Tongaporutu River Baches Historic Area

2-23 Clifton Road, Tongaporutu

  • Tongaporutu River Baches. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: walgert – flickr. Taken By: walgert. Date: 24/12/2015.
  • Tongaporutu River Baches. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: walgert – flickr. Taken By: walgert. Date: 24/12/2015.
  • Tongaporutu River Baches. Plan of Historic Area from the registration report..
    Copyright: Taranaki Regional Xplorer, Taranaki Regional Council website.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9318 Date Entered 15th December 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the 26 bach sites that are part of the land described as Sec 39 Blk IV Mimi SD, Taranaki Land District and the 26 baches, their outbuildings, and the retaining walls that front the Tongaporutu River. The bach sites are marked sections 2 to 23 on SO 10788, Taranaki Land District. They occupy part of the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

New Plymouth District


Taranaki Region

Legal description

Sec 39 Blk IV Mimi SD (CT TN 141557), Taranaki Land District. [NZ Gazette 1981 p. 3231]

Location description

The Tongaporutu River Baches Historic Area is located near the mouth of the Tongaporutu River, approximately an hour’s drive north of central New Plymouth on State Highway 3. The baches are located along the south bank of the river, at the base of a large hill and former pa site.


The Tongaporutu River Baches Historic Area comprises of 26 baches primarily built between 1900 and 1961, which were erected on an area of road reserve between the Tongaporutu River and Clifton Road in north Taranaki – today part of the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve.Together the baches are historically, architecturally and socially significant as a representative example of a now somewhat iconic ‘Kiwi’ lifestyle that is becoming increasingly rare.

The baches are said to be located near a Tauranga Waka (waka landing site) at the base of a large hill and pa site, known to tangata whenua as Puketapu. The earliest bach was built alongside a wharf and is of historical significance be-cause of its association with the coastal shipping that was important in the early years of the European settlement of north Taranaki. By 1940, several other cottages had been built on the land, mostly during the 1930s and without the permission of the relevant local authority. In 1942, the Clifton County Council began charging the occupiers an annual rental, allocating further sites along the riverbank in 1945 and 1952. Some of these sites required extensive filling and were viewed by the Council as a means of protecting Clifton Road from erosion. This mutually beneficial arrangement between a local authority and the owners of baches sited on public land is possibly unique to Tongaporutu.

Many of the baches were built progressively over a number of years until the early 1960s. During the next few decades improvements were made to some of the original structures when time and money allowed. The changes that are evi-dent in groups of baches such as those at Tongaporutu is a historical process of significance in itself. While some of the early owners occupied the baches permanently, the majority of baches were erected to provide holiday accommodation for people visiting from other parts of Taranaki.

A number of owners were involved in the construction of their baches. In the main, the buildings they erected were, and largely remain, modest structures, although a few have been substantially remodelled. Over the years, at least two baches have been rebuilt after destruction of the originals by fire, however the-se have been reconstructed in accordance with the original style. In keeping with the form, the Tongaporutu baches are small dwellings, built in a plain style from a variety of cheap materials. These qualities no doubt reflect the limited wealth of the people who built the baches, but possibly also certain attitudes about how a holiday home should be.

The modesty of the Tongaporutu baches also probably reflects the absence of a secure tenure. Baches such as those at Tongaporutu, now increasingly rare, contrast with many later coastal holiday dwellings.

The ongoing presence of the baches on public land has been a matter of considerable controversy, an issue of debate between central government agencies, the local authority, and individuals. The Tongaporutu baches illustrate the tension that exists between the conservation of human heritage and the conservation of natural heritage and open public spaces. The baches are presently occupied under the terms of a 10-year lease dating from 2005, issued by the New Plymouth District Council.

The riverside baches at Tongaporutu provide a Taranaki example of what may be considered one of New Zealand’s own vernacular forms of architecture. Also of significance is the bach community, which is cohesive, perhaps as a result of the buildings’ close proximity. People have shared recreational pursuits and cooperated over matters of mutual interest. In some cases, neighbourly relations have existed for several generations.

Baches such as those at Tongaporutu represent a significant aspect of New Zealand history, and were particularly important to the lower middle class as a way of enjoying the new-found leisure time available after the 1890s. Most of the bach-owning families at Tongaporutu seem to have been skilled working people making use of the surplus income such families had begun to enjoy. These people took advantage of motor cars and improved roading to enjoy the recreational opportunities available at Tongaporutu.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The baches on the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve have historical significance at both a national and local level.

In recent decades, there has been an increasing appreciation of the historical importance of baches, which are associated with significant developments in New Zealand’s social and economic history. As in other places, most of the bach-owning families at Tongaporutu were skilled working people from Taranaki towns, making use of the surplus income such families began to enjoy during the twentieth century, particularly after World War Two. These people also took advantage of motor cars and improved roading. The baches that they erected are a distinctive local (Taranaki) example of a building form that may be considered one of New Zealand’s few vernacular forms of architecture.

