Scattered close to the capital’s Red Rocks is a small group of rudimentary holiday homes that have faced off against both the elements and outsiders for as long as they have been standing. Writer Paul Gallagher and photographer Mark Tantrum headed down south to meet some of the owners.

At the End of the World: The baches of Wellington’s south coast

The dart board takes pride of place in the batch. Possibly replacing the spot where a TV would reside in the family home. FishHead Magazine shoot: Red Rocks Batch Feature. January 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum |

An overview of the McCulloch batch. The corrugated iron cladding has been recently replaced as part of an continual maintenance schedule which all the batches need being right on the beach facing the Cook Strait.

A great example of the batches blending into the landscape. It seems the owners look at the surrounding colors and use them to inspire their paint choices.

Duncan Mackay and Damian McCulloch stop to have a chat.

Traveling in style: Jack Everett Brown and Tom McCulloch pile into the back of the car with dog Rosie to go on another adventure.

Another concrete bunker style batch. Seriously locked down while not in use.

Another iconic classic Kiwi lifestyle car the trusty LandRover parked up at a batch.

Neighbor Murray Martin chats with Damian Melissa McCulloch over a cold one.

A farmers batch complete with verandah and BBQs. Some of these batches are accessible by 2WD viechles with farm roads winding down the hills.

A big part of the reason the McCulloch's maintain and continue to visit the batch is to share the childhood experiences of exploring the outdoors. Their sons Tom and Mason are lead by guest Jack Everett Brown from a huge hike up the hills behind the batch. They claimed to see dinosaur footprints.

A very solid concrete batch blending in nicely with the surrounding landscape.

A coal fired stove, that also has a wetback enabling hot showers in the morning. To the right is a hot water cylinder that retains the heat in the water all day. This batch is truly off grid, but does not feel like anything is missing in terms of necessities.

A squat, robust batch that is in lock down mode while not being used.

The McCulloch family batch, with a small fire smoldering on the beach. A picture of paradise on Wellington's doorstep.

A WW2 tank was used to carry materials around the coast to build many of the existing batches. Its remains are still to be found on the coast.

An interior view of the McCulloch batch featuring the coal fired stove, bar and various decorations hanging from the ceiling.

The view from the McCulloch batch with Melissa and Damian McCulloch on the beach. While you can travel thousands of miles to get this view, it is also right here minutes from town.

  • An over­view of the McCul­loch batch. The cor­rug­ated iron clad­ding has been recently replaced as part of an con­tinu­al main­ten­ance sched­ule which all the batches need being right on the beach facing the Cook Strait. 

Wellington’s south coast is a wild, rugged, windswept place. It is worn by the forces of the Pacific Ocean, which at times throw furi­ous waves and howl­ing winds at the shore. It’s an attract­ive place for people look­ing to escape the cap­it­al and get away from it all – at least for an after­noon. How­ever, some who travel out to the widest mar­gins from Wel­ling­ton aren’t there for day trips. Nestled in the crooks and hol­lows of the hills are small huts and iron sheds without road access or many of the trap­pings of civil­isa­tion: baches.

These baches are passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, and for own­er Dami­an McCul­loch the struc­tures aren’t just iron and tim­ber. The bones of his bach are also the bones of his fam­ily. It is a jour­ney star­ted by his fath­er and car­ried on by him – and that he hopes will be car­ried on in turn by his chil­dren too. “I was first taken around there when I was six weeks old, on the back of a bus­ted old Land Rover. I guess the bach has just been a sanc­tu­ary for us to just get away from everything. Once you get around there, all the wor­ries in the world sort of disappear.”

It’s also more than just fam­ily his­tory. The bach own­ers firmly believe they’re pre­serving New Zealand’s his­tory. McCul­loch says it’s a way of life that should be pro­tec­ted. “That is the ori­gin­al Kiwi bach. You don’t have to take your shoes off when you walk in the door. It doesn’t mat­ter if you drop your glass of beer on the ground; you just sweep it out the door. You don’t have to worry about the car­pet and things like that.”

Neigh­bour Mur­ray Mar­tin believes the baches rep­res­ent a bygone era. “There’s a his­tory right around New Zea­l­and, par­tic­u­larly in the coastal areas, but also in the bush areas, where people just squat­ted. If they wanted to build a struc­ture there, they just did it. The rules weren’t quite the same as they are now.”

