away. Your standards relax," says Cameron.

One of the most common comments from bach owners she interviewed was that the beach house was a place to create memories. "The bach becomes a repository of family history," she says.

Peter Hillary, interviewed for the book, reiterates this idea. "It's where we go to refresh and reconnect with our families and our history and just focus on today," he says.
Artist John Reynolds adds an eloquent comment. "The bach is ordinary pleasures and extravagant simplicities."

Arrival magazine publisher Mike Taillie is a devotee of the "ordinary pleasures" of the bach lifestyle. He has owned his Mangawhai Heads bach on the estuary for more than 15 years.

The Taillies make the 80-minute journey every second weekend during summer. Even if the kids are playing sport, they pack the car first thing and head off as soon as the games are over.

When he gets the rates bill for his Mangawhai place, which is more than his rates at home, Mike scratches his head and asks himself, why is he doing this?

"I throw that question around. Having all that money tied up in a bach, there's the insurance, the maintenance - aren't we better to sell and rent a bach so we don't have to worry about the maintenance?

"But I can't get out of my mind that this is some imprinted memory for the kids and you can't put a value on it. It's worth it. I'm hoping it means something to them."

There are few frills at the Taillies' small bach. It is a mere 9m by 3.5m. But with high ceilings there is room for two sleeping lofts above the living area. There is also a caravan.

The simplified living conditions make weekends markedly different from those they have at home in Auckland.

The conversations are all about, "Let's go down the beach for a walk, or throw a ball," rather than, "I need to be here at such and such a time", says Mike.

There is no TV. The father of three sets up an iPod on the deck and plays music, something he rarely does in town. Mike's wife Emma tends to chill out more and read, he says. She can sometimes be found with a magazine splayed on her chest, having nodded off. Meal times are a much more casual affair than home, so there is more spare time. On Saturday evenings the family play charades, Cluedo, Monopoly and cards.

There are still chores to be done at the bach, but they don't seem like the chores you have at home, says Mike. "There's something about doing them at the bach which is less burdensome," he says. "It feels more like tinkering or a hobby."

Mike, who describes himself as a singlet and Jandals guy, says they have a number of friends who have baches nearby. Some are from the kids' school in Auckland and, by coincidence, Mike has a childhood friend from Wellington who has a place close by with his family. Their children are instant entertainment for each other.

For the kids, Caroline, 7, Ben, 10, and Jack 11, Mike feels more present as a father. "I am less stressed which means that everyone is less stressed." Mike, whose business, People Publishing, owns No. 1 Queen St Cafe, feels less at the beck and call of the world at Mangawhai Heads. Mobile coverage is intermittent, which is an "annoying convenience".

If the family wants to go out, or it's wet, there is plenty to do. The Bennetts of Mangawhai cafe and chocolate factory makes a good outing. The Taillies have access to the community tennis courts and, as the kids get older, Mike is hoping to spend more time with them at the Mangawhai Golf Course. The family visits wineries - a favourite spot is the band rotunda at Millar's Vineyard.

Waiheke Island

Closer to home, take a look at the Waiheke ferry on a Friday night and you'll see a number of mainland families heading off to the island. The beauty of Waiheke is it's so close and yet so different from town.

The Hamiltons, Sue and Mark, and their children, Jock, 14, Fiona 11, and Matthew, 8, bought their bach, a former post office in Rocky Bay, several years ago. When they can, they will take their boat across, complete with dog and possibly a cat for the weekend.

They make an effort to do things they wouldn't do at home, such as fishing, a favourite pastime of Mark's, or go for a bush walk. "We try and do as little as possible," says Sue. "We try to get some exercise and chill out."

Waiheke is not without its social side for the Hamiltons. They usually have their neighbour Howard Gee over for a catch up. He keeps them up to date with what's going on on the island.

The kids play traditional bach games - Life, Monopoly and lots of card games. Matthew likes to take his microscope.

"Any child who comes to stay with us has to do art on the wall," says Sue. The kids are at an age now where they really like bringing their friends. "They go off for walks and fossick around."

If it's a nice day, they might go out on the boat and visit another island in the Hauraki Gulf, such as Rotoroa Island. Or they might go to breakfast at Charley Farleys in Onetangi where they know the owners. The sociable family love taking people from overseas over with them and showing them the island. They'll take them to Stoney Batter, have pizza at Passage Rock Wines or sit under the trees at the current favourite, Goldwater Estate Winery.

Waipu

For the Edwards family, their bach in Waipu is a home away from home. Jenn Edwards, mum of three, says they even have the key to the Waipu Primary School pool. The family are well established there, they've been visiting for 5½ years. The first trip they take every year is at Labour Weekend, then every weekend until Easter.

The Edwards' bach is a 42sqm old school house and they've just added a sleep-out for the children. Their small piece of land, 1km from the sea, is in the foothills of the Brynderwyn Mountain range.

"Waipu has that small-town feel, you feel part of it when you go up there," says Edwards. The Aucklander feels well connected to the local community thanks to having a girlfriend, Jo, who lives there, and whose daughter is firm friends with her elder daughter Ella. Jo keeps Edwards up to date with fun events the family might like to attend, such as the recent Waipu Highland Games.

"The options for the kids are phenomenal," adds Edwards. They've got the beach, there's surfing for her husband Cliff and daughter Ella and they have the estuary for kayaking. Fishing is another favourite activity.

Jenn Edwards has time to read the paper on her weekends away. "The paper is read cover to cover," she says with satisfaction. As with most baches, there is no TV, although they have a DVD player.

The local Beach House restaurant is a favourite for coffee and doughnuts on a Sunday morning.

Raglan

Auckland businesswoman Sarah Trotman wanted a true retreat when she started looking for a getaway place six years ago. And that is what she's created on a piece of land at Raglan. The only noises she hears from her cottage are frogs in the ponds, neighbours' cows and, at 6am, the sound of keen surfers heading to the beach.

One of Trotman's favourite things to do is to have a bath under the stars, with a fire lit beneath her outdoor tub and a glass of wine in hand.

She loves walking along the 4km beach into Raglan. Her most basic entertainment, she says, is just looking over the land while she's doing the dishes - her kitchen sink is also outside.

During the weekend, Sarah will move between her favourite spots around the property. It includes three ponds surrounded by flax, cabbage trees and pohutukawa.

She has a caravan for visitors and likes to spread the retreat spirit. "The caravan is available to anyone who wants to go and recharge their batteries," she says.

For her children Tilly, 14, and Elliott, 12, the big drawcard of Raglan is space and the chance for outdoor activities.

"Tilly loves riding her horse with her friend; Elliot loves riding the four-wheeler motorbike, jumping off the roof of the cowshed, swimming in the stream at the bottom of the section, parties in the cowshed, hanging with Mum, and shooting BB guns," says Trotman.

The family builds forts by the stream and, when they feel like an outing, they head to the Waingaro hot pools near Ngaruawahia.

And if Trotman feels like people watching, she goes into town."The highlight of Raglan village is sitting on the veranda of the pub with a shandy on a Saturday afternoon, watching the world go by."

- Herald on Sunday

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