Friday, 26 July 2019

My 2020 Te Araroa Trail sections

My tramping plan for spring/summer/autumn of 2019/2020

I am in the process of planning my 2019/2020 tramping season, this is a task I do every year to give me something to aspire towards. It is a real mix: day walks, overnight trips, Great Walks and Te Araroa Trail sections. The plan will add another 300 odd kilometers towards the completion of my Te Araroa Trail section walk. 

Key Summit, Fiordland National Park....walking in December 2019

Obviously this is all tentative as the weather will determine if these trips go ahead. Some of the early trips may also be affected by the lambing season (August-October). The 2019/2020 season will be...beautiful sunny skies, warm winds and not ex tropical storms and torrential rain...I look forward to this being a great tramping season.

What TA Section shall I walk?

I'm planning on walking the following TA Sections this year, possibly more if the weather holds out into May/April. There were a number of NOBO trekkers still on trail as late as July in 2019 late starters.  2020 is predicted to be a La Nina year so it will probably be wetter/cloudier/more stormy on the east coast of the South Island and all of these sections have multiple un-bridged river crossings.  

Morison Footbridge: start/finish of the Mingha-Deception Track

All these sections are in the South is just easier for me to get to the start/finish of those sections. I'm also trying to avoid the bubble of TA trekkers moving through the South Island by tramping later in the season. 

January 2020
Arthurs Pass NP, NOBO, Greyney's Shelter to Goat Pass Hut/Morrison Footbridge, mid Jan, multiday trip (also TA Section)
Rakuira/Stewert Island, Rakuria Track, 28 Jan-2 Feb, Great Walk: multiday trip (also TA Section)

February 2020
Lake Summer FP, NOBO, Harpers Pass Track-mid February, TA Section, multiday trip (5 days)

March 2020
Nelson Lakes NP/St James Conservation Area, SOBO,  D’Urville-Waiau Valley Trip: D'Urville Valley- Moss Pass- Blue Lake- Waiau Pass- Waiau Valley- Hanmer via St James Cycleway, early March, Partial TA Section, multiday trip (7-10 day trip?). This is my major tramping trip for the coming season, crossing two significant passes and a hard couple of days walking up the remote D'Urville Valley.

St James Range, St James Walkway:view down the Waiau Valley towards Hanmer

April 2020
Hakatere Conservation Park, SOBO/NOBO, one of: Rakaia River- Rangitata River or Rangitata- Lake Tekapo or Lake Tekapo- Lake Ohau- all TA Sections, multiday trip (5 days)

May 2020
Marlborough, NOBO, Pelorous Bridge to Anikiwa, multiday trip (2-3 days); or
Craigeburn FP, SOBO, Hamilton Hut to Rakaia River, multiday trip (3-4 days)

Hoping to visit Lake Tekapo in 2020
I am attempting to get into top trail condition by the end of the current year so I will be ready to tackle the sections outlined. It will be interesting to see how far I progress...come back soon for updates!!!

Monday, 3 June 2019

What will you find in a backcountry hut...

Backcountry huts: A guide for new trampers...

One of the unique things you will encounter tramping in New Zealand are the DOC huts which are such a feature of outdoor life here. We have 900+ back country huts scattered around the country which can be used for a very minimal charge.

That first tantalising glimpse of your home for the night...Magdalen Hut

Your average Kiwi tramper will probably stay in huts for 90% of the time when tramping, the other 10% will be camping. This is the total reverse of Europe and the U.S where you will spend most of your non walking time in a tent.

A good hut has an awesome location...Nina Hut, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve

That is a lot of hut life!

 I don't know about you but huts are one of the things I most enjoy about tramping.

A breakdown of DOC hut amenities

I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the amenities DOC huts contain as well as discussing some of the rules of good hut etiquette before you start your tramping adventures.

A Living Space

  Most of the larger huts will have some sort of living area, what this entails varies from hut to hut. Generally this will consist of a table(s) of some description with wooden benches, a cooking bench (see below), heating source (see below) and possibly some shelving space. 

