Falling tree just misses sleeping hikers

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013
 Tramper Mark Austin and his son Tama survey the damage at Rockburn Hut after a tree fell through the roof.
WAKE-UP CALL: Tramper Mark Austin and his son Tama survey the damage at Rockburn Hut after a tree fell through the roof.

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Trampers were lucky to escape serious injury after a tree crashed through the roof of a Department of Conservation hut on Saturday morning.

Holiday-maker Mark Austin said he and his 14-year-old son Tama were camping with four others in the Rockburn Hut, on the Routeburn Track, when a "massive" beech tree ploughed through the ceiling, narrowly missing the trampers sleeping inside.

The tree was blown over about 12.30am, at the tail end of the bout of wild weather which caused flooding and road closures across the region.

The impact left the roof partly collapsed, one wall pushed out and down into the ground and the chimney damaged, Mr Austin said. The hut's bench and the cooking gear left on it had also been ruined, and equipment drying out near the fire had been covered in rubble.

However, the damage could have been much worse if the tree had landed a metre closer to the centre of the hut: "We would have been in dire straits. We were very lucky to escape any serious injury."

The noise of the tree crashing into the hut instantly woke all of the trampers except Tama, who somehow managed to sleep through the ordeal, Mr Austin said.

The group began a quick cleanup of the hut and, after a rejig of the sleeping arrangements, returned to bed. "We decided that it probably wasn't a good idea to stay on the top bunks after that."

The pair, on holiday from Lower Hutt, said the escapade was just part of the South Island experience. "We've had so many adventures on this holiday we've just added this one to the list."

Department of Conservation communications relations manager Susie Geh said DOC was still deciding whether to repair or rebuild the hut. As the hut was now closed, trampers were being told to carry a tent instead.

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- The Southland Times

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