May 2019 to September 2020
In April 2019, major flooding just about wiped out Thomas River Hut – a loss that would have been all the more painful considering great work restoring the hut in recent years, led by Geoff Spearpoint. Fortunately, a hunter reported it and a Haast helicopter pilot confirmed just how precarious the hut’s position was.
In May, four DOC staff led by Jeff Rawles flew in, put the hut on skids, and winched it safely away from the eroding riverbank. They also dug a new longdrop pit, relocated the toilet, and cleared a new hut site. A fantastic effort that undoubtedly saved the hut.
Fast-forward to September 2019, and a team of Backcountry Trust volunteers flew back in with Jeff Rawles to continue the job. The team included Geoff Spearpoint, Jane Morris, builder Colin Morris and Hugh van Noorden.
The first task was measuring the new hut site, and digging holes for the new piles.
Then the big job: moving the hut into position. As Geoff described: ‘Jeff set up turfors on anchor stumps. We used high-lift jacks to remove tree rounds the hut was sitting on then placed rollers under skids. The winch then dragged the hut across towards the new site. We used a second winch from the side to keep it on track. The hut moved relatively freely, but had a tendency to slide anywhere downhill.’
The hut now required levelling – a task that relied more upon old technology (a 2m level and much checking) than new (a laser level). With the hut held level and in position by the jacks, the team affixed the new piles, leaving them hanging free into the freshly-dug holes.
The next task was mixing concrete for the new piles (‘a bit of a mission’) and clearing vegetation, as well as an overhanging tree. With the concrete poured and set, the jacks could be removed.
The team also re-sited the woodshed to get better sun, and concreted it into place.
In September 2020, a team including Ollie Clifton, Vanessa Lukes, Jane Morris, Colin Morris and Geoff Spearpoint flew in to put the chimney and fireplace back in, which involved some tricky metalwork, and pouring a new concrete hearth. Windows were repainted, and new fly-screens secured.
Finally, in October 2020, Geoff and Jane returned to make the final touches, including removing the last of the lead-head nails, fitting a smoke deflector, and installing a wider chimney cowling.
All up, over 370 volunteer person hours has ensured Thomas River Hut should be safe from floods for some decades to come.