An important aspect of the history of the Tongaporutu baches, and one that is shared with certain other groups of baches around the country, is that they are sited on publicly owned land. Since the 1970s, debate concerning the Tongaporutu baches and their location on public land has been an expression of the opposing views of central government agencies and local authorities, and of individuals. The baches illustrate the tension that exists between the conservation of human heritage and the conservation of natural heritage and open public spaces.

In respect of the local significance of the Tongaporutu baches, it is notable that the oldest bach, Bach 6, was built in connection with the coastal shipping that was important to the European settlement of North Taranaki. The baches that were built next, from about 1930, marked the growth of a residential settlement at Tongaporutu. Some of the earliest baches were built as places of permanent residence, providing affordable, modest housing for individuals who would otherwise not have been able to live in the area. While there has continued to be some permanent occupation of the baches up to the present time, they came to be used principally for holiday accommodation (as suggested by the word ‘bach’). The great majority of the baches erected after 1950 were built specifically for this purpose.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The Tongaporutu baches are the response of a small and largely seasonal community to the appealing qualities of a New Zealand river estuary. The riverbank baches connect directly with the natural environment, and the buildings’ simple design, with a minimum of artifice, does not aim to compete visually with this environment. It is notable that many of the baches have no porches, verandahs, or other transitional zones to mediate between the interior and exterior worlds, indicating something of the direct interaction between people and place.

The linear alignment of the baches along the riverbank is also important, and relates aesthetically to basic European building/landscape arrangements going back to the earliest period of European settlement. The aesthetic characteristics of the baches can be appreciated when travelling on State Highway 3.

The charming aesthetic characteristics of these baches and their setting has proved a popular subject for artists and photographers, and they have frequently appeared in the media as representative symbols of bach architecture and the associated lifestyle.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

Although the baches are partially built on reclaimed land, the Historic Area is located within a rich archaeological landscape including many NZAA recorded archaeological sites. Sites relating to Maori occupation recorded around the mouth of the Tongaporutu River include pa, pits, middens and rock art, as well as unrecorded burial sites. Taonga have also been found on the banks of the Tongaporutu River, attesting to the archaeological potential of the area.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The Tongaporutu River baches provide a local example of what is now regarded as a distinctive sub-group of New Zealand architecture. In keeping with the vernacular form, the Tongaporutu baches are characteristically small, modest dwellings, built in a plain style from a variety of cheap materials.

A notable characteristic of the typical New Zealand bach is that the structure often evolves as a result of ongoing, ‘organic’ modification. This is evident in the Tongaporutu baches, a number of which have been modified, to different extents, from their original form. When money was available for such work, modifications were made to provide improvements and to respond to the maintenance needs of buildings located in an exposed coastal environment. The modifications that are evident in groups of baches such as those at Tongaporutu is a historical process of significance in itself. The evolution of the baches into their present form says something about the changing economics of New Zealand bach culture over a 60 to 80 year period.

Traditional baches, whether in their original form or modified, contrast with later coastal holiday dwellings that are generally much larger and often indistinguishable from suburban residential buildings constructed at the same time. In many coastal locations, such dwellings have often replaced traditional baches and, as a result, groups of baches like those at Tongaporutu are increasingly rare.

Technological Significance or Value:

The technological significance of the Tongaporutu baches relates to the retaining walls that have been constructed across the river frontage of many of the sections. The retaining walls were built to prevent erosion, and in many cases, were built specifically to protect Clifton Road as a condition imposed by the Clifton County Council when some of the sections were allocated. In these cases, where the road was very close to the existing riverbank, the retaining walls were significantly backfilled to provide a sufficient building site. The use of retaining walls to both prevent erosion and create sections for baches may be unique to the riverside baches at Tongaporutu.

Cultural Significance

The Tongaporutu River Baches have cultural significance as a historic area that is representative of a particular part of ‘Kiwi’ culture. These baches have inspired artists and frequently been employed by the media as signifiers of a lifestyle that has become iconic and long-celebrated by New Zealanders as a valued leisure and lifestyle choice, potentially accessible to many due to the nature of the country’s landscape and the modesty of the resources required. The vernacular style of the buildings themselves speaks of the ‘DIY, Kiwi can-do’ attitude that has contributed to New Zealand’s national identity, and the cohesiveness of the community associated with the bach continues a tradition of proactive community accord in smaller, outlying areas of the country.

The Tongaporutu River Baches are situated in an area that is of significance to Maori as part of an important cultural landscape.

Social Significance or Value:

The Tongaporutu baches have accommodated and have been the focus of a coastal holiday community. It is likely that community life at Tongaporutu has been similar to that of other bach communities in isolated locations. It has included shared recreation pursuits and organised holiday events. Community life at Tongaporutu has also been evident in co-operation over matters of shared concern; for example, a fire shed was built and equipped to meet a risk faced by all the baches. Another risk to the baches, the threat of removal owing to their being sited on public land, has also seen a strong community response. This is most evident in the activities of the Tongaporutu Bach Leaseholders Association, which in recent years has represented the bach owners during decision-making processes relating to the future of the baches. The proposal to register these baches as Historic Area also stirred a significant response from the public, with many people from around New Zealand as well as overseas motivated to write in support of the registration, further demonstrating the social significance of these baches and their importance to the wider community.