The ori­gins of the baches go back many dec­ades, with some built in the early 1900s and oth­ers con­struc­ted up until the 1960s. Mar­tin says con­struct­ing them was a painstak­ing task for many of the founders. They are in many ways monu­ments of toil. “Most of those baches were built by people who car­ried mater­i­als around on packs or by bike. You’re talk­ing about the old Land Rover days here, and even then vehicles were a lux­ury. The stuff was taken around there by hand, built by hand. The con­crete was mixed off the beach.” A leftover from the Second World War played a big part in the con­struc­tion of many of the baches in the most inac­cess­ible spots: an old armoured per­son­nel car­ri­er was used to carry build­ing goods around the bluffs, when shoulders were too sore or tired to take the load.

McCul­loch says it takes a spe­cial type of per­son to own one of the baches – primar­ily because of the chal­lenges put up by the remote­ness and tough envir­on­ment. Stub­born­ness and resource­ful­ness are part of that. “I guess it is people who have got a pas­sion for the sim­pler times in life. I mean, every­one is always in such a hurry to be some­where these days and you’ve always got some­thing to do. I guess if you want a place where you can actu­ally kick back and not do any­thing if you don’t want to, that’s where you get the pas­sion to keep these places.”

A unique com­munity has developed among the bach own­ers. They knuckle down to help each oth­er out, band­ing togeth­er to get work done when there’s a need to do it. It’s a cooper­at­ive type of life­style not often seen in mod­ern New Zea­l­and. That is, for McCul­loch, one of the beau­ti­ful aspects of the place. “You don’t find any prob­lems. Gen­er­ally, most of the bach own­ers have known each oth­er through the gen­er­a­tions. We met all the oth­er bach own­ers through our par­ents who were mates, and it’s just grown from there.” Lifelong con­nec­tions have been forged over reroof­ing huts or nail­ing down loose iron – and, of course, hav­ing a good time. “You just do any­thing for each oth­er, that’s just the way it is. If there is anoth­er bach own­er that needs a bit of work done on their place, you go and help them. And you have a beer with them while doing it.” Mar­tin agrees – though not without a little cheek. “We all try to help each oth­er out. And we all just respect each. Some of them are on top of each oth­er; there’s three of us right all togeth­er there, quite close. You’ve got to love your neigh­bour, no mat­ter how much they drink.”

With the ocean right on the door­step, there are always fresh offer­ings from the waves – some­thing McCulloch’s keen on tak­ing advant­age of. “We cast off and I do a bit of snor­kelling. My kids are at that age where I’m get­ting them into it too.” How­ever, it’s not only fish or shell­fish that are on offer – the ocean also holds a few sur­prises. “There’s been the odd thing. The odd body. My fath­er found a big giant squid years ago, he told me; it’s one of the ones that’s in the museum now. There’s always dif­fer­ent stuff wash­ing up off Japan­ese fish­ing boats. You name it, it’s washed up around here.”

One might ima­gine the pos­it­ives of the spot would also be an attract­ive pro­pos­i­tion for developers or investors. Luck­ily though – in McCulloch’s eyes – that door is firmly closed. “You’re not actu­ally allowed to build around here any­more. We’re not allowed to add on to our baches or any­thing. Now with the way things are with con­ser­va­tion you can’t go and plonk a build­ing any­where.” Mar­tin says there are few options for any­one inter­ested in get­ting a stake. “Some are sold but that’s very, very rare. There was one closer to the road end that was sold on, but it was only because the eld­erly couple both died and they didn’t have any fam­ily. Someone else took over the run­ning of it. But gen­er­ally they just stay in the fam­ily. The only oth­er option is if you have a bach on private land and if you’ve got the landowner’s per­mis­sion.” The build­ings already in place and built either with per­mis­sion or without have escaped the mod­ern con­straints of things like dis­trict plans.

The bach own­ers are used to shar­ing the area with an increas­ingly intrep­id pub­lic. McCul­loch explains that it’s a lot busier now. “Everyone’s got a four-wheel drive these days and so there’s a lot more traffic around here. It’s not like the old days when it was a bit like the Wild West.” Moun­tain bikers, trail riders and walk­ers also fre­quent the area, pop­u­lar for its stark nat­ur­al beauty and rugged envir­on­ment. Mar­tin has sat in front of his bach watch­ing the crowds of walk­ers and moun­tain bikers grow over the years. “When I first star­ted going out there, some­times you wouldn’t see any­one for a couple of weeks. But with more pub­li­city more people want to have a look. You just have to live with it.” McCul­loch says he and oth­er bach own­ers aren’t com­pet­ing with the pub­lic to keep the area quiet – and in fact argues that it was the bach own­ers who have enabled people to enjoy it. The south coast is a spot he believes should be enjoyed by all. “My par­ents went through it all before – bat­tling coun­cils and stuff to keep those tracks open so they can be used by the pub­lic. And we’d do it all again, but hope­fully it nev­er comes to that.”