Living/Cooking space, Te Matawai Hut, Tararua FP

 If we look at a specific hut, Boyle Flat Hut on the St James Walkway we can see what the hut contains in the way of living space. This is one of my favourite huts, I have been here several times now and I have always enjoyed my stay.

As you can see below there are several tables with bench seating, there is also a very nice bench seat under the window. There are a series of drying wires across the living space for trampers to dry their gear on.

Living area in Boyle Flat Hut, St James Conservation Area

In this photo we can see the integrated gun rack that has been built for this hut, there is a book shelf with some reading material and some information panels on the walls.

Looking towards the bunk room in Boyle Flat Hut

  The other side of the room has a cooking bench along the wall, with shelf units above and below it. The sleeping area at Boyle Flat consists of two separate 10 bunk rooms. This hut was built by the Walkways Commission back in the early 1980's so it has a much higher level of amenity than your more typical 4 or 6 bunk hut.

Other side of Boyle Flat Hut living area

Compare Boyle Flat to the classic NZFS 6 bunk Hackett Hut in Mt Richmond FP. The New Zealand Forestry Service (NZFS) was the precursor to DOC, they had generic 2, 4, 6 and 8 bunk hut designs which they scattered wildly about the country. A NZFS hut has the same amenities as a larger hut but in a much more compact form.

 Generally these smaller huts are an open room design, they will not have a table but will still have a cooking bench, heating and shelving in the living area.

Entrance way for Hackett Hut, Mt Richmond FP

Hackett Hut Interior

Sleeping areas

Many of the DOC huts were built as overnight shelter for NZFS forestry workers, deer cullers and musterers so of course they needed sleeping facilities. 

Some of the older huts still have the original canvas/burlap sacking bunks which was the standard format up till the late 1960's. This consists of a piece of canvas stretched over poles to make a hammock like bunk. 

If you have never had the doubtful pleasure of sleeping on a sacking bunk just let me say...they are damn uncomfortable!

Canvas sacking bunks, West Harper least your not on the dirt floor!

Far more common are huts with mattresses and bunks/sleeping platforms. A sleeping platform is one large expanse of wood or concrete which you top with the supplied mattresses. This is the most economical use of space as 10 people can fit on a sleeping platform that will only hold 6 individual bunks.

Sleeping platform in the new (2014) Anne Hut

Let us look once again at the facilities at Boyle Flat Hut.  Boyle Flat is a 20 bunker, i.e. it has space for 20 people to sleep inside. In this case the sleeping areas consist of two bunk rooms separated by a wall. The bunks in this particular hut are of the "sleeping platform" type and can accommodate 10 people per room in two layers of five.

Sleeping platforms at Boyle Flat Hut...five on the bottom and five atop

Bunks are individual spaces, just big enough for the standard DOC foam mattresses to fit on and are more common with huts built after the mid 1970's. All DOC huts can be partially characterised by the number of bunks supplied: for example Anne Hut is a 24 bunk hut, whereas tiny Harpers Pass Bivouac is a 2 bunk.

Individual bunks in Anti Crow Hut, Arthur's Pass NP

Some huts will also have you sleeping on the floor, an example being Lagoon Saddle Hut in Craigieburn FP. There is a combined table/sleeping platform for one person in the hut, the other two residents sleep on the floor on the mattresses provided.

Lagoon Saddle Shelter, 1 person sleeping space (2 more on floor)

When you leave in the morning you need to stack the mattresses on their sides in an orderly fashion, this protects them from dust, vermin and mildew.

Nicely stacked mattresses in Christopher Hut

A note concerning bunk reservations...

 If you are hiking with a group and arrive piecemeal, good hut etiquette dictates that you cannot reserve a bunk for your mate....they need to be there in person to claim a bunk.

 Hut floors, decks and verandas make great back ups if the bunks are all taken and this perfectly allowable (I have slept on a hut table a couple of times...). You can always sleep in your tent and only use the hut for cooking, socialising etc if that proves necessary.

