In this article I would like to talk about how to properly use the tramping huts, which are scattered all across New Zealand’s backcountry. There are a number of things that you should know in order to fully enjoy your stay at the hut, and also to leave it in a good condition. I decided to write this article because I wish I had this information before my first tramp in New Zealand.
Before continuing to the actual theme of this article, I’ll just stop for a moment, and explain a little about what the backcountry hut is. This paragraph is intended for all the people who never tramped in New Zealand before, and are not familiar with New Zealand’s backcountry huts.
A hut is a wooden cottage built on a tramping track. People hiking the track use the hut as a shelter to spend the night or wait for the bad weather to pass. Huts vary in sizes and may contain anywhere from 6 to 40 people (and sometimes even more). Huts usually have mattresses to sleep on, a stove to heat the hut, and a drinking water which is collected from the rain falling on the roof of the hut. Huts are usually built on tramping tracks at such distances that it would take an average tramper about six (more or less) hours to hike from one hut to another.
Now I’ll start with the actual theme, beginning with more obvious things and proceeding to the less obvious but not less important.
1. When arriving at the hut always fill in your name and tramping route in the log journal. This is important in case of emergency, and since a weather in New Zealand can be highly unpredictable, you never know when your journal entry might save your life. If you get lost, it will be much easier for the search party to track your movement in the outdoors and eventually to find you.
2. Don’t enter the hut with your dirty tramping boots on. It is very convenient to carry with you a light thongs or slippers so you can wear them inside the hut.
3. Huts have no electricity, so you will have to use your flashlight when it gets dark. But much more pleasant is to use candles. In some huts you will find candles, and in some you won’t, but in almost any hut you will find a candle holders, so if you prepare in advance and take with you a couple of candles, they will make your after dark hours in the hut very cozy. Be careful with the candles and always place them in the candle holders – always remember that huts are built from wood! Always extinguish the candles before going to sleep.
4. This one is very important. Remember that the water supply in the hut comes from the rain. Rain water is collected from the roof of the hut and stored in big plastic containers. If there was a relative long dry period (may be as short as three days) prior to your arrival at the hut, you may not have any drinking water! Think that before you, during that dry period other people visited the hut and used the water. So always carry extra drinking water with you, or a water filter if you know that a hut is located near a stream or a lake. Boiling water for drinking purposes on your portable stove is a very bad option – you must have extra gas for this purpose, and you also will have to wait for water to cool down before you can drink it.
5. Many huts have stoves for heating, and they also have a firewood for that purpose. Here is the thing – in many huts you will find a firewood and a coal. A firewood is used to START a fire and then you should put a coal into the stoves. Coal burns longer and gives more heat, and this is why its there. Don’t finish all the wood and leave the coal intact! To start a fire use the smallest pieces of wood you can find and then gradually add bigger ones, and finally when you have a good fire put in first portion of coal, and then you need only to put more coal.
6. Don’t burn or put plastic wraps (from food or other stuff) inside the stoves! I can’t tell you how many times I had to take this garbage out from the stove before starting a fire. Please take all your rubbish (garbage) with you.
7. It is useful to carry a rope with you. When you come wet into a hut and want to dry your clothes and other stuff before the next day’s tramp a rope can be very handy. Not all the huts have hangers for clothes above the stoves.
8. Some huts at peak seasons can get very crowded and there is a chance that you won’t find a bunk and a mattress to sleep on. So if you are going on a popular tramp in the peak season, take a sleeping mat with you so you can put it on the floor in the hut and sleep on it (in your sleeping bag of course).
Thinking of this – always take your sleeping bag with you!
9. Take a toilet paper with you. Though all the huts have pit toilets near them, there is a big chance that you won’t have a toilet paper there.
10. Before leaving the hut, make sure that you leave the hut in the same condition you found it or better. Sweep the floor, and bring some amount of firewood if you used the last of it.
And most important – enjoy your tramp, and tramp safely !
P.S. In this article I didn’t cover one very important aspect of hut use. I fixed this in my second post titled Backcountry Hut Fees