The quintessential Kiwi holiday home is in danger of extinction, writes Juliette Sivertsen
"Then we do the dishes manually - With over fifteen different kinds of cutlery" -The Cabin, Ylvis
A red formica dining table is set for dinner with a collection of mismatched plates and faux ivory-handled cutlery. Bright plastic tumblers and painted retro water glasses are filled with sickly-sweet but refreshing Raro juice, which masks the weird metallic taste of the boiled tank water. Potato salad, slightly-burnt sausages, leftover Christmas ham, and enough plums from the prolific tree out the back to make you never want to see another one in your life.
We smell of sunscreen and salt, looking innocently dishevelled with our crusty sea hair. Our bodies are happily weary from hours of swimming and canoeing at the beach, tiny shells still sticking between our toes and brushed under the misaligned pieces of carpet.
There's no telephone and certainly no internet. Mum makes us switch off the black and white TV for dinner - but we're allowed to keep the staticky portable radio on to listen to the cricket, precariously perched on the windowsill with the aerial extended out the window to get the best reception.
Once an icon of middle class New Zealand, the traditional Kiwi bach is fast becoming a thing of the past, as the old beach shacks are bulldozed to make way for more modern, luxury holiday homes. Those renovated properties are now worth far more in a monetary sense - but it's the memories of simple summers and holidays without the mod cons which tend hold the most value for today's bach owners.
Mum reckons our family bach at Charteris Bay, in Banks Peninsula, is one of the last of its kind. Grandad Bill built it in the 1950s. I never knew him; he passed away when Mum was 18, leaving my Nana Peggy to look after the property, and their two teenage children.
Bill and Peggy lived on the West Coast and I grew up hearing stories about his business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit and handyman skills. After they moved to Christchurch, they fell in love with Banks Peninsula and would regularly holiday there. Bill loved the ocean, so when a sloping section came up for sale on a hill in Charteris Bay overlooking the sea and out to Quail Island, he didn't need to think too hard about the investment - all 150 pounds of it - and began the plans for a holiday abode.
"He was of the generation - and having lived on the Coast - DIY was part of the DNA," Mum tells me. "He also had enough mathematical knowledge and experience to draw plans to scale. You have to think, it's the 1950s, and a bach in those days was very much a bedroom, a kitchen and a living area, and you had an outside toilet."
A bach, known as a "crib" in southern New Zealand, is not to be mistaken for a holiday home. A traditional Kiwi bach needs a certain level of discomfort and ramshackle rustic touches to retain its authenticity. Three decks of playing cards, none of them complete. 999-piece jigsaw puzzles. Monopoly with a few hand-drawn $50 notes. Dusty comics. Upcycled furniture. An eclectic selection of dinner plates and appliances no longer nice enough for the main house, but perfect for the bach. And the greatest adventure of all - the outdoor toilet.
Ours was a short hike up some steps to an old metal shed, with intricate spider webs decorating each corner. I remember making the nightly trek before bed with my four older siblings, lining up outside to go one-by-one, with one person charged with the all important responsibility of shining the torch for the person inside. I would sit on the toilet with my eyes closed, humming a tune to distract myself from the torchlight magnifying every arachnid to monstrous proportions.
But it was all part of the simplicity and beauty of a summer spent at the bach. While waiting outside the loo, you could gaze up into the most beautiful starry sky, moonlight glistening on the water. Ah, the serenity - cobwebs and all. For four generations now, our bach has been the ultimate go-to spot for adults and children alike to find peace and recharge the batteries.
"It's usually a place where people unwind from the stresses of city life and in the case of Charteris Bay, we had sailboats, we had swimming, we had walks, there was no television, we listened to the radio and we played lots of games and cards, and we read," Mum recalls.
"And you got to know people on the beach. You congregated on the beach. I think that's what makes a bach. You don't have to have television and you don't have to have the internet. We didn't even have a phone."
West Coast bach owner Daniel Beetham knows how special the traditional Kiwi bach is to many families, but fears they'll soon become extinct, disappearing in favour of more modern holiday escapes.
His property at Woodpecker Bay near Punakaiki was built in the 1940s, and has changed hands a few times since then. Beetham has owned it since 2013 and rents it out on Airbnb. A prime position on the water's edge, Beetham has been careful not to get carried away with any maintenance work.