Packhorse Hut, Banks Peninsula, 10 bunks...awesome views!

Share the hut: if there are 6 of you in a 6 bunk hut and a group of 4 arrive move over, make room for them and welcome them in.

This is how a real kiwi tramper a real kiwi tramper!!


There is a trend in the newer huts to include both verandas and decks to maximise the usable living space.

Decks are a welcome addition to huts, as they provide space to sit in the sun, dry out gear and generally stop mud from entering the hut itself. There is nothing finer of an afternoon than sitting on a sunny sand fly free deck supping a hot brew.

Anne Hut, St James walkway: the wrap around deck look...

Clinton Forks Hut, Milford Track....look at that monster of a veranda/deck...

Verandas are often built onto existing huts to provide a place for hanging wet gear out of the rain as well as providing storage areas for firewood. They range in size from small alcoves right through to fully enclosed secondary rooms.

Boyle Flat Hut, open deck and enclosed veranda with sinks and water tap


Inside the fully enclosed Lakehead Hut veranda, Nelson Lakes NP

 Water sources

With some exceptions every DOC hut will have one of two types of water source: a water tank or a nearby stream or river.

Your source of water, the Robinson Rive, Victoria Forest Park

The vast majority of huts will still get their water from a nearby stream or river but this is changing. With climate change, drier weather and more people visiting back country areas these water sources either disappear or become vectors for sickness.

The solution of course is rain water tanks....

Boyle Flat Hut, it has a stream fed water tank

Increasingly DOC huts are provided with a rainwater tank, these take rainwater from the hut gutters and store it in large capacity tanks. This is especially prevalent in low precipitation areas like the Richmond Range and at those huts atop ridge lines or on drier east facing hills.

Magdalen Hut, brand new rain water tank next to hut

 All new huts are built to this standard and more and more older ones are having them added as maintenance is done on the huts. Eventually all of the huts maintained by DOC will get the majority of their water from rain.

Packhorse Hut, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury....water tank is only water source!!!

NB: Not all of the huts are owned & maintained by DOC, a lot are owned by 4 W/D/hunting/skiing/mountaineering clubs and increasing numbers are being maintained by volunteers.

Water is a precious resource please conserve it: take only what you need.

A note on water tanks: 

Just because a hut has a water tank is no guarantee that it will have any water in it. If the hut is in an area of high use, the tap was left open or it is in a dry eastern area then it may well be empty. Every year for the last four years the water tanks in the Richmond Range have dried out before the end of summer. That is why you should always carry spare water with you when on the tops...they are often very dry places.

Hot, dry conditions in the Henry River Valley, St James Conservation Area

Obviously, they are filled by rain so if there is no rain or people use too much then no water. If you are in a valley you will usually find a stream, river or tarn which is your alternate water source. Make sure you filter or treat the water to avoid sickness.

Cooking spaces

  Cooker mishaps are the number two reason back country huts burn down so DOC have provided us with metal cooking benches for our stoves. Please use these, as cooking on one of the wooden tables or the floor of a hut can easily cause a fire.
Small Hut: Magdalen Hut,Lake Sumner FP: the cooking bench

In the newer huts these benches will be stainless steel, generally with a metal splash back on the nearby walls. There will be a window for ventilation and candle holders or solar lighting panels to illuminate the area.

The huts with solar lighting tend to be the Great Walk Huts: Bark Bay and Anchorage in Abel Tasman, Clinton Forks and Mintaro on the Milford are a few examples...

Bark Bay Hut, Abel Tasman NP: it has solar lighting and clearlite panels to increase internal lighting
Mintaro Hut, Milford Track: note the florescent lights on the ceiling

Larger huts will have larger benches to accommodate the bigger groups of visitors. 

Inside a larger hut: Lakehead Hut cooking area, table and bench

In the older huts the bench will be made of zinc covered wood but they provide the same fire protection for the hut.

