Outdoor Baths with a DIY Difference

I don't know about you, but when we search for a local holiday spot if there's a spa, outdoor bath or a pool on offer, that's a place which will catch our eye. For ages we've wanted to add something like this to our little guesthouse in the North and this year it became a reality. The cottage was relocated here by the property's previous owners, it started life as the Whangarei croquet clubrooms and has had many uses since then, a Sunday School, family getaway, I've even heard from locals who got married here!

The position on the property takes in the North facing views and overlooks the little orchard that we guess was planted about 5 years before our arrival, it was lovely but it also had plenty of quirks. Access out to the peaceful yard and bush valley views beyond was around the side of the cottage, there was a big picture window in the living area but all other windows on this side were a bit piecemeal (see the image below to get the idea of the random placement). We knew we wanted to open things up but also wanted to keep the essence of the character building. We put up a small pergola out front and created a sheltered seating nook, but until now, this area lacked any real development as we tossed around ideas of how to truly make the most of it.

We're fans of getting a bit creative and wherever possible we love to re-use or repurpose to build something new. So it was great when we realised that by simply working with the existing doors and windows in the cottage, we could reposition things to create openness and a cohesive space that invited more of the outdoors in. We decided to keep the little outdoor seating nook as it really is hard to beat at any time of year, kicking back on the Cape Cod chairs listening to the birdsong in the afternoon sun does wonders for the soul. 

So we opted for replacing the lounge window with the French doors from the entrance and building a sweet little Juliet balcony with steps leading down. But it was the space to the left and out front, between the cottage and the beginning of the orchard that needed a bit of an overhaul. We could see that the lower flat area would make a lovely private spot for an outdoor bath or spa experience and we also wanted to do some landscaping and planting to enhance it.

We considered a bunch of options and thought about the kind of experience we would enjoy. Lots of trawling through ingenious ideas on Pinterest and many discussions later, we decided to go with two baths side-by-side. Not having to deal with chemically treated water and the constant maintenance of a traditional spa appealed, and we loved the idea of two separate baths for a solo or dual soak experience. 

So the search began. At first we were looking at the classic clawfoot option but then we started thinking 'outside the box', and when we came across a rectangular pre-cast concrete livestock trough at Hynds Concrete, we started to get excited.  

We began to reimagine how this solid piece of farming kit could be used for a far more luxurious purpose. They come in different sizes and the pre-cast concrete has a surprisingly smooth finish. The one we settled on provided dimensions that are wider and longer than any standard bath option we looked into. At just under a metre wide and almost 2 metres long, once filled we felt they would offer an ideal spacious vessel for floating and relaxing.

When explaining our vision to the contractors working on the job, there were a few raised eyebrows but the classic Kiwi can-do attitude won over and they could soon see how it could come together.

While the building works were underway on the cottage, work outside was in full swing. Transforming the blank canvas around and in front of the baths into a lush subtropical garden space was all good in theory but as with any organic space, it would look worse before it got better, taking a generous truckload of new plants (I lost count at around 200), and plenty of hard hard graft.  

The property is rural so we also had to consider how the almost 1500 litres of water it takes to fill the baths could be filtered and re-used to keep the surrounding garden watered. By setting the baths into a decking platform, we dug a large sump hole at the foot of the baths and lined the entire base of the area with a heavy-duty pond liner. This way the baths could be topped up at will, allowing the water to overflow and be captured underneath. The water could then be piped away to a nearby storage tank and used for watering when needed.

With over 700 kilograms of weight in each bath, it required some deft digger handling to get them in the perfect position. Thankfully we have masters of this machinery living right next door, who have kindly helped with quite a few of the larger hardscaping jobs we've undertaken around the property over the years. It was actually on the weekend of our 17th wedding anniversary that we were happy to get back on the tools, welcoming their arrival and to continue with the surrounding construction.  

The space was finally starting to represent the idea we had in our minds. There was also another little bonus of using the concrete troughs for this purpose, they come delivered with a separate pre-cast half-round piece that would normally be used to place over the water inlet inside, guarding against cattle and farm animals disturbing the ballcock fittings. With no livestock to worry about, rather than placing these in the purpose-fitted indents at the head of the baths, we propped them up at the end and then secured a PVC liner running the length of the bath to create a comfortable headrest extension. The indents also provide a great armrest, perfectly positioned so that you can comfortably grab your glass of wine or cup of herbal tea from the decking platform - gotta love it when a plan comes together!🥂    

At this stage, we were one of many hundreds of property owners around the area undertaking improvement projects. Post a Covid lockdown, New Zealand amped up into a construction boom, so despite our best planning, we became the victims of having to wait for our final contractors, the plumbers, to find space in their schedule for this job. Days turned into weeks, but eventually our time arrived and we could finally fill our baths with hot and cold water through a bespoke copper tap system that suited the rustic outdoor vibe.

The following photos were taken by a lovely couple that came to stay not too long after the baths were complete. Tegan is an avid traveler and runs a couple of inspirational travel pages on Instagram that feature many of her adventures. You can see more of the awesome shots they captured during their stay (and from many other beautiful destinations) here @outdoorbathsnz and @heelstoheeledge

Photo credit: @outdoorbathsnz
Photo credit: @outdoorbathsnz
Photo credit: @outdoorbathsnz

As I write this, the Winter season is drawing to a close and we're in the midst of another Covid lockdown😒 BUT - Spring is on it's way, there's light at the end of the tunnel and I'm beyond excited (OK, maybe a little obsessed!) to see the many new plants we've put in become more established and grow up to create a lush and private little retreat for many more guests we'll be welcoming again soon.

In the meantime, there's a a beautiful oasis right here for us to enjoy. I believe there are always silver linings if you choose to look for them and you can be sure we'll be making the most of this one! 💦


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