Bach (New Zealand)

A larger bach in the North Island.

A bach (pronounced 'batch') (/ˈbæ/; (also called a crib in the southern half of the South Island) is a small, often very modest holiday home or beach house. Baches are an iconic part of New Zealand history and culture, especially in the middle of the 20th century, where they symbolised the beach holiday lifestyle that was becoming more accessible to the middle class.[1]

"Bach" was [thought to be] originally short for bachelor pad,[2] but actually they often tended to be a family holiday home. An alternative theory for the origination of the word is that bach is the Welsh word for small, although the pronunciation of this word is more anglicised to Baatch . Baches began to gain popularity in the 1950s as roads improved and the increasing availability of cars allowed for middle-class beach holidays, often to the same beach every year. With yearly return trips being made, baches began to spring up in many family vacation spots.


Post-World War II

They are almost always small structures, usually made of cheap or recycled material like fibrolite (asbestos sheets), corrugated iron or used timber.[3] They were influenced by the backwoods cabins and sheds of the early settlers and farmers. Other baches used a caravan as the core of the structure, and built extensions on to that. Many cities were dismantling tram lines in the 1950s, and old trams were sometimes used as baches.

A reconstructed example of a typical bach from the 1950s can be found in National Maritime Museum on Princes Wharf in central Auckland.[4] The period-furnished bach is complemented with an adjacent beach shop with original products from that time.

While older baches tend to be fibrolite lean-to structures, modern kit-set structures are becoming popular amongst bach owners. Department of Conservation figures estimate that more than 50,000 baches exist around New Zealand (population 4.7 million people).

Recent times

Early baches rarely enjoyed amenities like connections to the water and electricity grid or indoor toilets. They were furnished basically, often with second hand furniture.

In more recent times the basic bach has been replaced by the modern "holiday house", more substantial, more expensive (reflecting increasing affluence, and vastly increased coastal land values) and usually professionally built (due to stricter building codes). Another important change has been the subdivision of coastal land, with increasing numbers of residents and visitors, bringing traffic, cafes, mobile phone coverage, craft shops and other conveniences to what were originally empty beaches and bush-filled gullies. Some bach-dotted beaches in the 1950s have today become suburban areas.

Legal status

Old baches often have 'existing use' rights under the Resource Management Act in areas where even such modest residential or part-time residential buildings would not be allowed by newer planning regulations.[5] As such they are quite prized, even though authorities typically look unfavourably on proposals to convert them into full residential buildings.

Some baches whose construction was obviously legally dubious (such as those on Rangitoto Island) have been dismantled over time.


  1. Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand (encyclopedia section about holiday life)
  2. Orsman, H. W. (1999). The Dictionary of New Zealand English. Auckland: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558347-7.
  3. Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand (short encyclopedia section about bach architecture)
  4. No. 13 "Beach Shop and Bach" on Maritime Museum map with explanations, NZ National Maritime Museum, Auckland.
  5. Resource Management Act (Department of the Environment, see 'existing use' in the actual act text)
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