The bach own­ers enjoy a slow life, but some­times they are in the right place at the right time – in emer­gen­cies. McCul­loch says he’s always happy to help if called on. “We’ve res­cued divers before and helped police search and res­cue. Just on the week­end there was a walk­er, some tour­ist who had gone fur­ther than they thought it was. We set them up with water and sent them on their way.”

McCul­loch sees him­self as a care­taker of sorts – keep­ing his­tory alive so that it can be enjoyed by future gen­er­a­tions. “All our kids are into iPods and Play­Sta­tions. We come around here and they don’t even ask for it because they know it’s not here. All we’ve got is a sol­ar pan­el that runs 12-volt lights and a car radio. That’s the power you’ve got. So they go out­side and climb the hills, light fires or go fish­ing. Too many kids don’t get a chance to do that. Now I can teach my kids how to fil­let fish. We’re con­stantly tak­ing dif­fer­ent kids around there, all my sons’ friends. I get a kick out of that now; that’s what I had grow­ing up and now I can give it back to oth­er kids.”

How long would the bach own­ers want to hold on to the dream? McCul­loch says it’s an easy answer: for ever. “We would fight ham­mer and nail to keep it. That’s just how pas­sion­ate we are about that sort of life­style. Where else in the world or New Zea­l­and can you have a life­style like that, where you’re so close to a city but in the middle of nowhere?” Martin’s optim­ist­ic that the baches will be left to the wind and brine. “We’ve got a good rela­tion­ship with the Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil now and the landown­ers. We’ve had our issues, but we’ve sor­ted that. We can now all live peace­fully ever after – fin­gers crossed.”

Ulti­mately though, the McCul­loch fam­ily and oth­er bach own­ers out on the exposed south coast just want to be allowed to con­tin­ue in their escape from the world. McCulloch’s happy that the world knows about the baches and that people stop in for a beer from time to time. But he says that way of life should be left how it is – a liv­ing monu­ment, and a part of Wellington’s his­tory. “We’re happy to just dis­ap­pear into the back­ground and not be heard of and seen, if you know what I mean.”



South coast baches: a rough history

There are already baches that have gained His­tor­ic Places Trust status: four at Red Rocks and a cluster at Mestanes Bay have been registered since 2002. In terms of his­tor­ic value, the Red Rocks baches have retained their ori­gin­al­ity – unlike baches in a num­ber of oth­er parts of New Zea­l­and. Paul Thompson, in his book The Bach (1985), says, “The humble nature of the Wel­ling­ton region’s baches sug­gests that the own­ers… made a delib­er­ate decision to accept sim­pli­city, to have a place, free of pre­ten­sions, where they could escape to.”

The south coast is also an area long used by Wellington’s res­id­ents. A for­ti­fied pā, or stock­ade vil­lage, is thought to have been built in the area by Māori, and a land sur­vey plan in 1843 marked ‘fish­ing huts’ in the area. One of the baches was used dur­ing the Second World War to store goods and pro­vi­sions for a for­ti­fied obser­va­tion post above Sin­clair Point. A cable­way anchored to the shoreline car­ried goods to the ridgeline above the bach.

Own­er Dami­an McCul­loch is of a view that all the baches may one day have to be giv­en pro­tec­tion in order to pre­serve what’s so deeply import­ant to his fam­ily. “At the end of the day, that’s where it would have to go for all of them. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in those places. There are people from doc­tors and law­yers to dent­ists and con­crete lay­ers. People from all aspects of life use those places.” Bach neigh­bour Mur­ray Mar­tin endorses the idea of expand­ing the pro­tec­tion for all of the baches – and he believes it is inev­it­able. “I have dis­cussed it with coun­cil. It’s a pos­sib­il­ity. It pro­tects all inter­ested parties I think. It means we can’t alter the baches, and it means demoli­tion can’t be ordered on them. It is prob­ably the best way to go I think.”


You must be logged in to post a comment Login