It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: five days on a Pacific island paradise. The only catch? I had to help build a small hut. Catch? Ha! How hard could that be?
Quite a lot of hard, it turns out, when the island is Raoul, in the Department of Conservation-administered Kermadec Marine Reserve, and the ‘hut’ is three tonnes of stainless steel sitting in a Christchurch workshop. It begs the question: but why?
A little-known fact: much of our weather forecasting is from information gathered by launching large balloons in remote parts of the country. These behemoths are capable of meandering 40km upward. To do that they are filled with explosive hydrogen gas which, in isolated spots, needs to be produced and stored in a robust hut. In the case of Raoul Island, the MetService required a hut that needed no maintenance in a marine environment, was fully ventilated, wouldn’t be bothered by volcanic activity or marauding pukeko, and, oh, it had to be built in less than a week.
The solution, from the ever-fertile mind of architect Michael O’Sullivan, was a prefabricated design that we just needed to ‘assemble on site’ during the bi-annual DoC staff changeover on the island. In practice, site means a lump of rock sitting 1100km north of New Zealand, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Achieving that required military precision. Literally. The army prepared the hut for transit, DoC quarantined the hut, the navy shipped the hut, and the air force serviced the helicopter that shuttled the hut to Raoul. Our commute was no less complex. Six days on the HMNZS Otago, two helicopter trips and five days working against the clock.
Lay the foundations.
See if the foundations are the right size for the now air-dropped walls. Erect the walls.
Think about how to lift the roof up.
Lift the roof up using muscles.
Fit door, add stairs, drink beer.
It was a trip of discovery (I discovered I get seasick, airsick, and homesick). But the outcome is just as Mike imagined it. A singularly purposeful hut with its back to a mountain and its face to an ocean. It won’t get many visitors, but as long as we keep getting accurate weather forecasts, we’ll know it’s still there, glinting resolutely on the flanks of an active volcanic sanctuary.