Photo by André Bodde

Escape the city for the “bach” life in New Zealand

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As you relax on your cottage deck with beer in hand, unplugged, surrounded by family and a quiet nature you have nearly forgotten during your busy work week, the same scene is being played out nearly 14,000 kilometers around the world. Two hours north of Auckland, New Zealand on the Tutukaka coast, André Bodde sits on the deck of his family’s cottage, or “bach”, contemplating what to do with the freedom the day offers.

André’s parents bought the “green bach”, as it’s fondly called, 27 years ago when land right on the Northland coast of New Zealand’s North Island was still affordable. Since then, André has bought a half-share from his parents, who built a more contemporary bach on the beach across the road. The name bach, pronounced “batch”, was originally shortened from bachelor pad even though they’re more often family holiday homes. Surrounded by rolling hills, farmland and native bush pohutukawa (the iconic Kiwi Christmas tree), André’s family’s timber green bach is perched across a small road from Sandy Bay, one of the most popular surfing beaches along a coast rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the second-best coastal destination in the world.

“The area was originally farmland belonging to one family,” says André, who lives in Auckland. “Over the past 50 years, they’ve sold off the land, but there are only about 20 baches around.” With only a handful of cottages in Sandy Bay, André’s family’s bach is relatively isolated. “The thing I love about it is it’s impossible to get telephone coverage,” he says. “There, nobody can contact me unless they have my land line. No computers, no television—just socializing.”

The Green Bach

Not only do you have to unplug at Sandy Bay, but you’d want to. Only a short boat ride away is Poor Knights Island, one of the top 10 scuba diving spots in the world. With three private boats and dive equipment at their disposal, André and his family organize a few dives a day into the marine reserve where they regularly spot moray eels, dolphins, stingrays, sharks and an incredible variety of sea coral. His nine-year-old son is already snorkeling and will learn how to scuba dive next year. “The ocean changes,” André tells me. “It can be like glass or quite rough and murky, which is no good for diving but means that surfs up. So it’s great—when you can’t dive, you can surf, and vice versa.”

Sandy Bay

 

Off Sandy Bay’s golden beaches, André and his family pick for mussels and go diving for such delicacies as crayfish and pāua, a sea snail similar to abalone. There might be a game of volleyball taking place on the beach while his children and their cousins play in kayaks in a little estuary that shelters them from the rough ocean. And if he wants to supplement his dinner with more than what can be caught from rock fishing or surf casting, André can take the boys out fishing for snapper. “At night we have a barbeque on the deck, pack the children off to bed and retell stories from dive trips,” André tells me. “We don’t go by clocks; we eat when hungry and sleep when tired.”

The view of Sandy Bay from the deck

While we might not have such oceanic jewels outside our cottage doors in Canada, the essence of why André loves his bach is similar to what draws thousands of Canadians from the city on weekends and summer breaks. “This is a really magical place to chill out and relax,” says André. “It’s about celebrating the end of the year and ringing in the New Year with family and friends. It’s the sharing of diving and fishing, of laughter and fun.” Since Sandy Bay is so small, everyone knows each other. All its residents celebrate from bach to bach throughout the holidays, reconnecting with friends who also live in Auckland but don’t see each other often due to busy schedules.

Inside the Green Bach

The configuration of André’s family’s bach reflects the spirit of welcoming guests. With two stories, numerous bunk beds and a “barrack room” packed with beds, the bach can accommodate up to 17 people. And it does, throughout the holidays. Guests can always spill over from the green bach into his parents’ more recently built cottage, with modern amenities to boot. “If we need to watch rugby or fancy a bit of luxury, we can just pop across to my parents. It’s brilliant—like going from a backpacker hostel to the Hilton,” André kids.

Although there is development along the coast, planners are generally respectful of the environment and residents tend to be conservation-minded.  Twice a year residents get together for a massive beach clean up. The only public establishment in Sandy Bay is the intimate but colourful Cuban Café, Havana Cabana, where you can savour Cuban specialities while overlooking the beach and enjoying the rhythms of umba, salsa and mambo. And if you need more than basic groceries and fishing gear from the small general store over the hill, residents can always head to Tutukaka. A mere 20 minutes away, this area offers restaurants, a marina, game fishing opportunities, shopping and a dive shop with boats venturing to Poor Knights Island on a daily basis.

Growing up, André and his five sisters spent every summer holiday at the green bach. Now, their children are learning to fish, eel, swim, kayak, surf and snorkel on Sandy Bay, but most importantly, spending time among cousins. “They love it,” André says of his children. “They’re already talking about going and can’t wait to get up there.”