Six Books, a Bach and a Wizard’s Robe

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Getting away to “the bach” is a Great Kiwi Tradition. A bach is a holiday home, and it’s pronounced like a batch of cookies, not like the Baroque composer.

bach

Baches range from old shacks to modern mansions, although anything too “flash” isn’t really seen as being in the spirit. It’s supposed to be about getting back to basics; enjoying the beach with your family, free from technological distractions. As such, the traditional Kiwi bach is usually quite rundown. Worn-out couches, rusty kettles and board games with missing pieces are commonly found accessories.

Ruakaka Beach

Once you’ve arrived at your bach, there’s nothing to do except go to the beach. When I was younger, I despised it. I thought: I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the little things, but if you’re grateful for this, you’re an idiot. I mean this is the pinnacle of the Kiwi dream? This? But I think I get it now. “Getting it” could be to do with, you know, growing up, but I’ve also had some more positive bach experiences in the last few years.

Ruakaka Beach

I’ve had some “How’s the serenity?” moments:

Yes, that’s an Australian film, but you know… certain attitudes are similar.

Ruakaka Beach

Sometimes, having nothing to do except go to the beach is a good thing. You get there and suddenly nothing matters except the people you’re with. Earlier this year, my partner and I went to a bach with a large group of friends – a New Year getaway. The bach was in Ruakaka, in scorching Northland. When we arrived, Tim nearly passed out from the heat. Wading into the Pacific Ocean was absolute bliss.

Waipu Cove

As nice as Ruakaka Beach is, a short drive up the road lies an even nicer beach: Waipu Cove. After a couple of days lounging around in Ruakaka, Tim and I decided to visit Waipu. We returned with six books and a wizard’s robe.

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Our friends joked that only Tim and Abby could go to the beach and come back with books and a LARPing costume. (And if you’re thinking but there are only five books in the photograph – I got another book after it was taken.) There was a mobile library at the beach, you see, and they had a table full of old books they were giving away.

Waipu Cove

“If every beach was like this,” Tim said to me, “we’d get you outside more.” True as that may be, even I’ll admit that Waipu Cove is worth visiting irrespective of the presence of a mobile library. Even the toilet block has a lovely mural painted on it, chronicling the history of the Waipu settlement.

Waipu Cove Mural

As for the wizard’s robe, that came from a junk shop on Waipu’s main street. (Waipu has a few junk – one might hesitate to call them antique – shops.) The town was settled in the nineteenth century by a group of Scottish immigrants who’d had quite a time of it. They were led by a very dour-looking religious chap who fell out with the Presbyterians in Scotland because they weren’t dour enough. He took some members of his clan off to Canada, but the whole thing was a bloody disaster, so they built themselves a ship and sailed to Australia, but Australia was too full of prozzies and booze, so they got another ship and sailed to New Zealand. There they settled, and when the dour guy finally died they let their hair down and started having all the fun they’d been forbidden from having because, apparently, God hates fun. This particular brand fun included nostalgic celebrations of Celtic culture, and Waipu holds annual highland games to this day.

Waipu Museum

That’s what I gathered from Waipu’s rather excellent museum, anyway. It’s worth a visit if you’re up that way. Here’s the website. Apparently, the highland games are worth a visit too. Here’s that website.

For more of my adventures up north, read What to Do in Kerikeri.

Kiwi Houses

One of the most notable differences between England and New Zealand is the housing.

I grew up in a small, terraced house in the North of England. The lounge was less than half the size of our lounge now, here in New Zealand, and we had a tiny bathroom that had been partitioned off from the upstairs front room – there were still the remnants of an outdoor toilet, which we used as a shed.

We had little yard, completely concreted over, and a drying green we shared with the rest of the terrace. When we bought a house in New Zealand, it was the first time we’d actually owned our own garden with grass.

Our street in England was a Victorian street. Every house was the same: two-storied and skinny, just wide enough for a big bay window and a front door. There were no grass verges. Cars lined either side of the road, turning it into a one-way street.

And the next street was the same. And the next.

When we moved to New Zealand, I was astounded at the simple fact that, on our street, every house was different. And most of them were single-storied. It was hard to get used to not having stairs.

Every house had a luscious, green garden in front of it, and the pavements had wide borders of grass.

The houses had space in-between them. Returning years later to look at our old house in England, I had definite, unexpected feelings of claustrophobia, and I couldn’t believe how grey the world seemed.

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Space is what defines New Zealand housing, the space to build whatever you can dream. There’s a bit of a problem with some older houses in that, since New Zealand is generally quite warm, they weren’t built with proper insulation and heating – hardly any houses here have built-in radiators – and that isn’t so good when it gets damp in winter.

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There’s a lot more outdoor living in New Zealand. Decks are a must-have when it comes to kiwi houses, but lots of kiwi families like to do some outdoor living away from the home. Campervans and caravans are very popular, but not as iconic as the kiwi bach.

A bach is a holiday home by a beach. Traditionally, they’re really basic – practically sheds with beds in, built out of second-hand materials – but I recently visited a friend’s ‘bach’ in Coromandel and it was the fanciest place I’ve ever been in, far flasher than any house my family’s owned. I thought retreating to the bach was supposed to be about leaving the modern world behind, along with all of its electronic distractions, so you could get back to nature – well not this place!

I think I prefer holidaying in a campervan. I’m one of those people that needs encouragement to get outdoors, and this bach was so luxurious I didn’t want to leave it. Mind you, the view from the deck was fairly all right.

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