There was once a time when everyone pitched tents on the lawn and shared a loo. Now, writes Joanna Mathers, big business is taking over the Kiwi summer holiday.

"I love the historical aspect of the New Zealand holiday," says Trevor Willcock.

"It's so wonderful that people can get away from their daily lives and enjoy the country without massive expense."

Willcock is the owner of a basic, clean classic Kiwi bach in Taupo. He rents it out for from $95 a night and loves being able to offer regular New Zealanders a slice of traditional holiday heaven.

Basic baches such as these inhabit a potent space in the New Zealand imagination.


"Summer past" is drenched in ladlefuls of nostalgia - scorching beachside days, balmy, barbecue-scented evenings, sunscreen, Jandals, icecreams and sandy sheets. And somewhere, near the core of the romantic reverie, lies the Kiwi bach.

Cheap, cheerful and a little frayed around the edges, the bach represented an aspect of our much-touted (now somewhat frayed) egalitarian ethos.

The mattresses may have been lumpy, the magazines years out of date, but what these modest properties lacked in sophistication, they made up for in character.

For a few weeks every year, most of us could afford to take time off and enjoy New Zealand at its best. It wasn't luxury accommodation by any stretch, but the basic box by the water provided the perfect location for a slow, sun-baked summer idyll.

But technology and our increasingly corporatised world is changing our holiday home experience for good, as property management companies step into the world of baches, bringing a competitive, money-focused model with them.

Charging large bonds, expensive sheet hire and pricey cleaning services, these companies are transforming our summer holiday experiences into something closer to a stay in a five-star hotel. And not everyone's happy about it.

"It's the antithesis of the Kiwi holiday idea, in my opinion," says Willcock.

"I think property management companies aren't doing the industry any favours by making holidays too expensive for New Zealanders."


Joyce Boyd agrees. Her extended family used to share a bach in Raglan in the 1950s and 60s, and she has rented baches from private owners for years.

She feels the corporatised model is taking the heart and soul out of the holiday experience.

"The fees they charge are ridiculous," she says. "Some of the companies make you list everyone who is going to be staying at the properties and penalise you if an extra person turns up. It has taken away half the fun of being on holiday."

Agencies driving change

Bachcare General Manager Leslie Preston at a Red Beach property managed by her company. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Bachcare General Manager Leslie Preston at a Red Beach property managed by her company. Photo / Kenny Rodger

National holiday home management agencies like Bachcare and smaller local companies such as Luxury Holiday Houses, Coastal Holiday Homes and Good Stays are at the heart of this change.

Bachcare is the largest. It has about 1200 baches and holiday homes on its website, all overseen by local property managers who make sure each home is secure, clean and up-to-scratch for the next user.

It is obviously doing something right " it has "hosted" about 75,000 guests in homes around the country, and the feedback on its popular Facebook page is exemplary.

But staying at a Bachcare home comes at a cost. Every booking comes with a service fee of $30. Even a minimum two-night stay in the cheapest bach will incur a bond of $275, which can take more than a week to be returned.

If you choose to have the house cleaned post departure you're looking at a charge of $144. If you clean the home yourself but it's not to the liking of the property managers you'll be charged $35 + GST an hour.

You have to pay for linen and this will set you back $25 a person. And there's no refund if you have to cancel your holiday - the company suggests cancellation insurance of $45 for unexpected changes of plan.

Then there's the terms and conditions. You can be charged up to $1000 for pitching a tent, booking on behalf of another person, having more people in the property than detailed on the booking form, or even moving an item of furniture. It's a Kiwi holiday, but not as we know it.

Expat New Yorker and former senior manager at Vodafone Leslie Preston is the founder of Bachcare. She says her company represents our changing demands for annual holidays.

"People are more discerning," she says. "They want to know that the house they are renting is clean, tidy and that everything is in good order. They also want to maximise the time they can spend relaxing."

Preston set up Bachcare as a response to what she saw was a lack in the holiday home market.

"My husband and I bought a bach in Hahei. We really didn't realise how important baches were to the concept of New Zealand identity and we were surprised there wasn't a national organisation that looked after holiday homes."

Fuelled by this, she set up the country's first "full service" holiday home management company.

The company had five properties when it began business just over 10 years ago.

Working with local property managers, Bachcare takes 20 per cent of the owner's rental fees to ensure the homes and those who visit them are well looked after.

Preston says the level of service and the attendant fees is the new norm when it comes to expectations around our holidays.

"We did a survey last Labour Weekend and discovered that people want a lot more from their holiday homes than in the past," she says. "Seventy-five per cent of those who responded said they wanted the option of rubbish removal and cleaning. The old, traditional way of renting a bach is being replaced."

David Vinsen uses Bachcare to manage his Ring's Beach, Matarangi, holiday home. His childhood summers were spent at this secluded Coromandel spot in tents and caravans and without any modern conveniences.

