Waitaha Valley, West Coast – February 2021
Moonbeam Hut is situated in one of the West Coast’s most rugged valleys: the mighty Waitaha.
The Waitaha River drains part of the central Southern Alps, beginning life on the glaciers of such formidable peaks as Mt Evans, before flowing through friendly tussock flats and tumbling down terrific gorges, to finally emerge onto the farmed flats of Westland, and disgorging into the Tasman Sea. Traversing the upper Waitaha has long been a great challenge for trampers and hunters, and in recent years whitewater kayakers have discovered superb paddling.
Other huts in the valley, Ivory Lake and Top Waitaha, have been restored in recent years, and in February 2021 it was the turn of Moonbeam.
With the generous assistance of the Backcountry Trust and DOC, a four-strong team recently embarked on the working bee at Moonbeam Hut.
The team – Phil Palzer, Al Ritchie, Justin Venable and Keith Riley – scraped and sanded the external cladding, primed any exposed metal, and sealed all gaps to prevent moisture entry. The cladding was fortunately in good condition with no sign of rust or degradation, and the team applied two coats of Dulux ‘Lichen’ paint.
The windows and doors also got the sanding, scraping, priming and painting treatment, and a new Coloursteel flashing was installed at the base of the door.
Using a ‘fall arrest’ system, the team prepared the roof, applied ‘Rust kill’ where needed, and then gave it two coats of Dulux ‘Karaka’ paint.
Using a mix of new Coloursteel, recycled timber and H4 framing timber flown in, the men also made a new woodshed. The old woodshed was tidied up, with non-timber waste removed and the rest ‘discretely left for Tane Mahuta to reclaim’.
Inside, the team stripped the walls and ceilings of all fixtures, cleaned, prepped and primed, then gave everything two coats of white Dulux paint. The old bench tops were replaced with a new stainless steel bench, and a new bookshelf and mantelpiece added. The team also repaired and painted the bench seats.
‘Rust kill’ dealt to offending areas of the fireplace, and ‘Karaka’ paint was applied to everything except out-of-reach surfaces. The team also killed rust on the chimney cowling and secured the top.
The plate steel for the new open fireplace was already on site, and required removing the concrete from the back and the sides of the fireplace. This was replaced with river stones and extra sheet metal between the stones and chimney, to provide a better air gap. This should reduce corrosion of the chimney where it was before contacting the original concrete. A new concrete hearth was poured.
Removing the old fireplace resulted in the one incident of the trip, when Big Al sliced his finger, as the team leader recorded: ‘Two stitches were applied by the on-site Emergency Doctor. Big Al was able to resume work after a cup of tea.’
Fifty-plus years of ‘accumulated bits and bobs’, along with the building waste, were packaged into fertiliser sacks to await later removal by helicopter.
Next, the long-drop got some TLC. The door was painted and – in a masterstroke of recycling genius – the ‘old bench top was installed below the toilet seat to stop users peeing against their legs.’
The team leader concludes: ‘Big thanks to these hard working Moonbeam lads, Precision Helicopters for getting us in there, Dwan and Andrews Plumbing for last-minute flashing and bench tops, Max and Lisa from Makarora for lending a hand after walking down from Ivory Lake, DOC, the Backcountry Trust, and most importantly, the Waitaha Valley.’