Story: Holidays

Page 5. Holiday accommodation

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Hotels and boarding houses

The most common form of accommodation for travellers in the 19th century was the hotel. Ranging from modest to luxurious, hotels usually offered guests a room and washing facilities, a lounge, bar and other recreational spaces. All meals were provided. Boarding houses, a step down from hotels, provided just bedrooms, washing facilities and meals. In the 21st century hotels are the most expensive option, and the majority of guests are overseas tourists.

The family hotel

In a holiday guidebook to Taranaki, published in 1890, local hotels announced their attractions for family groups: the Criterion Hotel in New Plymouth, for example, offered ‘private suites of rooms for families’. Other hotels advertised ‘hot, cold and shower baths’, meals including ‘all the delicacies of the season’, billiard tables, good stabling for horses and sea views.1


At the other end of the spectrum the cheapest form of holiday accommodation was the tent. In the 2000s many people still preferred it for this reason, along with the fact that it was extremely portable by car or even in a tramping pack.

Tents could be erected in the middle of the bush, or in the relative comfort of municipal camping grounds, many of which were established in the 1920s. Camping holidays became more popular that decade, and local manufacture of tents began. In the last decades of the 20th century, tent design became more sophisticated, and lightweight models with windows and several rooms were available, along with more comfortable portable furniture to supplement the standard folding camp bed and primus stove.

The caravan

In the 1950s, once wartime petrol rationing had ended, car ownership boomed and many people purchased caravans that they could tow to scenic camping spots. The caravan, while small, was weatherproof and comfortable, and could be extended with a tent awning to accommodate larger families.


Another 1950s development was the motel, which provided a comfortable home away from home for travellers. As well as giving greater privacy, motels made it possible for families to cook meals and do their own laundry, in more modern and convenient facilities than those provided at motorcamps. Less expensive than hotels, they were a good option for people travelling around the country by car. Some unions and professional groups such as the Public Service Association and New Zealand Educational Institute provided cheap motel-type units at some resorts so members could take a break on a budget.

B&Bs and backpackers

A later development was the bed and breakfast (B&B), usually provided in a private home. This form of accommodation offered cheaper, more homely surroundings than a hotel, but without either its additional services or the self-catering options of the motel. Youth hostels and backpackers establishments, while used by overseas tourists, also provided an economical place to stay for New Zealanders.

Nostalgia for the bach

Jeff Grigor fondly remembered the family bach near the Ōpihi River, South Canterbury, in the 1950s: ‘A bunkroom for us boys, an enclosed porch with a three-quarter bed for my parents, and a kitchen/living room. Water was obtained from a well with a hand pump [and] carried into the house in kerosene tins…The toilet was a long drop dug by hand that was situated as far as possible from the hut. All bathing was done in the river, which was clean and warm. We loved it. As soon as the school holidays commenced, the family packed up and moved to Waipopo for the summer’s duration.’2

The bach

Traditionally the favourite place for New Zealanders to holiday was the bach (known in Otago and Southland as a crib and in South Canterbury as a hut). Often built without a permit, from cheap or salvaged materials, and sited by beaches, rivers or lakes, baches are not, as many think, unique to New Zealand. Similar structures known as ‘weekenders’ were common in Australia.

Often baches were erected on land donated by a sympathetic farmer, Crown land or the Queen’s Chain. Some appeared from the late 19th century, but many date from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. They were intended to be very simple, but despite their basic facilities, they had a unique charm for people in the holiday mood.

A disappearing icon

In the 2000s many old-style baches are under threat. The Department of Conservation frowns on baches on sensitive conservation land such as Boulder Bank near Nelson and Rangitoto Island, while local authorities demand upgraded sewerage and drainage facilities for others. In many coastal areas, the land on which baches stand has soared in value, so the old structures are being torn down and replaced by palatial ‘holiday homes’.

  1. W. H. Skinner, The Taranaki holiday guide-book, New Plymouth, 1890 [passim], pp.4, 6. Back
  2. Jeff Grigor, Baches & cribs : a pictorial journey through New Zealand's favourite holiday places. North Shore City: Penguin, 2008, p. 5. Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Holidays - Holiday accommodation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 August 2022)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013