The physical qualities of the baches no doubt reflect the spatial restrictions and the limited wealth of the people who built them, but possibly also certain values and expectations as to what was the most suitable form for a holiday building located on a riverbank. The fact that a number of baches were built by their owners reflects ideas of economy and resourcefulness. The modesty of the Tongaporutu baches also probably reflects the absence of a secure tenure, which would have meant that the owners were inclined not to spend large amounts of money.

Recent coastal development reflects the growing affluence of New Zealand’s middle class, and also stricter and more stringently enforced building regulations. This shift in the character of coastal holiday communities may also reflect different values between generations. The Tongaporutu baches are a physical testament to these aspects of the social history of New Zealand.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori associations

Tongaporutu lies to the north of land confiscated from Taranaki Maori following the Taranaki wars of the early 1860s. The baches are located on land that today comprises the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve, which was formerly part of the 66,000-acre Mohakatino-Parininihi block, the ownership of which was determined by the Native Land Court in 1882. By 1886, the reserve land - part of a 682-acre subdivision of the parent block - had passed out of Maori ownership.

Numerous archaeological sites along the North Taranaki coast attest to a long history of Maori occupation. Recorded archaeological sites around the Tongaporutu River mouth include rock art, pa, pits and middens, and taonga have been discovered on the banks of the river. The Tongaporutu River Baches are sited at the foot of a hill dominated by the terraces of a large pa, and koiwi have been found in the wider vicinity. Nga Hapu o Poutama, descendants of Poutama from Tainui and Te Kahuitara and Panirau through Rakeiora of Tokomaru, know this pa site as Puketapu, and the nearby mouth of the Tongaporutu River as a Tauranga Waka (waka landing site). Many of the baches sit partially on land reclaimed from the river, retaining walls along the front of each section maintaining the fill of the building platforms.

Ngati Tama’s historic interests in the Tongaporutu area are recognised in the settlement reached with the Crown in respect of the iwi’s historical Treaty of Waitangi claims. The Ngati Tama Settlement Claims Settlement Act 2003 provides items of cultural redress that acknowledge Ngati Tama’s associations with certain Crown-owned lands at Tongaporutu and with the Tongaporutu River. It also provides Ngati Tama with the first right of refusal to purchase the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve for 50 years from the date of settlement should the reserve status of the land ever be revoked.

Nga Hapu o Poutama claim strong historical interests in the Tongaporutu area, and have lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal for the land on which the baches are located. Ngati Maniapoto also claim historical interests in the Tongaporutu district, asserting that the southern boundary of their area of interest includes lands lying south of the confiscation line. These interests have yet to be recognised in a Treaty settlement with the Crown.

Early European history of Tongaporutu

The first Europeans arrived in the Tongaporutu district in the mid 1870s. Settlement spread as further land became available, and by 1898, the district ‘had over 60 settlers and their wives’. In 1895, a post office had opened at the infant Tongaporutu settlement, with Richard O’Donnell as postmaster. A school was erected in 1897, and by 1909, brothers Jim and Frank Rattenbury had opened stores at Tongaporutu and Okau.

The rugged North Taranaki landscape posed difficulties for road construction, and it was not until about 1900 that Tongaporutu was connected to the road network. Initially, settlers in the area relied on coastal shipping, though this was somewhat irregular as the Tongaporutu River mouth was often difficult to negotiate. The first notable entrance into the river was made in 1874 by the steamer Waitara, which loaded 250 railway sleepers.

Around 1900, a wharf was built at Tongaporutu by Frank Rattenbury. A goods shed and dwelling were erected adjacent to the wharf, probably around the same time. The dwelling (Bach 6) still stands. It was occupied by Richard O’Donnell, the postmaster, who in 1897 was appointed pilot for all shipping activity on the Tongaporutu River. O’Donnell also ferried passengers across the river in a canoe until the construction of the bridge in 1902. By 1919, use of the port had declined significantly due to improved roads, and the Marine Department decommissioned the pilot two years later. The wharf and goods shed fell into disrepair and were eventually dismantled.

Work to improve overland access began in 1883, when the Pukearuhe Armed Constabulary formed a zig-zag horse track from the northern end of Parininihi up onto the coastal terrace. This was a treacherous route, even after a tunnel replaced the track. In 1894, the government funded a road from Mimi to Mokau via Mount Messenger – and work also began on a road between Tongaporutu and the Te Horo Stock Tunnel. By 1900, the Mimi–Mokau road had reached Tongaporutu, and a bridge across the river was completed two years later. The road was later metalled around 1920, and scenic Tongaporutu became a featured destination on the itinerary of day-trippers touring on the New Plymouth-Te Kuiti route.

