Imagine this: You are slogging along a muddy track. It’s cold, the drizzling rain has carried on for most of the day, and now the wind is starting to howl. What would you want right now more than anything? Some sanctuary from the elements perhaps?
Well, if you are hiking in New Zealand your chances are pretty damn good that you are close to some shelter!
The backcountry hut system in New Zealand is one of the best in the world. Unrivalled in its scope and number, nowhere else will you find such a fantastic collection of huts ripe for a night of blissful protection and peace.
WHAT ARE NEW ZEALAND'S BACKCOUNTRY HUTS?
Starting off as simple shelters for hunters taking care of the growing introduced deer problem in New Zealand, they were soon maintained for recreational use with some growing into large bunkhouses capable of sleeping over 40 occupants.
With over 1400 huts around the country, you can bet the popular trails will have a hut close by.
With roughly 950 owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the rest privately maintained, its up to us to keep using them and keeping them clean to ensure they are there for the future. It’s not just a place to sleep, its a connection to New Zealand’s rich history.
WHAT DO HUTS PROVIDE AND HOW MUCH ARE THEY?
Not all huts are equal. Some can vary from small, basic, 2 person bivvy shelters and others to the large 40 person mammoths mentioned earlier. On serviced huts, that is, they often have a volunteer ‘hut warden’ looking after the place, you can expect to find the following:
◘ Shelter from the outside
◘ Basic mattresses
◘ A source of water
◘ A drop toilet
◘ A cooking area
◘ A fireplace
◘ Some huts will have a radio as well
What you will NOT find in a New Zealand hut:
◘ A cleaner to clean up after you
◘ Flushing toilets
◘ Toilet paper & soap
◘ A chef cooking food (like some huts in the european alps)
◘ Rubbish facilities
Backcountry huts are paid for with either hut tickets or with a hut pass. Tickets cost $5.00 NZD for a single hut ticket. Backcountry huts require 1 ticket while serviced huts require 3. A hut pass can be a great option when staying for longer periods or you plan on using a ton of huts. Great walk huts are separate and are more expensive ($32-54).
Some huts require booking so be sure to check each hut on the DOC website before starting your hike. This also varies to the season.
See HERE for more information.
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THE COMMON ETIQUETTE FOR STAYING IN HUTS
Many people may be confused at some of the common rules and expectations when staying in one of New Zealand’s amazing huts. Here’s a rundown of all you need to know.
► Start by taking the right gear!
Don’t be that person that needs to borrow basic equipment! Seriously, make sure you have what you need and are prepared.
► Take your shoes/boots off at door
Muddy or dirty shoes make the hut floor unpleasant for everyone and creates more work in cleaning up. Consider carrying a thick pair of socks for walking around the hut in. Or bring some lightweight sandals.
► Take wet clothing off at door
Like shoes, wet floors are also unpleasant! Most huts have racks to hang your wet gear.
► Beds are first come, first served
It’s perfectly OK to throw your bedding on a unused mattress. Its now yours until you leave. Never use more than one mattress per person.
► Never move anyone's stuff
Self explanatory I think. Especially not off a mattress if they have reserved it.
► If beds are all taken, you sleep on the floor
Come late or when its too busy and all the beds are taken… you will sleep on the floor. Start with the ‘out of the way’ places in the hut. Its important to show some courtesy and consideration here and not set up until everyone has gone to bed. If you don't like it, bring a tent and sleep outside!
► If the floor is taken, you sleep outside
It’s important to bring a tent for this reason on popular overnight hikes in busy periods. If there is no more floor room, you sleep outside. The exception to this rule is bad weather where it could be dangerous to stay outside. You then sleep on a chair if the floor is taken. Check with the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office if you are unsure of either the weather forecast or how busy a hut is.
► Tidy your own mess
That means cleaning your area after cooking and making sure the table, chair and floor are clean after using them. Don’t leave food scraps around as mice love to move into huts.
