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A visit to a Rangitoto bach is to step back in time.

That is because the baches have changed very little since they were built in the 1920s and 30s.

Why this should be so, in baches still used year round by the bach families, is a consequence of the uncertain future they have often faced.

Inside Carter Bach 107, Islington Bay

In 1890 Rangitoto Island was set aside as a Recreation Reserve 'for the enjoyment of the Public'.

To help pay for development camping sites were leased to the public from 1914 and bach sites from 1919.

At that time bach communities were common around the New Zealand coast. Every-man could, conceivably, afford to build his own holiday home by the sea. All it took was some effort and a little do-it-yourself ingenuity.

Arrowsmith Bach, Islington Bay

The first baches on Rangitoto were cobbled together from whatever materials could be found, often extending out from earlier simpler structures. Later, as the community grew and became more established, professionally built baches started to appear.

Prison labour built the roads and paths, the tennis courts, and helped build the Stone Hall.

The Stone Hall and tennis courts at Islington Bay

By 1937 there were 140 baches in three settlements: Beacon End in the west, Rangitoto Wharf in the south, and Islington Bay in the east.

The bach families formed a close-knit community that continued through many generations. Co-operation, friendships and romances flourished.

Evenings were spent at community dances or film evenings in the Stone Hall. Tennis tournaments and fishing contests were keenly contested. Many baches still display the banners and certificates won at these events.

Christmas and New Year had their own island traditions: Santa Claus arriving by boat, fancy dress parades, sports events and carols accompanied by the resident's band.

However, in 1937 the powers-that-be had become concerned about the existence of the baches on public land. Auckland Museum botanists were particularly incensed by the community's presence in such a unique botanical area.

The Minister of Lands considered the problem. 'Justice would have to be tempered with mercy', he wrote and renewed the leases for only a final twenty years. After that the baches had to be removed. No new baches could be built and the existing baches could not be modified.

In 1956 the situation was reviewed again. This time, ironically, the bach community was supported by the Auckland Botanical Society which said that the presence of the community was of benefit to the island's vegetation. The community was credited with helping to protect the environment by fighting forest fires, keeping the numbers of browsing deer and wallabies low, removing invasive weeds, minimising the loss of timber by theft and keeping vandals away.

This time the leases were extended for the lifetime of the current lease holder, no sales, no transfers, and once again no new baches and no modifications to existing baches were permitted.

As a consequence of this uncertain tenure, and of the restrictions imposed, the baches were changed very little.

They are still without electricity, water is still collected from the roof and toilets remain long-drops out the back. Cooking is still managed on bottled gas, a wood range or open fire. Furniture and fittings have rarely been updated.

They have retained the look and feel of the mid twentieth century.

As leases expired in the 1970s and 80s many baches were pulled down until only 34 remained.

However, by then it was realised that the remaining bach settlements were among the last of their kind anywhere in the country. They have survived, says the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust, to become irreplaceable artefacts of New Zealandís architectural and social history.

Consequently, the three settlements on Rangitoto Island (Islington Bay, Rangitoto Wharf and Beacon End) were classified as historic settlements under the Historic Places Act.

The Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust (RIHCT) was formed to conserve and interpret this heritage.

Flounder Inn, Islington Bay

Today the Rangitoto Island bach community continue to do what they have always done and actively work to protect and preserve the remaining structures and the unique Rangitoto environment.

Bach 22, 'Little Coogee', Rangitoto Wharf

RIHCT

The website of the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust (RIHCT) has a wide selection of photographs and reminiscences covering many years of the bach community's history.

LINKS
Bach open days are held as part of the Auckland Council's Heritage Festival and have proved very popular.

The Heritage Festival is an annual event when the Council encourages the public to celebrate their city's heritage.

Heritage Festival

Issue 4 of good magazine has an excellent article on the Rangitoto bach lifestyle titled Back to Basics ...

... while another in Issue 2 of Alive magazine is headed As time goes by.

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