Baches built along riverbank

The 26 baches partially occupy land that was taken in 1894 to build the road connecting Tongaporutu with the Te Horo Stock Tunnel. Responsibility for this road, today known as Clifton Road, lay with the Clifton County Council.

By the early 1940s, the riverside was a popular camping site, and there were several dwellings on the strip of road reserve. These were probably erected some time in the 1930s. Council records from 1942 state that four or five of these baches were private and two were owned by the Public Works Department. They also note that the baches appear to have been erected without permission.

In March 1942, the Council approved J. Rooke’s application to build a bach on the reserve on condition that annual rent be paid. The Council’s approval of Rooke’s application seems to have raised existing occupiers’ awareness of who had authority over the land. The following month, Francis Henderson wrote to the County Engineer explaining he had recently learnt his bach wasn’t built on ‘no-man’s land’ but on council property. Though receiving only a War Veterans Allowance, he wished to pay for his use of the land – and to replace his existing dwelling. Henderson’s application was approved, and he was asked to pay £1 per annum. It was decided that all bach owners should pay rent.

The Council took further steps to formalise occupation of the reserve. The County Engineer was instructed to survey off sections, including a line across the river frontage, and by 1948 thirteen sections had been allocated to private individuals. More applicants followed, and each of these individuals was granted permission to erect a bach on the riverbank.

In 1952, after the Clifton Road extension was completed, further sections along the riverbank became available. Some of these required extensive work because in certain places the water came within five feet of the road. Before any new baches were built, the Council imposed the condition that the sections be filled out and a protection wall erected, thereby safeguarding Clifton Road from erosion. Preventing riverbank erosion proved to be an ongoing challenge for many bach owners, and various means were tried. Between 1965 and 1975, concrete retaining walls were constructed across much of the river frontage.

When further land came up in 1952, the number of applicants significantly exceeded the number of sections. The Council allocated these sections through a ballot system. In October 1952, individuals who already held sections but had not erected baches were asked whether they intended to proceed with the work as the Council wished to see the land built on. By December 1952, a total of 26 had been allocated along the riverbank. In the late 1960s, the Clifton County Council considered providing nine additional sections, but the idea was opposed by the Department of Lands and Survey and so nothing eventuated.

The bach owners

Some of the early bach owners came from families who had been among the first Europeans associated with the Tongaporutu district. The Rattenbury and O’Donnell families at one time owned five of the baches. Bach 6, the postmaster and pilot’s original dwelling, remained in the O’Donnell family until 2003.

Until 1958, when land on the eastern side of the main road was subdivided, the 26 sections on the road reserve were the only residential sections at Tongaporutu, all other land being farmed. Many of the first owners, a number of whom were retired, became permanent residents (nine by the 1950s).

Those who did not live permanently in their Tongaporutu bach came almost exclusively from other parts of Taranaki, including New Plymouth, Waitara, Hawera, Rahotu, and the nearby farming districts of Uruti and Okau. Bach owners travelled to Tongaporutu for weekends and longer holidays, attracted by the riverside environment and its recreational opportunities. These people had a variety of occupations: farmers, builders, an electrician, and a teacher. That they were in a position to build and travel to a bach on a regular basis reflected New Zealand’s prosperity following the Second World War, greater rates of car ownership, and improved roads.

A typical example from this time, Bach 14, was built in the early 1950s by New Plymouth electrician Eddie Hurley and his wife, Betty. After returning from the Second World War, Hurley had spent time camping at Tongaporutu, where he enjoyed fishing and hunting. His bach was built after winning the section in a ballot. Bach 10, also erected in the early 1950s, was built by John Samuel (Jack) Joll, who lived in New Plymouth, where he worked for local stock and station firm Newton King. Joll was a returned serviceman from the First World War and had grown up in the Uruti Valley, south of Mount Messenger.

The bach on site 15 was built in 1953 by local woman Dulcie Richards and her husband Percy. Having long wanted to live by the river at Tongaporutu, Dulcie secured the vacant section with an inheritance from her mother and contributed to building costs with money earned from rearing calves. Dulcie lived permanently in her bach for 30 years until ill health forced her to leave in 2008 in her mid-nineties.

The baches

The baches along the riverbank were (and remain) modest constructions with basic facilities. A number of them were built by their owners, some of whom were tradespeople. The Hurley’s bach was constructed at their New Plymouth home, then transported to the site in sections and assembled at weekends over the course of a year. Bach 13 was also prefabricated by the owner in New Plymouth and transported to Clifton Road on a truck. Percy and Dulcie Richards built their bach with the assistance of their son-in-law, and Jack Joll used joinery made by his son.

Other owners employed tradespeople to construct their baches but helped out with the work. There were also baches that had been used elsewhere for another purpose before being moved to Tongaporutu. Bach 17A, for example, was originally a roadman’s hut, to which additions were later made. Another site made use of an army hut.

