a contemporary reimagining of the classic "kiwi bach" vernacular

Whangamata Roots

There is something very special about New Zealand's coastal towns. Each seems to have their own identity, a personality derived from the landscape and of course the local community. In many of these small coastal communities one can still find the original "kiwi bach" which was a small, modest holiday home, a cabin by the sea if you will, the sole purpose of which was to facilitate the laid back, care free lifestyles of the people who lived in or holidayed in them. Most of these baches sprung up in the 1950s, cheap constructions often without amenities such as water or power connection or even and indoor toilet. The purpose of these homes was not luxury, they were catalysts for experiences and being built by middle class people who would holiday annually to the same beach. They are iconic and an important part of New Zealand coastal architecture and heritage.


The popularity of beach houses boomed in the 1990 - 2000s, but the face of beach homes was considerably different to those of the original kiwi bach era. Modern beach homes were much larger and had all the modern amenities one would would find in a larger city. The homes were oppressive, massive, engulfing entire sections (usually subdivided to accommodate two homes). The real shame was that as land value increased the original kiwi baches would be destroyed or sometimes relocated inland. In coastal towns such as Whangamata, this enormous gain in popularity and property ownership by people from Auckland an other larger cities, has made the original kiwi bach almost extinct.

Panoramic views over reserve land and out toward the Whangamata Estuary from the section.

When I met with Darcy and Brigitte, they showed me the amazing section they had found on Durrant Drive, high up on a peninsular, looking out over reserve land and the Whangamata estuary. A truly breathtaking site, the kind that does not come around often and one that commands a home that takes advantage of the panoramic views and the lifestyle of the area as well as being a reflection of themselves instead of another generic "out-of-the-catalogue" house with no soul. We drove around Whangamata town and the beaches and Darcy told me of the life he had growing up in the area in an original kiwi bach. He told stories of how as a kid he would forever be out swimming in the estuary, riding bicycles with his mates or on some adventure. Home was a place where everyone came at the end of a full day to enjoy meals together, relax and rest in preparation for another fun filled day in the morning. The home was a backdrop, it enhanced and facilitated the joy of a beach lifestyle. The home was not pretentious, not trying to best the neighbour or be a show pony. It was a good, honest structure. I knew in my heart that I needed to try capture that ethos in a contemporary reimagining of the kiwi bach. The result was the Whanagamata Roots house.

Sunken lounge, courtyard and kitchen island. Open plan, minimal and elegant yet still exhibiting soul and character.

The main living space opens out to a generous deck with breathtaking views.

A simple yet beautiful and functional kitchen, the perfect gathering place.

The South East boundary of the property adjoins a council reserve (Pukaki Bay Reserve) which falls 13m to a gully stream surrounded by native flora. The house has been designed to be as lightweight as possible, with anchors pile foundations elevating the home off the ground and with storm water retention and run off systems in place to manage drainage across the site  The resulting timber framed home has a relatively small footprint and is positioned as far back on the site as is possible, yet still positioned in such a way to take advantage of the breathtaking views.

The garage is separated from the main house by a small courtyard (a great sheltered area from the elements and perfect place to grow herbs for use in the kitchen) and elevated entry walkway. The entry wall provides protection from extreme weather when arriving home but doubles as a veil of the view, which gets revealed upon entering the main living space that opens onto a very generous deck and lawns.

The main living space is purposely not over scaled, yet seems expansive as it allows the views from the outside to be drawn in. The open plan kitchen (with island bench) and dining area provide the perfect enclave for gatherings of friends and family whilst meals are being prepared. The sunken lounge enables a cozy, comfortable, intimate lounge experience for relaxing  - promoting conversation or laying back and enjoying a good film with the whole family.

Each bedroom has access to a deck. The master bedroom and ensuite occupies the entirety of the first floor, a private and separate nest perched high on the peninsular with the most spectacular views both day and night.

The home features passive design elements to reduce power and water consumption. The roof contains a potable rainwater collection system as well as photovoltaic (solar) panels and a home battery for power storage, reducing reliance on the grid.

The master bedroom provides solitude and relaxation with panoramic views over the estuary.