Waimea Tramping Club has a history of involvement with Balloon Hut going back to the last major upgrade of the hut in February 1995. A major force in that project was Diana Reeves, club president at the time. After Diana’s passing in 2010 a bequest of $1000 from her to the club was a major impetus for further improvements at the hut. In 2013 the club offered DOC $2600 to install a wood burner, hearth and flue. A large amount of the funds came from club funds set aside for hut and track work. Although DOC accepted the offer, they did not have the extra funding for a woodshed. But after a meeting with DOC the club submitted an application to the Outdoor Recreation Consortium hoping to complete the project. In March 2015 the club’s application was approved for the sum of $12,964. The club’s offer of funding had also increased from $2600 to $3000.
The project started off with the prefabrication of the woodshed, completed over two days, on the 21-22 July 2015 at the DOC Motueka yard by four Waimea TC volunteers and a DOC builder. The work at Balloon Hut was then scheduled for 14-18 March 2016 by four Waimea TC volunteers and three DOC personnel. On Monday the WTC group were flown in by helicopter along with a gasfitter. Then followed several more flights to Balloon Hut from the nearest road end at Flora Hut. These loads consisted of the flat pack woodshed walls and floor, timber for piles, bearers and dwangs, 600kgs of cement, the Pioneer wood burner and ample firewood and the three DOC workers.
As each sling load was lowered into the clearing by the hut it was quickly unloaded to leave room for the next load to be flown in. Meanwhile the troublesome old gas heater was removed. After the gasfitter finished his work he was flown out, when the helicopter had finished transferring loads. After discussion, the site for the woodshed was decided - between the hut and the toilet. Firstly, holes for the piles were dug, with the first row of three holes dug in good ground but we then struck harder ground for the other two rows of holes. The timber piles were set in place with instant cement mixed in a wheelbarrow, then the bearers were positioned on top. The prefabricated floor and walls could then be quickly put up. After the removal of the gas heater the siting of the Pioneer fireplace in the hut was decided. With more spacing needed for the hearth, part of the bench seat was cut away and an internal wooden support pole was removed and remounted further back.
On Tuesday the woodshed rafters and dwangs were put in place and the colour steel cladding was attached and the roofing installed, then all the firewood was stacked into the woodshed. Meanwhile the hearth framing was made and the concrete hearth was poured and smoothed out. Leftover concrete was also used for a step at the woodshed entrance. By the end of Tuesday the project was well ahead of schedule so the flying in of another volunteer planned for Wednesday was cancelled.
Wednesday the forecast rain arrived which cancelled the helicopter flight for the plumber to install the fireplace flue. The only finishing work needed was the flashing for the woodshed but several odd jobs inside and outside were completed. Over the week other work carried out included grubbing back tussock on 50m of track above the hut and 80m track toward the Cobb and grubbing back tussock on Cobb side of hut, reinstalling the drying rack, sanding the table and recoating in polyurethane, constructing a makeshift wood box from old some seating, scrubbing clean some areas of slippery decking, cleaning the hut air vents, some general cleaning and reattaching the map. The lack of remaining wall space meant the map was re-fixed to the sloping ceiling above the table – what other hut has a map on the ceiling?
Again on Thursday the helicopter flight was called off because of drizzle and low cloud so a few of the group relocated to Salisbury Lodge and tramped out. The remaining three volunteers and one DOC staffer had a very quiet day with only one or two small jobs. It was good to see trampers at the hut each day despite some wet weather and they were appreciative of the work being done. Over the whole week about 100 volunteer hours work were put in.
On Friday the weather cleared nicely for an early helicopter ride out. During April and May four dates were scheduled to fly in to finish off the fireplace but each time the flight was cancelled because of rain or low cloud.
The final stageOn Friday 3 June, on a beautiful windless day, a plumber, a DOC worker and two volunteers were flown in to finish off the long awaited installation of the fireplace flue, taking about seven hours. Also two new tables and seats were brought in, as the previous table was too large for the floor space because of the new hearth. One table sports a checkerboard engraved into the top of it, along with sets of homemade wooden checkers provided! A good tidy job was done on the fireplace and flue and all were happy the job had been finally been finished off. Thanks to the Waimea Tramping Club volunteers - Robert, Andrew, Donald, Chris and Geoff; and the DOC Motueka staff - Matt, Stu and Pete. Also thanks to Henni and Daniel from Henning Plumbing & Gas, and Toby of Reid Helicopters.