Many of the baches were built progressively over a number of years, with improvements made when time and money allowed. For example, when Bach 9 was built in 1961, it was an L-shaped, one-bedroom dwelling with a kitchen, sitting room, and shower. A second bedroom was added in the early 1970s, and later still, a sliding door was installed leading out onto a wooden patio that was later concreted.

At least one of the baches – Bach 11 – has been substantially remodelled. This bach was originally one-storeyed, with a weatherboard exterior, wooden joinery, and some louvre windows. It was purchased in 1971 by New Plymouth carpenter and joiner Mark Wilson, who secured a building permit to lift the bach and create a basement in 1976. Later, the top storey was demolished and rebuilt, increasing its size. Demolition materials were sourced for this remodelling work, included Oregon pine from a New Plymouth woolstore and a wooden balcony balustrade and staircase from New Plymouth’s Ngamotu Beach soundshell.

Some of the original baches have been replaced entirely. Around 1980, the one-storeyed bach on site 23 was removed and a two-storeyed A-frame dwelling erected in its place. At least two baches replace earlier buildings that were destroyed by fire: Bach 8, originally built around 1930, was completely destroyed by fire and rebuilt around 1935; and Bach 15, owned by Dulcie Richards, which burnt to the ground in 2005. Following this fire, a new bach was built on the site, similar in style to the original.

Over the years, it is unclear to what extent bach owners sought permits and followed Council building regulations – and whether indeed the Council bothered to ensure all work was compliant. Some of the earliest baches were almost certainly built without any reference to regulations. This is most likely the case with Francis Henderson, who died in 1944. In February 1945, a neighbouring bach owner wrote to the Council, requesting that Henderson’s bach be removed as soon as possible as it had been ‘a blot on the landscape ever since it was built’. The Council concurred, and in March the following year the County Clerk advised the new occupant that the existing building could not remain as a dwelling.

In February 1945, in response to a request by the County Clerk, the Health Department’s local Sanitary Inspector appraised the baches’ water supply, drainage, and sewerage systems. He reported that although the baches did not comply with town standards, there seemed to be ‘no nuisance being created’. Toilet facilities were characteristically simple, with most of the baches having a ‘pit privy’ (long drop) or, in one case, a ‘pan privy’. Today, most baches use a septic tank.

Community and recreation

The building of the baches saw a community develop along the riverbank. This was partly a result of the spatial situation, as the baches occupy small sites with little distance between the buildings. People have also formed ties through shared recreation activities and a practical need to cooperate on various matters. It is notable that changes of ownership have been relatively infrequent and that several baches are still owned by the same families.

The community continues to flourish during holiday periods, when the baches are used the most. A sense of this is conveyed in the following description of the Begley family’s holiday life at Bach 13, which has always drawn a wide circle of family and friends:

‘Bob Begley, Vic Cook, Eric Spence and George Sullivan frequented the bach often, using it as their base for their many pig hunting and whitebaiting excursions during the fifties and sixties … Eddie Hurley from the bach next door joined in more often than not … Bob did not have children of his own, but did have a wide circle of friends and families and the bach naturally became a holiday destination for many of them. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of these families continue to spend time at the bach.’

There has also been a long tradition of organised community events. The owner of Bach 8, New Plymouth teacher Ewen McKeon, ran a popular annual tennis tournament for many years. In recent times, a series of ‘summer events’ has been organised by the Tongaporutu Leaseholders Association (a committee formed by the bach owners), which includes a children’s fishing competition, a tennis tournament, and a dance.

Another practical community initiative was the building of a fire shed. In 1978, bach owners Alec Draper and George Hagenson purchased a floatation pump and hoses with money obtained from fellow bach owners, local residents, and the Clifton County Council. The fire shed was built using voluntary labour and donated materials and was sited on the south side of Clifton Road, across from the baches. Today, Mark Wilson maintains and upgrades the fire equipment, with financial support from TSB Community Trust.

Ongoing tenancy

Up until the mid 1970s, the bach owners’ tenancy was determined by the Clifton County Council on a yearly basis. In July 1969, when the Council was considering allocating further sections along the riverbank, the Commissioner of Crown Lands (an official within the Department of Lands and Survey) pointed out that there was no statutory basis for any tenancy. Furthermore, the Commissioner believed that as the baches were sited on a legal road, which was the property of the Crown, the Council had no authority to provide leases for private occupation. The Commissioner also stated that the presence of the baches was contrary to the spirit of legislation dealing with riverbank areas, designed to preserve these areas for public enjoyment. He advised that his department was actively acquiring extra reserves along rivers and the seacoast to ensure there would be enough public land to meet future requirements.

