Life's a bach

21:00, Apr 10 2014
Kina Beach Vineyard.
EASY AS: Garth Bray on the deck of his Ligar Bay bach with peachy coloured blooms of night scented Brugmansia.

Judith Gillies asks what happened to the lifestyle we used to know.


Call them baches or cribs, or just plain due for demolition, but to me they're called cultural heritage. I freely fess up to being a cribbie all my life. That's why I feel so sad to see the end of the idiosyncratic Ligar Bay baches and their wonderfully eclectic gardens.

Kina Beach Vineyard.

Now, before you go reaching for the loud hailer or fill my inbox with rants about how time was up for the now infamous baches, I concede there was a legitimate process to the whole saga, even if some, like me, are saddened by the outcome.

What I mourn is the passing of something that, for me, epitomised the simple, modest, Kiwi way. The baches may not be historic under the terms of the Act, but they represent an important part of our history, our taonga, as some are saying.

From the very first time I saw the eccentric baches along the beach front at Ligar Bay, sometime in the 70s, I smiled with joy.


Some say the word "bach" comes from bachelor pad, while a "crib" is what those of us of Scottish descent from south of the Waitaiki River call a small, did-it-yourself holiday "hoose" - "ma cozy wee crib", as the Scots would say.

Whatever you want to call them, to me they represent the egalitarian society I grew up with, where having a crib was not just for the well-to-do, but was easily in reach of those with the ingenuity and will to find a cheap-as bit of land by the sea or a river, pitch in with family or friends and scrape together a modest little building for summer holidays. It was the next step up from the tent or caravan.

Even if your own family didn't have a crib, everyone knew someone who did and was more than happy to share it.

Mostly they were built with recycled materials or from old sheds or perhaps a redundant railway carriage. They were simple, affordable and unpretentious, where everything was made to "make do", with second hand furniture, cable reel tables and open fires for barbecues. Even if they could afford it, no one had designer outdoor furniture or flash food.

Baches and cribs were cheap to build and cheap to run, with what we would now regard as a low carbon footprint.

Often they were without electricity, with just a coal range for cooking, tilley lamps for light and a safe instead of a carbon-consuming fridge.

Those lucky enough to have electricity might have had a Zip to heat the water for dishes, but not for baths. Instead, you swam in the sea or the river, or perhaps had an outdoor bath like that at one of the baches at Ligar Bay.

There were never elements of one-upmanship or attempts to show off your net worth (or ability to borrow), but rather the opposite, where modest, but adequate facilities - as opposed to the opulence of a holiday home - were de rigueur. And the holidays were easy-as bliss for the whole family.

The gardens were filled with "good doers" that had to survive and thrive on neglect, like hydrangeas and agapanthus, geraniums and periwinkle, an old rose over the shed and somewhere a plum tree or two. There were always chives and mint by the kitchen door and a rope swing for the kids.

And then, of course, there was the outdoor dunny, complete with lift up lid and bucket that had to be "buried" as the last job to do before you locked up and left.

To me it's not about the fact the Ligar Bay baches were on public land, but that they take with them this simple, organic, creative architecture, this make-do, unpretentious, affordable idea of a holiday house.

Modest baches and cribs were never just about the building, though. They were about a way of life, an attitude, the casual, easy, good life, where you don't have to worry about sand on the carpet or feet on the sofa.

Obviously reserve land is for public good but the baches at Ligar Bay never once compromised my enjoyment of the beach and surrounds. They only ever enhanced the experience, as did the lovely old bach at Bark Bay. I always loved to see people enjoying the simple, modest bach lifestyle I admire and value. And the baches and their gardens were always a joy to behold; simple, floriferous and practical.

That of Garth and Leslie Bray's at Ligar Bay typifies the eclectic bach garden, filled with geraniums, rudbeckia, salvia and sunflowers, the obligatory lemon, some late season Isle of Capri tomatoes and a magnificent night-scented brugmansia for evenings on the deck. And, out the back, Garth's garden shed would be the envy of any man (or woman) wanting a cave.

While the end of the baches might be an send to a lifestyle for those who have lived there, I happen to think it's also sad for those of us who value the culture they symbolise.

As Golden Bay artist Geoff Heath says of their departure, "this is my culture, my heritage going". Asked to paint one of the baches for its owner, he laments their demise as the end of an era.

It has, of course, been happening all round the country, at Taylor's Mistake near Christchurch - where I once lived in a bach - in the Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman National Park and on Auckland's Rangitoto Island.

Yet beachside baches, cribs and boat sheds remain some of this country's most admired and photographed buildings, including the boat sheds on Stewart Island and Nelson's own Boat Shed Cafe.

And, why is it we pay so much to travel to far away places, such as Italy's Cinque Terre and the Greek Islands, to see quaint little seaside houses clinging to cliffs and shorelines, but are happy to demolish what fills the same cultural and tourist niche at home?

Do we really have a lack of seaside access? Big time commercial interests, such as port businesses and marina companies can legitimately lease public land, so why not what's left of our historic seaside baches?

I am one of many who will miss the iconic, modest, eccentric baches in Ligar Bay and the colourful, carefree gardens and lifestyle that goes with them.

What puzzles me is why the ideals of an egalitarian society have been so enthusiastically replaced by the widening income gap and the idea that modest values are so last century. How and why did bigger, more opulent and more expensive become so much more valued? Does that make people feel more happy and fulfilled? I'm always intrigued by the particularly well-off who love to share how they were happiest when they had humble means.

To me, life should always be a bach, where you feel permanently on holiday and where you definitely don't have to worry about sand on the carpet or feet on the sofa. And the garden pretty much looks after itself. Perfect.

Check out the latest in housing and baches where less is so much more with the Bunkie, a modest, updated prefabricated version of the sleepout / office / cosy wee hoose, developed in the USA at