At the turn of the 20th century, caves in the cliffs east of Taylors Mistake were turned into grand mansions that hosted concerts, picnics and parties.
Janet Abbott, who owns a bach at Boulder Bay, has become fascinated by the history of the area and the cave mansions that were once tucked into the cliffs between Boulder Bay and Taylors Mistake.
She has curated an exhibition of historic photographs of 18 cave baches and written a booklet about their history based on interviews with people who once attended concerts, picnics and parties in this unique community. It is a continuation of her first exhibition and booklet, At the Bay, for last year’s Heritage Week.
The Lost Cave Baches exhibition will be held during Beca Heritage Week from 13 October until 23 October at the Matuku Takotako Sumner Centre.
Many of them were just basic huts where fishermen could spend the night while catching crayfish or fishing on the morning tide. However, three of them were grand Edwardian Cave baches, including the Pilgrim’s Rest, which was built by Alfred Osborn (known as the Pilgrim. who built the original Pilgrim’s Way track, from Taylors Mistake beach to the Godley Head lighthouse), The Hermitage, and Te Nui Ana.
The baches were often made from timber from ships passing through the area. Before containers, ships secured their cargo with planks of wood, and once clear of the harbour they would throw this wood overboard creating “dunnage” that washed up along the coast. Concrete foundations remain from a few of the baches.
The Pilgrim’s Rest had a camera obscura and the owner hosted picnic parties attended by women who would clamber down the rough track wearing ankle-length Edwardian dresses.
The cave baches were part of a different way of life.
The Hermitage was built in 1906 from timber salvaged from Fuller’s Old Theatre and the Main Exhibition building from the New Zealand International Exhibition which was held in Christchurch from 1906 to 1907. There was a bunk room for women and the cave was lit with kerosene lamps.
Te Nui Ana, built in 1903, had three rooms, including a ladies bedroom, a men’s bunkroom and a staircase. The décor featured a chandelier and a grand piano.
Friends of the owners would go to concert parties at the Theatre Royal, catch the last tram to Sumner and then walk over the hill in the dark to have a “hi de ho” at the bach, Ms Abbott says.
The cave baches fell into disrepair around the time of World War II when Godley Head couldn’t be accessed by the public.
“Not too many people know the full history of the area. We’ve uncovered quite a bit of new information,” she says of her exhibition.
“My fascination with these cave baches stems from memories of being rowed around the coast in the dingy by my mother from our bach in Boulder Bay.”
She says the baches were part of a very different way of life at that time.
“The abundant fishing and the hillsides heaving with rabbits provided food during the depression days. Families filled the baches. Children grew up fishing, boating and roaming the cliffs and caves.”
Beca Heritage Week runs from 13 October to 23 October with a busy programme of talks, events and exhibitions.