In March 1971, following much discussion between the Department of Lands and Survey and the Council, the Commissioner of Crown Lands wrote to the County Clerk, proposing that the land occupied by the baches become part of the adjacent Tongaporutu Domain and that the baches be ultimately removed. In May 1972, the Chairman of the Council and the County Clerk responded to the Minister of Lands, supporting the idea of the land being added to Tongaporutu Domain but asking that the baches not be removed. They argued that there was ample space already available for the public; that the bach leases would provide revenue for the Domain Board; and that the removal of the baches might see the Domain develop an unkempt appearance, resulting in reduced public usage of the area.

The Council’s position was strongly supported by the Minister of Labour and MP for the Stratford electorate, David Thomson, who wrote to the Minister of Lands in August 1972:

‘What is important is that the settlement should NOT be destroyed. If it is, I have no doubt that the store will then go and the hall and tennis courts become a derelict eyesore.

What is now an attractive site held in considerable affection in Taranaki will become an uninhabited desolation and the well-meaning conservationists will be charged with acting like Attila the Hun.’

Thomson stated that, if the Minister of Lands was unable to agree to the Council’s proposal, he would raise the matter in caucus.

After protracted negotiations, the land occupied by the baches was added to the Tongaporutu Domain and a 30-year non-renewable lease was issued to bach owners. In 1981, the domain was reclassified as a recreation reserve, and eight years later, the reserve became vested in the New Plymouth District Council after the reorganisation of local government. By this time, the Department of Conservation had taken over from the Minister of Lands certain powers relating to recreation reserves, including those concerning the issuing of leases.

The Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve has two parts. The larger part, an area of about 2.5 hectares, is a narrow strip of land that extends along the true left bank of the river, west of State Highway 3. The bach sites comprise approximately 0.75 hectare or about one third of this area and occupy the central two-thirds of the riverbank strip. The smaller part of the reserve, an area of 3325 square metres, is located on the eastern side of State Highway 3.

The continuing presence of the baches remained a contentious issue, especially between local and central government. In its 1990 reserve management plan for the Tongaporutu Domain, the New Plymouth District Council stated that the baches ‘should be retained’, forecasting no major change to public use of the reserve. However, the Department of Conservation maintained its opinion that the baches be removed when the 30-year lease expired.

Concerned at the Department of Conservation’s position, the Tongaporutu Bach Leaseholders Association wrote letters to the Department and Minister of Conservation. The association argued that the Department’s policy of not leasing reserve land to ensure public access should not be applied to Tongaporutu as the isolated nature of the reserve meant that there was little public pressure on the land.

In 1999, six years before the leases were due to expire, the Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, delegated many of his powers under the Reserves Act – including those relating to leasing – to territorial authorities. The fate of the Tongaporutu Reserve was now largely in the hands of the New Plymouth District Council.

Around the same time, the Tongaporutu Reserve was again in the public spotlight after it came to light that the Office of Treaty Settlements had begun negotiations with New Plymouth District Council and Ngati Tama to revoke the reserve status of the land in order to transfer it to Ngati Tama as part of their cultural redress package. This aroused significant community protest, prompted by fears of public alienation from the reserve, as well as concern from the bach leaseholders over this additional factor in the uncertainty of their tenure, although their concerns were subsequently addressed through consultation. The Tongaporutu Recreation Area Support Group (TRASG) was formed of local residents who wished to preserve the reserve status of the domain without compromise, and in 2001 registered a private litigation with the High Court against the Attorney General. However, New Plymouth District Council declined to relinquish their administrative control of the reserve, and the fee simple transfer to Ngati Tama did not proceed.

In August 2004, the Council released a new management plan for the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve, indicating that leases could be issued for land not required for recreation purposes as allowed under the Reserves Act. Specifically, the Council proposed to issue ten-year non-renewable leases for the baches – and called for submissions on the issue. While the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment opposed the issuing of new leases, as did a small group of local individuals, the vast majority were in favour of the baches, reflecting the support of the bach community and, it seems, the wider public.

In February 2005, the Council decided to issue ten-year leases for the 26 baches. The leases were to include a provision for a public access strip across the river frontage of the sections. Before the leases were issued, a vocal local opponent of the baches, Victor Gibbs, sought and was granted a High Court judicial review of the Council’s decision. The case was heard in late 2005. Counsel for Mr Gibbs asserted that the Council’s decision to issues leases had been inconsistent with the Reserves Act and that there had been flaws in the process by which the Council had reached its decision. The Court ruled against Gibbs on all grounds, clearing the way for the Council to issue the new leases.

Following the High Court decision, the editor of The Daily News commented:

‘Perhaps the baches’ fiercest critics are brought to the boil at the thought that a quirk of history has delivered someone else something for nothing, or has somehow allowed them to pull a bit of a swifty over the authorities, their community and the wider public. To be fair, there is room for the perception … The baches are undoubtedly a colourful and jaunty outpost of both Taranaki and a more easy going generation – and like all things rare and aging, have become more precious than the stretch of grass originally envisaged by Lands and Survey. There is grass aplenty at both ends of the block, and unimpeded public access along the road and along the river when the tide is out … Insisting on the baches’ removal has always had a whiff of correctness and policy for their own sakes. The vast majority of the public . . . never felt so inclined – as evidenced by the 10:1 imbalance in submissions for and against keeping them.’

