Summer holidays

Summer holidays

New Zealand Railways publicity poster for Caroline Bay, Timaru, 1935

Caroline Bay offered a full programme of activities for holidaymakers over the summer. Starting on Boxing Day and finishing in mid-January, there were concerts and dances, sand-modelling contests, parades for pets and ‘Tiny Tots’, mother–son and mother–daughter contests and a wide selection of beauty contests. The New Year’s Eve midnight bonfire was the highlight, but the Miss Caroline Bay Bathing Beauty Contest was the glamour event until the 1960s.

The end-of-year prize for being a New Zealander

In late December, thousands of Kiwis get ready for their annual holiday. They look forward to lazy days at the beach or the bach (or crib), games of backyard cricket, food on the barbecue and the holiday uniform of shorts, jandals and T-shirts. From before Christmas until after the New Year, we take our summer holidays – our end-of-year prize for being a New Zealander.

We haven’t always had summer holidays. Many of us still don’t – we want to shop, go to the movies or watch TV, and we expect everything to be available, so hospitals, power suppliers, the police and many other essential services still run 24/7. And if we live on a farm, then summer means more work, not holidays.

Restrictions on working hours meant that people began to have clearly defined days off around Christmas from the late 19th century. The summer break as we know it became popular in New Zealand from the 1920s boosted by improved transport links.

The number of automobiles grew rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s, but most inter-war holidaymakers travelled by rail. On Christmas Eve 1934, five express trains carrying 1800 travellers left Wellington for stations along the North Island main trunk line. Four years later, eight trains ferried more than 3000 passengers northwards. The New Zealand Herald described the bustle of Auckland station at Christmas 1935.

Throngs of people in the most diverse kinds of holiday attire, people laden with suitcases, bags and parcels of every conceivable shape and size, and above all children, armed with buckets and spades, toy aeroplanes, squeakers and a hundred and one other toys, all hurried or were hurried down the platforms, until it seemed that everyone in Auckland was bent on leaving the city.

By the 1950s the private automobile was the preferred means of getting away from it all. With cars, people could pack food and gear for longer holidays over the Christmas–New Year period. As cars took people further away from home, campsites were developed. Beaches were ideal places for camping, and from the 1920s, permanent baches (known as cribs in the southern South Island) could be found at many beaches. Caravans came on the scene from the late 1940s, giving holidaymakers even more options.

Summer holidays at the beach in the 21st century are not as easy to undertake as they used to be. Coastal land provides prime sites for large holiday homes, and in some areas, the humble Kiwi bach is under threat. Places such as Pāuanui, once a local holiday spot, have been transformed into upmarket suburbs. Some beachside camping grounds have closed after their owners sold up to developers.

For more on beach culture, see Te Ara

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Posted: 20 May 2013

My family spent every school holidays in Timaru till I was 16 from 1945 to 1961 and I cant think of any place in the world to compare with it for children having fun with just so many activities, the carnival mostly but also the baths, the pictures the wharf,the ships, the beach and the river picnics, the shops, the big trucks through town the milk bars,the rock 'n' roll music and always the pretty girls