In January 2020, decades after a school trip with four other 16-year-olds, I revisited a remote hut in Nelson Lakes National Park. I sensed the dirt-floored hut could do with some work.
A few friends had been discussing a restoration mission separately, and negotiations with the Backcountry Trust had commenced. Over the course of 2023, a vague Scope of Work was established with a budget of $15,000 set aside.
A face-to-face meeting of six interested volunteers was set up, and enthusiasm levels were gauged. Photos from my trip helped explain the situation to the three members of the team who hadn’t visited.
It was a goer.
What was missing was a detailed appraisal of exactly what work was essential.
I was ready for a reconnaissance mission and measure-up so we could work out what remedial work was required, like the need to pre-fabricate the chimney rebuilding, and work out a wood shed to give a safe surface to gather water, not running it over the lead-based paint of the hut. We needed a water tank, as the existing water supply was a mission.
We discussed helicopter transportation for a preliminary visit, but the pricing was preposterous. Feet would have to do.
I’d already been planning a trip to better mark the track. An experienced Nelson tramper had recently taken nine hours from Downie Hut, and considering the first half is quite straightforward, the track or lack thereof was a challenge for him as well.
Having done more than 100 building measure-ups in my time and realising that absolutely everything had to be thought through and helicoptered in, I’d been a good bloke to trust with the measurements and assess the damage.
I was just waiting for the next fine period to avoid problems with crossing the seriously large Matakitaki River.
No one else was available. I was on my own.
I was enthusiastic enough to want to make a second trip once I drew up the plans and elevations to check the measurements. That second time around, I was promised some company.
Sometimes, life doesn’t work out how you planned.