It is notable that in recent years there has also been controversy over other groups of baches located on public land, involving issues similar to those concerning the Tongaporutu baches. In some of these cases, baches have been removed, making this sort of building increasingly uncommon.

Growing recognition of heritage value

In recent decades, New Zealanders have shown a greater appreciation of the historical significance of baches like those at Tongaporutu. Architectural historian David Mitchell considers the bach or crib as one of the major contributions to New Zealand architecture made by lay people, placing them as ‘the common ground between the high architecture of the professional designer and the folk building of the amateur’. At a popular and somewhat romantic level, the bach and associated lifestyle appear to be viewed as being a part of New Zealand’s national identity. NZHPT registered historic areas include the bach settlement at Islington Bay on Rangitoto Island (Record no. 7386), Rotten Row Baches at Taylor’s Mistake (Record no. 7267), and the baches at Red Rocks (Record no. 7509) and Mestanes Bay (Record no. 7510) in Wellington.

In keeping with this trend, the Tongaporutu baches have been recognised as possessing heritage value. A 1995 report on non-Maori sites in the New Plymouth district, commissioned by the New Plymouth District Council, recommended that four bach settlements – Tongaporutu, Onaero, Urenui, and Oakura (The Keyhole) – be protected in the New Plymouth District Plan as precincts of cultural heritage value. The New Plymouth District Plan, 2005, identifies the Tongaporutu baches to comprise a ‘heritage character area’, and contains provisions to promote the special character of such areas. Heritage consultant Dr Ann McEwen has stated of the Tongaporutu baches, ‘the fact that the baches provided places of rest and recreation for Taranaki families, and continue to do so, is a notable part of [their] significance in contrast to those bach settlements…that were developed by people from metropolitan centres.’

There has also been popular recognition of the aesthetic and heritage value of the riverside baches, with images of the baches appearing in several publications and a television documentary series, as well as being a subject for artists and photographers.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Henry and Don Smillie, builders, Mokau - builders of site 9 bach.

Mark Wilson, carpenter and joiner, New Plymouth - remodeler of site 11 bach.

Clelands Builders, New Plymouth - involved in construction of second bach on site 15.

Mr McCrae, builder, Tongaporutu - builder of bach on site 16.

John Nagy, builder, New Plymouth - involved in renovations to bach on site 23.

Land included in the Registration:

The Registration is comprised of the 26 bach sites located between Clifton Road and the Tongaporutu River, as defined in SO 10788.

Historic Places on Land included in the Registration:

The Historic Places within the Registration are the 26 baches, including outbuildings and the retaining walls that form a boundary between the bach sites and the Tongaporutu River. The 26 Historic Places are:

Bach 2, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 59)

Bach 2a, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 61)

Bach 3, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 63)

Bach 4, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 65)

Bach 5, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 67)

Bach 6, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 69)

Bach 6a, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 71)

Bach 7, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 73)

Bach 8, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 75)

Bach 9, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 77)

Bach 10, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 79)

Bach 11, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 81)

Bach 12, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 83)

Bach 13, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 85)

Bach 14, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 87)

Bach 15, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 89)

Bach 16, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 91)

Bach 16a, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 93)

Bach 17, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 95)

Bach 17a, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 97)

Bach 18, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 99)

Bach 19, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 101)

Bach 20, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 103)

Bach 21, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 105)

Bach 22, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 107)

Bach 23, Clifton Road (see Appendix 5, p. 110)

Relationship between Historic Places:

The 26 baches form a closely spaced row, all situated on small sites between the Tongaporutu River and Clifton Road - land that is part of the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve. Though the baches represent a variety of different building styles, they are unified by a modesty of design and materials. This partly reflects a shared history of occupying public land, which has provided owners little security of tenure.

Key Elements of the Historic Area:

The 26 baches in the proposed historic area are characterised by a strong uniformity, reflecting a common tenure history and purpose of occupation.

In particular, there is uniformity in the layout of the buildings, which roughly form a line on a strip of land between the Tongaporutu River and Clifton Road. There is also regularity in the size of the sites, which are small compared to ordinary residential sections, partly reflecting the constraints of the location and also, it seems, what was seen to be appropriate for a holiday dwelling at the time that the sections were allocated. Upon the sites, few garages have been built and the baches themselves are generally small buildings. All of the baches occupy a small footprint, only a few having two storeys.

Though there is architectural difference between the baches, a uniformity of style exists in that they are simple buildings, built of basic materials (fibrolite cladding, for example, being dominant). This quality is evident not only in the original structures, but also in modifications that have been made and in the few baches that have been built to replace earlier structures. It is notable that, owing to their modest scale and style, the buildings do not visually dominate the natural environment within which they are located.

