Gardens made of driftwood and shells, beaches by the front door and bush-enclosed backyards, the Kiwi bach (holiday house) captures the spirit of New Zealand.
New Zealanders have always been drawn to out-of-the way places, where barrel waves roll back and forth beyond the porch, long-legged seabirds scavenge in the sand for insects and the only sounds are cicadas chirping. The iconic Kiwi bach personifies the Kiwi character: unpretentious, individual and creative. It is also a place to find solace and silence.
There are extensive listings of Kiwi baches for hire on specialised websites. Here is a sample of some of the best.
Piha: a bach built on sand hills
Christine Young’s bach is perched on a sand hill above the tempestuous Tasman Sea, on Auckland’s wild west coast. She bought it from her cousin more than four decades ago. The bach was built in the 1950s, a boom time for bach building.
The simple structure, with its plain exterior cladding and wooden decks, looks largely as it did when it was built, although the interior has been renovated in keeping with the period. The wide picture windows look directly out to sea, where gulls dive for their dinner.
Piha is renowned for its endless bush walks, toe-warming black sand and big surf. The locals are fiercely protective of this wild stretch of coastline and the permanent population remains small. Christine says her bach reflects the local community: resilient, low-key, and welcoming.
How to get there: From Auckland, head west on SH13 into Piha Rd. Piha is 38km from central Auckland and 45km from Auckland International Airport.
Best time to visit: Summer is busy with holidaymakers, so if you’re looking to ‘get-away-from-it-all’, spring and autumn are a better option.
Coromandel: paradise found
As an international muso, New Zealander Chris Parry has slept in some of the world’s poshest penthouse suites. But the place he calls paradise is a bach on the Coromandel Peninsula, across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland and accessed only by a forestry road.
For most of his career in London, Parry signed iconic bands like the Cure and the Jam, but his bach at Onemana, north of popular Whangamata Beach, is the polar opposite of jet set – remote, slow-moving, and soul-restoring.
When Parry first saw the property, the buildings – a main house, workers’ quarters and barn – were held together by rusty nails, but he renovated the buildings and filled them with New Zealand art, 50s memorabilia and treasures collected on his travels. He says the location is like a little island with forest on one side and the ocean on the other. You can canoe from the private beach and fish from the rocks.
How to get there: The Coromandel Peninsula lies south east of Auckland – a 2.5 hour drive from Auckland. Onemana is 15 minutes north of Whangamata on SH 25. The property is on Warakawa Bay, opposite Opoutere, accessed by a 7km forestry road.
Best time to visit: Summer and spring
Raglan: palms trees and whales
The 1930s bungalow at Plantation House has wrap-around verandahs, high ceilings and wide views of the Raglan Harbour, where fishing boats bring home their bounty, white horses play at the harbour entrance and orcas often play.
Owner Rosie Worsp had her eye on the property for 15 years before she bought it. She says she wanted to retain its character – old-fashioned sun porch, original tongue-and-groove walls and bi-fold windows, but she wanted to create a “Pacific feel”, hence the shell collections brought back from her travels to Vanuatu.
Raglan, west of Hamilton on the North Island west coast, is one of New Zealand’s best known surfing spots. Raglan is well-known for its iconic Kiwi baches, and some are so close to the sea you can throw a fishing line from the deck. Others are tucked behind sand hills or in the bush, occupied by the many artists and craftspeople that call Raglan their home.
How to get there: Take SH23 from Hamilton. Raglan has a world-famous surf beach, fishing, wind-surfing, kayaking and horse trekking.
Best time to visit: All seasons, but summer is busiest and warmest.
Turangi: trout-fishing hotspot
Turangi- in the central North Island - is known as "The Trout Fishing Capital of the World" because of the fat trout living in the Tongariro River and Lake Taupo just across the road. Susie Toogood owns two old baches that back on to a river reserve just 200m from Judges Pool, one of the best fishing spots on the river.
Toogood and her husband live in one of them and they bought the other five years ago to ensure its preservation. The weatherboard, iron-roofed bach is surrounded by bush and birdlife, especially kereru (New Zealand’s native wood pigeon). The bach is typical of fishermen’s cottages built in the 1950s. They have a rustic feel, solidly built to stand the test of time. Most have smoker sheds in the back garden. The bach has been renovated inside and Toogood says it’s cosy in winter and cool in summer.
How to get there: Turangi is 50km south of Taupo on SH1.
Best time to visit: All year, but autumn is the most colourful when all the leaves change colour.
Golden Bay: a bach for book-lovers
Anna Hickman is not surprised when librarians book her bach for holidays. The smaller of two baches on her property at the northern end of Golden Bay – on the northwestern tip of the South Island - was once a country library at nearby Rockville.
Hickman, who is a media studies teacher at Nelson, has accumulated some great titles for guests, including New Zealand nature books, which bird lovers appreciate. The tiny bach and its larger counterpart – a green building, which Hickman and her partner built – are two of a handful of baches on a thread-sized peninsula planted with totara trees and surrounded by water.
From the library bach, you can hear the tide lapping back and forth, and at high tide, paddle in the water from the main bach deck. Migratory godwits gather on the spit and a family of tiny blue penguins nest beneath the floorboards. People who stay can canoe, swim and walk – or simply read books.
How to get there: Pakawau Beach is two hours from Nelson and four hours from Picton on SH 60.
Best time to visit: Summer or late spring and autumn when the days are still long, the sun shines and there are less people about.
Woodpecker Bay: built on the rocks
When big seas pound the South Island West Coast, guests at this mid-century era bach have a ringside seat. Owner Daniel Beetham lives in Auckland but has always been drawn to the West Coast for hiking and outdoor sport. Three years ago, he tried to rent the bach for a holiday, but ended up buying it. He visits three or four times a year to recharge his batteries.
Beetham says guests love its wild location and the sense of peace they get when they walk through the door. He has furnished it with items bought from secondhand shops and New Zealand art. There is an old claw bath and a wood-burner that provides unlimited hot water. While the sea outside the window can be rough, there’s a great swimming hole at Fox River 4km to the south. The name, “Woodpecker Bay” is a mystery however, as New Zealand has no woodpeckers - maybe it’s related to the unrelenting thud of the ocean.
How to get there: Woodpecker Bay is halfway between Greymouth and Westport on SH6.
Best time to visit: Any time, depending on your needs.
Stewart Island: wake to the dawn chorus
Guests at Skip’s Place are woken by a deafening dawn chorus, as bellbirds, grey warblers and kakariki warm up their vocal chords.
Owner Holger Lachman, originally from Germany, visited Stewart Island – on New Zealand’s southern extremity - as a backpacker 20 years ago and never left. He and his partner – who have an 11-year-old son – own another old house nearby.
The weatherboard bach, painted green to merge with the bush, was built in the 1980s, but has been modernised inside. Some original features remain – guests have to light a fire for hot water but Lachman says visitors like the rustic do-it-yourself aspects. They also like the blackness of the night, which is great for star-gazing.
There are 39 steps to the beach below where seabirds like albatross, cormorants and blue penguins are regularly seen. Holger owns the local fish and chip shop, which guarantees guests a good meal in the evening.
How to get there: By ferry from Bluff or plane from Invercargill. The ferry takes an hour and flights take 15-20 minutes.
Best time to visit: Summer is warmest but, in spite of its southern location, Stewart Island has a relatively mild climate so any season is fine if you dress appropriately.