A tramping hut upgraded a year ago at a cost of $300,000 remains officially closed because it has not passed a building inspection.
Tararua Tramping Club was planning a hut-warming party for Kime Hut today, and had arranged for about 50 guests and a $200 cake to be brought in by helicopter for the celebrations.
But it has had to pull the plug after the Department of Conservation said it would lock the hut and could not encourage use of a non-compliant building.
Although the DOC website advises that Kime Hut is "temporarily closed due to ongoing construction work", it has been used by trampers since at least June last year and is an important refuge on the exposed top of the Tararua range.
It was the destination of Te Papa chief executive Seddon Bennington and his tramping partner, Marcella Jackson, who died a kilometre below it in 2009 in blizzard conditions.
Tramping club president Paul Maxim said he was told by DOC that a locksmith would be flown up to the hut "and the hut would be locked, and that there would be a key nearby in a box that could be broken open in an emergency".
The club's hut convener, Hugh Barr, said: "It's totally crazy. Kime Hut has always been a refuge for people in bad weather."
DOC Manawatu-Wairarapa conservation partnerships manager Chris Lester said the hut's closure did not mean no-one could enter it.
"No-one is saying that if you're caught up there and you're freezing your arse off, you can't get in there and survive."
DOC Masterton conservation services manager Kathy Houkamau confirmed yesterday that she considered locking the hut, but had now made the decision not to.
She denied telling anyone a locksmith would be flown in.
"We've no intention of stopping groups going there, using helicopters and whatever they want to do. What we can't do is promote use of the hut when we don't have code compliance."
The delay in opening the hut was due to windows, flashing and other elements not meeting specifications, meaning they would not withstand the harsh alpine environment.
Kapiti Coast District Council building control manager Claire Stevens said DOC and the council had agreed that, even though "two minor issues" meant the hut could not be signed off, trampers should be allowed access, as it was the only shelter in the area.
Kime Hut sits about 300 metres above the bushline on a high ridge in the Tararua Range, notoriously exposed to savage southerly winds, near the 1529m summit of Mt Hector.
It occupies a key point five hours' walk from Otaki Forks on the Kapiti Coast along the renowned Southern Crossing route to Kaitoke in Upper Hutt, about 12 hours' walk further on.
It was originally built in the 1930s as a memorial to a tramper who died of exposure in the area. An early member of the Tararua Tramping Club died in similar circumstances in the 1920s, and the club has long been involved in the hut's maintenance.
The original hut was replaced in 1978. While the new version, started last year, was mostly funded by DOC, the club contributed to its construction and will help with maintenance.
- The Dominion Post