Mataketake Range, West Coast
The new Mataketake Hut boats one of the country’s best locations; undulating tussock tops with sparkling alpine tarns, views along the Southern Alps as far as Aoraki, as well as vistas over the wild coastlines of South Westland.
This superb hut owes its existence to the late Andy Dennis (1944–2016), a well-known conservationist, writer and tramper who had a passion for South Westland. In his will, Andy bequeathed funds for a new hut.
Backcountry Manager Rob Brown, a friend of Andy’s, spearheaded the hut project, in consultation with Andy’s sister Sarah Dennis and DOC staff. The Backcountry Trust helped top-up funding.
This group decided on the Mataketake Range for several reasons; the superb location, the fact there are few accessible huts on the South Westland tops, and because it offered a fresh opportunity for a new circuit. So it became part of a wider plan to re-open the historic benched Mica Mine Track onto the Mataketake tops and integrate the new hut as part of a tramping route that connects with the under-appreciated Haast-Paringa Cattle Track.
Planning and consenting took nearly a year, and then poor weather during the 2018/19 summer delayed building. Work finally got underway in early March 2019 when Fletcher Anderson of Anderson Helicopters spent a day lifting materials onto site. The team of Rob Brown, Mark Harry, Eric Saggers and Scott Walker started digging the foundations. Work was progressing quickly until a severe storm hit in late March; the same weather event that caused widespread damage on the West Coast. A few weeks later, a second storm destroyed three tents, leaving the team huddled in one.
Being so exposed to the westerly weather meant a significant amount of engineering. Securing the hut are 28 anchor piles, held in position with 11 tonnes of concrete – all mixed on site. While the hut’s exterior appears like standard corrugated iron, the structure has a significant amount of detailed building work to meet the standards needed for maximum wind loadings.
Over the next few weeks, the building team managed to get all the piles and subfloor framing down before putting the main frame onto the sub-frame and tying it down for the winter.
Work started again in the 2019 spring, hampered by more atrocious weather with few fine gaps. The builders managed to get the floor down and the frame up before poor weather in December largely halted progress.
Good weather finally arrived in early January 2020. Ben Midgely, Zdenek Racuk, Sandy Sandblom and Matt Williamson helped the core team finish the framing and start closing in the hut. By February the cladding and windows were installed under the guidance of Vitek Kocandrie, to fully enclose it. The Covid-19 shut-down over the next six weeks wasn’t too much of a problem, as the frame needed time to fully dry.
Winter 2020 saw some long, fine spells and by now Wanaka builders Jon Sedon and Hedley Wilton had stepped in to finish the deck, watertank and make a start on the interior finishing. DOC staff Jeff Rawles, Tom McDermott, Nigel Schroder and Miquel Dijkstra all put in some good days on the interior finish. Jeff also oversaw re-opening the tracks.
In mid- November 2020, the serviced 8-bunk hut was finally finished and ready for public use. It has a wood-burner (open for winter use only), with a small stocked woodshed nearby.
As well as views of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the Mataketake Hut has superb vistas eastwards towards Mts Hooker and Dechen, and the largest of the nearby tarns makes a great swimming pool. During summer, a noisy gang of kea usually hangs about looking for mischief, while the New Zealand pipits are better behaved. At night the surrounding tarns come alive with the croaks of the Southern Bell frog.
In January 2021, Sarah Dennis and her family visited the hut, and installed some of Andy’s book collection on the specially-made shelf.
With that finishing touch, Rob Brown feels sure that ‘Andy would think Mataketake Hut is a fitting memorial’.