Working at Lake MacKenzie Lodge

“Working in Paradise” Winter 2012. Lake MacKenzie Lodge. Fiordland National Park. After the 2011/2012 Guiding Season on The Routeburn Track I was extremely lucky to be offered the position of Lodge Manager at Lake MacKenzie Lodge during the construction of a new wing at the lodge. In the world of elevated land winter can be a harsh time of the year. With low temperatures comes snow falling from above, and everything freezing below. To see places in winter is a real treat, and to do it from the safety and comfort of a multi-million dollar lodge is even better.

The building work had to be done during the winter, when the guided operation had closed, and I was excited to see what the place looked like in deep winter snow. To get to the site we would fly by helicopter from a paddock on the Routeburn/Dart River side, and then down into the Lake MacKenzie Basin. Along with cooking meals and snacks for the builders, I also had to keep the lodge clean, knowing the ‘big boss’ could fly in, giving only a five minute warning. The building operation continued until mid June, and at this point the water froze solid at the other lodges construction site at Routeburn Falls. Work resumed at both lodges at the start of September, and the area looked similar to when we started the guiding season in November. I was a little bit gutted as I was expecting a snow covered winter wonderland. I would only have to wait a couple of days before a deep low rolled over Fiordland, and the storm produced a huge amount of fresh snow. The whole area changed overnight, and the builders had to dig trenches in the snow so they could move around the snow-covered work site. The lodge is powered by two large generators, and these generators need constant power draining from them, which during the hiking season is usually provided by the guest using the facilities at the lodge. Since there were no guests to keep power up on the generators I had to run both heat pumps in the main dining and lounge area on full power. Another one of my jobs was to burn the builders off-cuts in the lodge’s two fireplaces, and this meant the lodge was hot all the time. This meant that even though there was deep snow outside, I was warm and toasty in t-shirt and shorts inside! Another massive benefit was being so close to the big mountains that surround the lodge, and I would go on mid-day excursions up some of the peaks in the area with my climbing gear. The entire track is threatened by avalanche danger during the winter, and I had to pick where I travelled and I always had radio contact with the lodge and of course my PLB.

Lifting an entire building at MacKenzie Lodge

On one occasion I came across a group of three fellas from Australia, and they had battled through the snow to arrive at MacKenzie Hut (D.O.C) a little worse for wear. I had a yarn with them and told them about the avalanche danger, especially on the Hollyford Face. They assured me they were fine and had just completed a mountain course in Brisbane so the next day the builders and I had binoculars and watched their very slow progress up the zig-zags. We could see they were in waist deep snow by the last zig-zag and they decided to pull the pin and turn back, arriving at the hut later in the afternoon. The poor fellas were spent by the time they got back to the hut and by the time I had got down there for another yarn they were all asleep! I caught up with them the next day and they headed out the same way they came in, knowing not to mess with The Routeburn Track after heavy winter snow…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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