The baches all face directly out onto the Tongaporutu River, some with adjoining decks. More than half of the sites have retaining walls that mark the river boundary, with the incoming tide rising against these walls, made mostly of concrete. In some places, the retaining walls are fitted with steps and, in two cases, boat slipways. The direct relationship that the baches share with the natural environment is another important and obvious common characteristic

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1952 -
Bach on site 10 built. Bach on site 17 built.

Original Construction
1900 -
Bach on site 6 built, also wharf, and goods shed.

Original Construction
Several further baches built, including original bach on site 8.

Wharf and goods shed dismantled.

Original Construction
Baches on site 5 and 7 built.

1940 -
Original bach on site 8 destroyed by fire; new bach built.

Original Construction
1942 -
Bach on site 4 built

Original Construction
1947 -
Original bach built on site 23.

Original Construction
1947 -
Bach on site 16 built.

Original Construction
1948 -
Original bach on site 22 built.

Original Construction
Bach on site 16 built.

Original Construction
Bach on site 21 built.

Original Construction
Bach on site 14 built.

Original Construction
1950 -
Bach on site 13 built.

Original Construction
1952 -
Roadman’s hut relocated onto site 17A; Bach on site 6A built; Original bach on site 23 removed and new bach built.

Original Construction
1953 -
Original bach on site 15 built

Original Construction
Bach on site 12 built.

Original Construction
1960 -
Bach on site 2 built; site previously occupied by Public Works Department cottage.

Original Construction
1961 -
Bach on site 9 built.

1965 - 1975
Concrete retaining walls built.

1974 -
Second storey added to bach on site 23.

1976 -
Bach on site 11 raised and remodelled.

1977 -
Second storey of bach on site 23 extended.

1980 -
Original bach on site 22 demolished and replaced by A-framed building.

2003 -
Retaining wall replaced across river frontage of sites of Bach 2 and Bach 2A.

2005 -
Original bach on site 15 destroyed by fire.

2006 -
New bach built on site 15.

Construction Details

Timber, fibrolite, corrugated iron roofing, concrete (poured), concrete (blocks).

Completion Date

27th September 2011

Report Written By

P. Cleaver; J. Goddard; J. Treliving-Brown; bach leaseholders; NZHPT

Information Sources

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

Certificate of title 18/20, Taranaki Land Registry, LINZ.

New Zealand Listener

New Zealander Listener

Ansley, Bruce, ‘End of the Road’, Listener, 22-28 May 2004, vol 193, no 3341.

Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal Report,

Waitangi Tribunal, The Ngati Maniapoto/Ngati Tama Settlement Cross-Claims Report, Wellington, 2001. Waitangi Tribunal, The Taranaki Report: Kaupapa Tuatahi, Wellington, 1996.

Mitchell, 1984

Mitchell, David & Gillian Chaplin, The Elegant Shed: New Zealand architecture since 1945, Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1984.

Mitchell, 1984

Mitchell, David & Gillian Chaplin, The Elegant Shed: New Zealand architecture since 1945, Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1984.

New Plymouth District Council

New Plymouth District Council

New Plymouth District Plan, 2005.

Gray, 2000

Brian E. Gray, The Tongaporutu River Valley: A History of Tongaporutu, Ahititi, Okau, Kotare, Rerekapa, Inglewood, c2000.

Grigor, 2008

Jeff Grigor, Baches & Cribs: a pictorial journey through New Zealand’s favourite holiday places, Penguin, North Shore City, 2008

Male, 2001

Kevyn Male, Good Old Kiwi Baches, and a few cribs too, Penguin, Auckland, 2001

Robinson, 2005

Stephen Robinson, The Bach: Cribs and Baches - A Kiwi Journey, Auckland, 2005.

Thompson, 1985

Paul Thompson, The Bach, Wellington, 1985.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the Central Region of the NZHPT.

The New Plymouth District Plan, 2005, identifies the Tongaporutu baches to comprise a 'heritage character area'.

The Ngati Tama Settlement Claims Settlement Act 2003 provides Ngati Tama with a first right of refusal to purchase the Tongaporutu Recreation Reserve for 50 years from the date of settlement should the reserve status of the land ever be revoked.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

Historic Area Place Name

Bach – Site 2A
Bach – Site No. 10
Bach – Site No. 11
Bach – Site No. 12
Bach – Site No. 13
Bach – Site No. 14
Bach – Site No. 15
Bach – Site No. 16A
Bach – Site No. 17
Bach – Site No. 17A
Bach – Site No. 18
Bach – Site No. 19
Bach – Site No. 2
Bach – Site No. 20
Bach – Site No. 21
Bach – Site No. 22
Bach – Site No. 23
Bach – Site No. 3
Bach – Site No. 4
Bach – Site No. 5
Bach – Site No. 6
Bach – Site No. 6A
Bach – Site No. 7
Bach – Site No. 8
Bach – Site No. 9
Bach – Site No.16