The Bluff holiday home, Bluff Road, Rings Beach, East Coast Coromandel, owned by David Vinsen. Photo / Supplied
The Bluff holiday home, Bluff Road, Rings Beach, East Coast Coromandel, owned by David Vinsen. Photo / Supplied

"My parents bought a section here in 1968 and two friends bought sections either side," he explains. "My mother helped to fund this by selling a cameo brooch she owned."

He says friends and family would gather here to spend summers in tents and caravans on the sections. Two utility sheds were built later for storage, power and water.

"One of the neighbours eventually built a small bach, which is still there," he explains.

"And I bought the final section in the area in 1999 and we built a house, which was finished just before the turn of the millennium, on this section."

As Vinsen didn't live in the area, he used local property managers to help oversee rental of the property when the family wasn't using it. This couple's business was eventually bought out by Bachcare (they now work for the company) and the management was taken over by the company.

"We have used Bachcare for years and find the level of service very high," he says.

"It is incredibly good at what it does and we have been extremely happy with its service."

The Bluff holiday home. Photo / Supplied
The Bluff holiday home. Photo / Supplied

If the family wants to book the home they can use the online calendar to do so, otherwise Bachcare takes charge of the day-to-day running . He says the fee structure is fair. "It's better to pay a little and have the house being used than to be concerned about the fees and have the house empty."

And he says he has never had any complaints about the home or Bachcare in the time they've used the company.

Verdon Kelliher doesn't agree with Vinsen's assessment of property management services.

He manages his family's luxury accommodation in Rawhiti, a holiday home on a seaside Northland property that's bounded by two beaches and has been in his wife's family for decades. He lists the property on Bookabach and deals with holidaymakers himself.

"There is a traditional bach here, which my father-in-law used to holiday in with his family. When he was a boy the only access was by boat. But as his family grew, he decided it would be nice to build a big home we all could use. I now run the management side of renting this out on behalf of the family."

The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands, owned by Verdon Kelliher. Photo / Supplied
The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands, owned by Verdon Kelliher. Photo / Supplied

He looked at handing the management over to an agency, but felt there were too many downsides.

"Some of the companies charge a handling fee if you want to use your own bach," he says. "Most of them stipulate you can't list your bach anywhere else. There are usually a lot of conditions attached." The home, which starts from $1200 a night, has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from high-end accommodation - Sky, broadband, premium Spotify, Netflix and more.

Kelliher sometimes charges a bond depending on the group that's staying, but this isn't a requirement. He says Bookabach, New Zealand's largest holiday home listing site, provides more flexibility than the property management companies.

Willcock also lists his property on Bookabach. The modest, clean and tidy holiday home near the lake in Taupo attracts a wide range of guests.

He says the home has proven popular with holidaymakers, partially because of his relaxed, "traditional" attitude to bach hire.

The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands. Photo / Supplied
The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands. Photo / Supplied

"We just like to trust the people we have using the home," he says. "We would never charge a bond, and offer the place for single night stays, unlike many bach owners.

"We just ask people to clean the place themselves after they have stayed, and there's never any problem with this."

He likes being able to offer visitors a classic Kiwi holiday experience. "It's great being able to offer a place that's affordable, where people can go and get away from it all without a huge expense," he says.

Originally from South Africa, Willcock says the New Zealand holiday ethos resonates with him. "I love the idea of a no-fuss holiday that most people can enjoy without breaking the bank."

Caroline Daley from Auckland University's history department says the concept of the egalitarian bach may be misplaced.

And rather than seeing the corporatisation of holiday homes as undermining the Kiwi ideals of egalitarianism, in her reading this may just be the most recent manifestation of an experience that has always excluded much of society.

"There is a lot of myth-making around the bach," she says. "The reality is that people have always been excluded from summer holidays at the bach - be it by money, lack of transport or lack of holidays. It's never been an egalitarian experience."

The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands. Photo / Supplied
The Beach House, Rawhiti, Bay Of Islands. Photo / Supplied

She says the tradition of the bach was started by wealthy families who wanted to relax by the beach in summer.

The mother and children would go during the week and be joined by the father, who would be working, at the weekends. Seaside suburbs such as Auckland's Milford started in this way; families and friends would use the homes when the owners weren't there.

"Those who owned baches and those who rented them needed the time and resources to do so. There was always a large sector of society who would miss out."

The creation of a "bach industry" may be seen as deleterious by some who still long for the 1950s style of holidaymaking but Preston claims her company and others like it are providing people who dream of bach ownership with a legitimate means of realising this.

"Essentially, we are helping to keep the Kiwi bach dream alive," she says. "People can't afford to have a second home that just sits empty.

"We can enable people who have baches, or want to have them, to make money from them year-round. It turns holiday homes into a good investment and means more people can access an important aspect of the New Zealand identity."