Tararua Lodge I 50th Anniversary
By Maurice Perry
On Saturday 17 June 2000, thirty club members celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the club's first hut on Mt. Ruapehu.
Four of the members present had been involved with the original construction in 1950. Colour slides and photos of that large club project entertained those present on Saturday evening.
In the years following the end of World War 2, the Tararua club committee contemplated building a hut as a base for climbing and skiing on Mt. Ruapehu. In the summer of 1947-48 a small hut, approximately the size of a four-man army hut and named the bivvy was erected on a site chosen earlier by club members. The bivvy had four bunks, some shelves and an oil-burning stove. This prominent site had been chosen carefully for its views of Mt. Ngāuruhoe, Taranaki Maunga, some of Ruapehu's peaks and part of Taupō's western bay. For most of the winter, skiers could ski right to the site.
During 1949, plans were finalised, fund-raising was taking place and permission to build was obtained from the Department of Lands & Survey and the Tongariro National Park Board ( the controlling authorities at the time). There was no chairlift or 4.W.D. road to Hut Flat and no helicopters in New Zealand then. Everything would have to be carried up on members' backs.
Timber and other materials were ordered to be delivered to the road end for the first two working parties in November and December. In February 1950, the action really heated up as more working parties carried up supplies and excavating for the hut foundations took place. On one of these weekends, a snowfall on the Saturday night caught us unprepared without gloves, hats or goggles. An archive photo shows members stacking timber under very snowy conditions in February. The heaviest item to be carried was the cast-iron, double-oven, Shacklock coal range. This was to be the hut's principal means of cooking and water heating. Lighting was to be by Tilley kerosene lamps. Once the hut was habitable however, there was an ongoing demand for carbonettes and kerosene; heavy and messy items to be carried all the way from the road end!
In those days, the Bruce road was unsealed, narrow, and very twisty. The road really ended at what is now the bottom of the loop. From there on was little more than a rough track. For the major part of the construction, four members stayed in the H.V.T.C. hut and worked full-time as builders. The weekend working parties brought up food and building supplies. There was no electricity on the mountain but a few clubs did have their own generators. All our sawing, concrete mixing and drilling was done by hand, entailing much hard work. The builders enjoyed the company of others when they arrived in the weekends. Those on the weekend working parties took back to Wellington reports of progress on the new hut.
Our chief-guide at the time, Bill Bridge, insisted on everyone carrying two loads from the road end before breakfast each day. We knew on a Monday when we had been to the mountain working the previous weekend!
Past president Wally Neill built a long-drop three-seater toilet that served our needs for many years, until eventually flush toilets were installed in the present hut. At the time of building, we had installed wiring for when electricity eventually came.
On Saturday 17 June 1950, Tararua Lodge I was officially opened by club president Bert Hines. The hut was far from completed, but it was certainly habitable and all systems were operating. Inside, many large flags were used to cover walls that as yet had not been lined.
In 1952, the club bought a second-hand Coventry Climax 2.75 kVA generator from the Electric Lamphouse in Manners Street. This was installed in the bivvy and a power cable was run to the switchboard in the hut. We were very up-to-date then, with 230-volt power; sufficient for lighting, but little else. We partly retired the Tilley lamps. At about this time also, we installed a two-burner rock-gas stove to supplement the coal range for cooking. Tararua Lodge was really great, and we all believed very comfortable. Skiing in the club had been given a much valued lift. For the winters of 1950-53 and part of '54 we had a hut that everyone was proud of and it served our needs very well.
Shortly after dinner on 8 August 1954, a problem developed with the rock-gas pipe. High pressure gas leaked and was ignited by a spark from the coal range. Those present tried using the extinguishers, but the fire quickly spread and it was soon obvious that they were not able to put it out. A very strong wind fanned the flames and within minutes, the whole building was an inferno. Fortunately, everyone present managed to exit the building, but with only what they stood up in.
The next meeting of the club committee voted unanimously to re-build Tararua Lodge on the same site on Mt. Ruapehu. Tararua Lodge II was officially opened by the club president Alex Galletly on Saturday 6 August 1955.
Photos courtesy M.C. Perry.