► Cook with the window open and never cook on a wooden table
There have been huts that have burnt down (including fatalities) from people cooking on the wooden tables. Always cook in the designated area which is usually a stainless steel bench. Make sure to open windows to avoid carbon monoxide buildup which is undetectable and lethal.
► Sweep and tidy before leaving
It’s common courtesy to give the floor a sweep if you are the last person out the door. This only takes a moment in small huts and in larger huts you can ask the group leaving before you to give a quick hand if you are hiking solo. The more everybody keeps things clean while in the hut the less work there is for one person to do.
► Keep bedding stored upright
Keeping the mattresses upright when not in use firsty gives them a chance to air out and secondly gives mice less chance to make their bedding in there.
► Keep your bags and items organised
Don’t keep your belongings strewn all over the place. Keep your bags in spaces provided or just make sure you aren’t taking up much room. Avoid scattering all your cooking items over the benches. Keep it neat and tidy.
► Tear a few sheets of your toilet paper instead of taking the whole roll
This a lesser known hygiene practice. Just take what you need (plus backup) and leave the roll in the hut. It’ll be good for your health and other people. Imagine if you keep lending the roll to your friends who take the whole roll like you do...
► If you snore...
Maybe give a heads up to your neighbours and a ‘sorry’ in advance. Maybe even carry some extra ear plugs to hand out. And perhaps get that snoring issue looked at as well.
► Keep noise to minimum
Consider your fellow hut dwellers. Be quiet when the sun goes down and keep noise down in general. Many climbers need to do alpine starts and go to bed in the early afternoon. Be mindful of who else is in the hut and how they feel about noise.
► Fires only in designated areas
Always read the fire rules for each hut. Use the burners and fuel provided.
► Replace wood from outside
It’s another known courtesy to replace used fuel from the outside store or find some more to replace it.
THE HUT ETIQUETTE EVERYONE SHOULD LEARN BUT FEW KNOW
The lesser known courtesies of hut etiquette are becoming rarer in our busy, fast paced worlds. People are caring less about each other and often forget basic manners let alone thinking ahead. The following are tips that will get you admiration from the old timers and respect from the rest of the hut.
Please, let’s keep the hut etiquette going strong!
► If getting up early the next day, pack the night before and be quiet in the morning!
It’s amazing how many people are oblivious to this. Packing the night before not only helps you get going in the morning, it makes it enjoyable for those staying in the hut. In mountaineering huts, you will probably get an earful if you fail this one anyway!
► Make a tired traveller a cup of tea!
This is often done in remote huts, like the mountaineering huts in the mountains. But you can do this anytime! If you spot the tired party from a ways off, when they get closer, make them a tea or even just get the water boiling for them. They will appreciate it and so will you if the tables were turned! Nothing gets everyone in a good mood than some welcoming love! You’ll also be instant friends!
► Keep water sources pure at all costs!
In remote huts which don’t have water tank taps, always use provided dipper and not your bottle. Water sources are easily contaminated. Whole huts have fallen ill when one person didn’t use the dipper. Keep the water pure!
► Make new people feel at home by being welcoming and friendly
Often forgotten is the feeling of hut ownership you start to develop once settled in. The longer your stay the worse it gets. Its that feeling of being annoyed when new people arrive. Its an extension of what we feel at home if someone were to move in. Its normal to feel this, but not OK to show it.
Remember to be welcoming when newcomers arrive. Be friendly and smile. Show them where they can make their bed and where everything is if they haven't been there before. This is especially true in huts without wardens. Starting off on the right foot with the people in the hut is a great way to keep things civil and polite. Plus, you'll make friends straight away!
HUTS ARE FOR EVERYONE TO ENJOY
Whether it’s your first time or you are a seasoned veteran, New Zealand backcountry huts are a welcome sight after a hard days walk. Providing shelter from the harsh weather and terrain, we can be thankful for the amazing work volunteers and the Department of Conservation, as well as all the private hut owners, do in keeping the spirit of adventure alive for everyone to enjoy in comfort.
So show some hut etiquette next time you visit a hut, think about your hut mates, and keep the traditions going!