Waitaha Valley, West Coast December 2020
Situated on a tussock flat in the headwaters of the central West Coast’s mighty Waitaha River, Top Waitaha Hut has a commanding view over the nearby Hitchin and Bloomfield Ranges. A classic ex-NZFS 6-bunk hut, it serves as an important waypoint for parties heading to and from the iconic Ivory Lake, or as a destination in its own right.
Last year, Colin Morris took on a project to renovate the hut, working with DOC’s Tony Thrupp. In August the Backcountry Trust granted $15,000 to undertake the work. Morris managed a reconnaissance visit in November 2020 and found the hut in better condition than he expected, although water damage had affected the ply lining the walls and ceiling, and a new roof, stainless steep bench and windows were other clear priorities.
In December 2020 a team of four flew onto site with Anderson Helicopters to begin work. As well as Colin Morris, the party included Peter Fullerton, Geoff Spearpoint and Liz Weir. On the first full day, Peter and Geoff pulled off the old roof and underlay, and by the end of the day the team had half the new Coloursteel roof on, along with the two polycarbonate panels which let light into the hut interior. All this required considerable modification to the roof framing to ensure adequate strength. Unable to work inside the hut, Liz made a great job of preparing meals outside.
Day two saw the team completing a number of important jobs: removing old windows, preparing the outside cladding for new paint, installing anchor piles, and removing the decayed linings.
December sun continued to shine, happily, on day three, allowing Colin and Geoff to secure the ridge caps, roof fixings and window flashings, while Peter and Liz worked on the interior.
New tie-downs, window flashing installed, vegetation cleared from around the hut, and improvements to the door occupied the team on day four. The weather continued to play the game for the fifth day in a row, allowing installation of a new lining, and fresh paint inside. Framing and concrete for a new step occupied the afternoon, and a big day ended at 9.30 p.m.
Finally the weather broke on day six. Intermittent rain hampered the outside jobs, but inside Colin was particularly pleased to have enough time for a second top coat of paint to completely cover the ‘sickly lime green’ underneath. The team installed a new cooking bench, table top, and shelving, then screwed the bunks back in place.
Poor weather on day seven forced a somewhat hasty retreat by helicopter not long after dawn. The team had a celebratory breakfast in Hokitika, having completed some 368 person-hours on the job, not including another 118 that Colin spent planning and prepping. Due to the sudden departure, rubbish and some spare materials will need to be removed when DOC staff go in to complete some final small jobs.
Well done to Colin Morris for his fifth backcountry hut project, and the rest of the team, who worked extremely long days to complete a fine job. Thank you also to landowner Maryanne McClean, who generously allowed use of her airstrip for loading and parking vehicles.