If you’re thinking of coming to New Zealand and getting out and enjoying some of our fantastic national parks there are a few thing’s you might want to know about the unwritten laws of hut etiquette.
First, let’s have a rundown of what our huts are like so you have a better idea of why some of these rules exist.
Huts in New Zealand range from small two bunk affairs to colossal 50 bunk huts with a live-in hut warden, solar lights and gas heating. Thankfully the majority of the huts you’ll encounter will have a bit more character than these monsters of the mountains.
As a rule Kiwi huts contain a bunk room or two, a communal cooking and eating area, which doubles as a living area, and an outside toilet, usually a long drop but there are flush toilets out there for people who dislike the after smell of about 1000 other people that have been there before them.
Water for drinking is usually found at an outside tap that is fed from a water tank that is normally filled with rain water or filled via a local stream. Please note that the water from these sources is almost always safe to drink without treatment and so is the majority of water from streams you’ll pass on the way.
Now for a few simple rules that may make your stay in one of our mountain palaces a peaceful and harmonious experience.
Rule 1. Boots. It’s a general rule that your boots are removed before you enter a hut to help keep the floor clean and dry and keep some clutter off the floor. Its also bad form to get up at the crack of dawn and clomp around in a hut full of sleeping hikers causing an uncomfortable rustling of sleeping bags and a few profanity’s muttered as tired hikers are roused from their sleep by your impression of a herd of elephants!
Rule 2. Keeping with the noise theme – Snoring. Ah yes, the ever present human interpretation of a Mack truck going down a steep hill with it’s airbrakes on!!! There’s not much you can do about this but if you know you’re a snoring machine you may want to consider bringing a tent or be prepared for a few dirty looks in the morning. But if you’re like me and are pretty sure you don’t snore a pair of earplugs are one of the best investments you’ll ever make. A couple of dollars spent at the local pharmacy on some of these wonderful inventions will enable you to sleep peacefully as the rest of the hut occupants have one of the worst sleeps imaginable.
Rule 3. Noise seems to be a recurring theme in these rules but when you have up to 20 strangers sharing the same space, the chance for a bit of friction is high. Supermarket bags. The people that invented these things obviously didn’t think about the fact that at 6am in a backcountry hut when a fellow hiker is packing up their gear and rustling one of these plastic abominations they are creating a noise that can pierce even the deepest slumber. So please, try and find a supermarket bag replacement or pack up your plastic bags the night before so you can make a peaceful exit from the hut and leave the rest of your fellow hikers fast asleep as you make your early morning getaway.
Rule 4. Now on serious note. 99% of our huts require you to carry your own gas cooker and as most of us enjoy a hot brew and a steaming plate of hot food for dinner, a cooker is a must have piece of equipment. A few simple rules will ensure your safety, and the safety of the rest of the people in the hut. Try and keep the area around you cooker free of combustible materials and try to use the metal topped benches provided in the hut. If you have a liquid fuel stove and it needs refueling please do this outside and away from any naked flames. The same rule applies to canister gas stoves as well.
Please ensure you have adequate ventilation whilst cooking especially in some of our smaller huts as there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if there is not enough fresh air whilst your cooker is in use.
Make sure you are aware of the location of the fire extinguishes and the fire exits provided. Not all of our huts are provided with fire extinguishes so please be careful when using stoves or the fire places provided.
Rule 5. Mess. The simple practice of keeping all of your gear in a nice neat pile or just a pile will keep the hut nice and tidy and ensure that during your early morning start you don’t leave any important pieces of equipment behind, like sleeping bags (I have seen that one happen before).
Rule 6. The Department of Conservation has been kind enough to fit out a lot of our huts with pot belly stoves or fire places and in some cases where there is hut that has a high number of visitors, DOC will supply fire wood for the hut. Where the wood for the fire is retrieved from the surrounding forest it is important that we use only the dead wood on the forest floor.
These are just a few of the unwritten rules regarding the use of New Zealand’s backcountry huts. These huts are an amazing resource for everyone to use so please enjoy them and enjoy your experience in New Zealand’s National Parks.
Just one more thing, please pay you hut fees by purchasing your hut tickets from the local Department of Conservation office. Most huts are only NZ$10 a night and if you are going to be staying in New Zealand for a while it may be worth while buying a hut pass which gives you unlimited hut nights for only NZ$95 a year, which is great value, and the money from these fees goes towards hut maintenance.