A large steam-powered sawmill began operating on the site from 1911. Rimu from nearby forests was processed here and at many other sawmills on the West Coast until logging of native timber ended in the late 1990s.
These days the Ruatapu site is home to Westco Lumber, a sawmill that turns pruned radiata pine logs into appearance grade timber – high quality, clear wood that is free from knots.
The timber products are sold to customers around New Zealand, Australia, USA, Asia and Europe, and used to make furniture, joinery and modified timber products. Wood chip from the sawmill is used to produce MDF (fibreboard) while wood waste is burned in a boiler to produce enough energy to dry the timber.
While some pine logs come into the sawmill from forests on the West Coast, other log suppliers are located further away in Nelson and South Canterbury. Finished timber products are dispatched out again to customers around New Zealand and to Lyttelton Port for export.
The sawmill’s geographic isolation means that it is four or more hours’ drive from many of its suppliers, port and customers, so logistics and freight costs can sometimes be a challenge. But Director Craig Dawson says that having the right people on the team makes all the difference.
“We have good relationships with our suppliers as well as an excellent team who produce a great product – that’s what makes it possible for us to be successful despite the extra effort involved due to our location.”