"Because I'm constantly fixing things, the ongoing maintenance and repairs, you have to be careful not to overdo it, because I'm determined to keep it as a real, true New Zealand bach.
"Sometimes if you've got tradies doing work, sometimes it's tempting just to overdo it, but I don't want it to lose its 'bachy' flavour," he says.
There is no cell coverage at the property. The toilet is in a shed a short stroll away from the main dwelling; torches are recommended for nighttime relief stops. A small tank collects the rainwater and the nearest shops are a 30min drive away.
Beetham does his shopping for the property on TradeMe or in op-shops. "I love second hand shops. The good thing about the bach is that anything goes. You don't have to be ruled by what's hot or what's on trend, because pretty much anything in the op-shop is on trend when you're furnishing the bach."
"I'm a lover of the traditional Kiwi bach and I'll bend over backwards to keep it bachy."
Like most bach owners, the decision to buy or build usually comes down to the location and views. Jocelyn Worsfold fell in love with Otama Beach in the Coromandel the first time she visited in 1966.
"It was the most gorgeous beach I'd ever seen," she says. Fourteen years later, she would find a section there with a 15.9 square metre one-bedroom bach on it with a corrugated iron roof. Electricity hadn't yet arrived in the area.
"It was very much like camping. We didn't even have gas bottles in those days and it was all done by Coleman stove and lanterns and things like that. So we lived a very simple life.
"We'd have to go over the hill every three days for a great big block of ice to keep things cold. So once we got electricity, it was nice, because you could now have cold wine and beer and a cup of coffee without spending half an hour getting everything ready. But it lost a lot of its romance - the candles, the lanterns."
Years later, Worsfold decided to move permanently to the area, and built a house on the same section. She couldn't bear to part with the bach, so instead of knocking it down, she chose to move it further up the hill, to make way for the main house, which she shares with her partner Jude Wicks.
Today, the bach is full of treasures and souvenirs from overseas travels, and other assortments collected over the years.
"It hosts my royal china memorabilia," says Wicks. "We've got a very modern house that's pretty minimalist, so all that clutter that we had, that we'd saved when we went overseas, there was no room for that in the house. So they've all gone into the bach. And they're loved by a new generation now."
Wicks says that's what a bach should be - a treasure trove of recycled and upcycled bits and pieces from other parts of your life.
But Worsfold agrees the humble bach is now an endangered species, as most in the area have been upgraded into fancier rental homes, averaging upwards of $400 a night. She says these days, renting a bach is unaffordable for many families.
"It is a rare breed. Some of what people call their baches have got chandeliers and three bathrooms."
Traditional bach locations often have prime waterfront views, making the land a handsome asset. But the rustic nature of the structures mean they are constantly in need of a bit of repair work. And perhaps that is one of the greatest challenges for bach owners of today - how much do you keep spending on upgrades and touch-ups, while retaining its authenticity and original charm? Or is it better to bowl the thing over for a more comfortable holiday home?
Grandad Bill died in 1964 at the age of 51, six years after he finally completed the Charteris Bay bach. But Nana Peggy never stopped going. Mum and my uncle Bernard continued to holiday there, as have us 'kids', and now Bill and Peggy's great grandchildren get the same joy, peace and carefree summers that we all had growing up.
"I think it was his legacy to us all," Mum says of her father's creation. "There were times when a woman was widowed, that things had to be sold, and she (Peggy) had offers for the house, but there was really no need to sell."
Nana Peggy died 10 years ago, aged 95, but was still climbing the steep steps to our bach at 90. To this day, my siblings and I still refer to her bedroom at the bach as 'Nana's room', even though many years have passed since she last stayed there. We frequently recount fond memories of having to bring what seemed like scalding hot cups of tea to her, before being sent back to remake them with hotter water and silvertop milk. It's memories like these that give life to the bach, and make it harder to consider pulling it down in favour of something newer or more modern.
No matter the bach, no matter the family, the memories always seem to be the same. Board games and card games, beach picnics, adventures in the neighbourhood, not a device in sight. The eclectic mix of furniture and kitchenware, the outdoor toilet, a symphony of cicadas and birds dancing on the tin roof.
But most importantly, the feeling of tranquility. Sometimes we don't know how wound up and stressed we are, until we spend a night at the bach.
"I love the sea," Mum tells me, every time we travel around the peninsula to the bach together.
"This is my DNA."