Otautau retiree hopes to restore backcountry huts

Former gold mining cabin Martin's hut, located in the Longwood Forest Conservation Area, is on Mr Macdonald's list of Southland bivvies to repair. PHOTO: Alistair Macdonald

Otautau's Alistair Macdonald wants to put his previous hut restoration experience to use in an effort to bring Southland's back country bevvies back to their former glory.

Mr Macdonald, who moved to Otautau from Canterbury to retire, said his love for recreational hunting had him develop an appreciation of the network of backcountry huts on conservation estate.

He said he got involved with hut restoration group "Permolat" in its early stages, using previous experience to help set up the group as a charitable trust.

The group had thus far restored or was planning to restore around 80 huts built by the Forest Service mostly on the West Coast, he said. Now that he was established in Otautau, he hoped to set up a Southland chapter to take on its own local, historic huts.

While the huts he's previously worked on, such as Explorer Hut in the Hokitika area of the West Coast, dated back to the 1960s and 70s, Mr Macdonald said he was excited to take on the challenge of restoring historic mining huts in Southland that hailed from the turn of the century.

Alistair Macdonald (below) and Geoff Spearpoint on a repair trip to Top Crooked Hut on the Crooked River, in the West Coast's Inchbonnie district.

Martin's Hut and Turnbull's Hut in the Longwood Conservation Area were the first two huts he said he would like to get working on once the group forms. 

The age of the huts showed in its materials, he said. Turnbull's Hut still had clay floors, making it difficult to keep the indoor space dry. He said both bevvies were "getting pretty tired" having been built more than a century ago in 1906.

"We need to fix it up but we need to conserve the historic significance of it, so where there were bare boards, we need to put bare boards back and just use wood preservative and things like that. We've got to be fairly careful just exactly what we do in relation to these two huts." 

Other potential huts the Department of Conservation (DOC) identified in Fiordland included ones near Lakes Hauroko and Monowai, he said. 

The response from DOC thus far was very positive, he said, welcoming the help to restore less popular huts where their budget couldn't reach and providing many materials, such as paint, along the way.

Mr Macdonald said anyone eager to be involved should contact him on his cellphone 021-0222-6111 or landline, (03) 225-8811, or via email at alastairmac22@xtra.co.nz


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