We first started working on this West Coast lodge fifteen years ago when we began living together. Dan had already paid off his own little cottage on the same half acre property and so I bought the ex-Forest Service single worker’s hut No. 279 from a farmer who’d purchased it when the native milling in Hari Hari shut down – you can still see the number on the outside of the bach, left as a bit of an homage to its origins.
We moved the bach on the back of a truck, placed it in the empty paddock out back and began stripping the interior which was grim grey painted plyboard. It was decided then that we might as well rip out the wiring too and make the accommodation off-grid, for an ‘escape from modern life’ feel.
We were blessed to have a lovely eldery lady as our neighbour who let us use her late husband’s shed and we got to work relining the walls of the two rooms using recycled Totara timber from an old house Dan had pulled down a couple of years earlier. The workshop had some great old-school woodworking machinery but nothing so modern as a sander and we couldn’t afford to buy one so we sanded and planed all the boards by hand. We then continued on, building the deck, ramp and carport, which is built from hardwood powerpoles and Totara flitches, left with one natural edge.
Lastly, we added on the bathroom, including an old pot belly stove we had scavenged from the dump to heat the water in the copper cylinder, also scored from the dump. The Rimu and Matai floor and ceiling we salvaged out of one of the oldest pubs in Hokitika; the leadlight windows and glass bricks were demolition materials; and the large mirrors and vanity more dump finds. Someone gave us some old white marble tiles and we had a few black ones (from the dump) so the idea of a Yin-Yang mosaic for the shower floor was born. Dan wanted a big shower and to add a bit more of the natural West Coast we filled in the space with flat stones gathered from local beaches. This was a major undertaking which I stretched out over nearly two years as it was such a painstaking task to get the levels and grout perfect that enthusiasm ebbed and flowed.
Meanwhile, Dan handcrafted the queen size bed from native timber. He also hand picked schist stone from the local quarry for the fireplace. He built an edge for the rock-work out of an old cart wheel, bent in our forge and did his own little bit of mosaic with a broken plate from the first dinner set we bought together (second hand). By nature he is a do-it-yourselfer, so he plumbed the lodge himself with a bit of help from a friend. The fire was still too close to the wooden floor to be safe, however, so he took another found copper cylinder, heated it up, bashed it flat, imprinted it with a flame design and placed it on the floor in front of the pot-belly.
Our first baby decided to arrive the night the finishing touch was being worked on. Dan was using our forge to twist four long rods of steel to make a guard rail for the fire. Just as he was almost finished he burnt his hand badly. Our mate who was helping said “it would be funny if you were in hospital being treated for burns while your wife is in labour”. Sure enough, a few minutes later I came out saying “my waters have broken, we have to get to hospital now”. So it was out with the frozen loaf of bread to cool Dan’s hand while he drove with the other one.
After eight long years we were finally ready to open, in 2007. For, despite using as many free materials as we could, there were still nails, insulation, roofing and building permits to pay for on a very limited budget. We named our cabin “Wildside Lodge” because the bush over the road from us is part of the Mt Adam Wilderness area - a large tract of DoC land that has no roads, tracks or huts, and also because it befits our own living off the land kind of lifestyle - hunting, fishing, growing and brewing.
In the off-season the majority of our guests are from Christchurch - people wanting to escape city life for a weekend or so. In the summer we get a good mix of Kiwis and overseas visitors passing through South Westland. We’ve had a few honeymooners, which is always nice. The hot springs are a highlight, when the river is not in flood or drought. It’s a very relaxing and romantic spot which should be enjoyed at night, after the sandflies have gone to bed. The Hari Hari Coastal Walkway is also great - a 2 and 3/4 hour round trip which covers bush, beach, swamp, lagoon and two rivers, including a little history and lots of whitebait stands - it’s rated highly by Lonely Planet. The glaciers are just an hour away too, as is Hokitika - the nearest airport, where planes from Christchurch come in, twice a day or more.