Skip to main content
  • 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.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.