Some popular huts may have pots, pans, utensils etc. but don't count on this, bring your own.

Hut etiquette note:

Please make sure you have adequate ventilation while using a stove. Solid fuel, white spirit, meths and gas canisters all give off carbon monoxide in use, open a window so it can escape. Be extremely careful when refilling gas bottles or changing canisters as fire is a real risk at that time.

Classic NZFS zinc covered cooking bench, Mid Robinson Hut
Many of the established DOC camp grounds will have a covered shelter where you can cook and hang out. Generally these are set up like a hut: steel/zinc covered bench, picnic table with seating or benches and water supply from tank or stream. If the bugs aren't too bad these are excellent places to mingle with other trampers.

Cooking shelter, Bay of Many Coves, Queen Charlotte Track
Onetahuaiti campsite cooking shelter, Abel Tasman National Park

Fire places/stoves

Most DOC huts will have a fireplace, gas heater or wood burner in them. These are there to provide heating as well as an emergency place to cook. What you wont always get is wood- only the Great Walk and Serviced huts will have a fuel supply- otherwise it is up to you to provide. Fuel can be wood, coal or gas depending on the location.

Example of an open fireplace at West Harper Hut, Craigieburn Range
Firewood waiting to go into the wood shed at Lakehead Hut
A sight to gladden any budding pyromaniacs heart...a full wood shed!

All huts with wood heating will have either an axe (usually chained to the wood shed) or a bow saw for cutting firewood. Please return them to their spot so other trampers can use them in the future.

With axe and saw we get firewood...

...and fire!!!!

 Please don't steal the tools: some day a cold, wet and potentially hypothermic tramper might turn up at that hut and find no means to cut wood for a life saving fire...

Consider your actions!

Extra fuel for the wood burner at Magdalen Hut

Please not put drying wood too close to the fireplace or wood burner, it should really be at least 1-2 feet away from the heat.

Hut etiquette note:

Please do not cut up the furniture, decks, doors etc. and burn it (yes people have done this)...not only is it ridiculous it also the number one way to get off side with fellow trampers. If I turn up at a hut and I see you shoving the last piece of the table into the fire rest assured I will tear you a new one....

What a sight..a totally full woodshed at John Tait Hut

Please do not cut down the 200 year old tree next to the hut....go find some standing dry in the forest and cut it up with the axe or saw provided. Look for standing trees that are dead but not rotting, these will often burn extremely well. Rotten wood WILL NOT burn so please don't gather it up.

Note the standing dead trees surrounding Awapoto Hut in the Abel Tasman National Park

Don't use all the wood, replace the dry wood you use so the next visitors have some.

A rest day at Upper Travers Hut equals lots of firewood cut up

Make sure the fireplace is cleared or at least fully out before you leave. More huts burn down because of careless ash handling than any other cause. Dowse them or put them in the ash barrel if there is one.

Ash barrel at Lakehead Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

As a last resort leave the cooling ashes in the fireplace with the door firmly shut, at least they wont burn down the hut if they are contained.

Nothing like a blazing fire...

Finally, if it is a sweltering 30 degree summer day don't light the fire, it is not necessary. You are just wasting firewood and irritating your hut mates.


Toilet facilities

Ah... a subject dear to the heart of all trampers....toilets!

Facilities with a view...the toilet at the MacKinnon Pass shelter, Milford Track

Almost all of the 900+ DOC huts will have toilet facilities of one sort or another, the quality will depend on popularity of the hut, its age, location and users.

Where there be people there be long drop....

The toilets will range from very basic long drops right through to palatial toilet mansions with flushing toilets, sinks, fresh water, a disco ball and even a supply of paper in some cases.

Most basic toilet...a handy patch of bush...

A "Bog" standard DOC long drop toilet

Better: Slightly more up market facilities, Hawdon Hut, Arthurs Pass NP

Great walk style...fancy flushing toilet block shelters at Bark Bay Hut, Abel Tasman NP

High quality DOC campground toilet block...sweet as bro!!!

Two things to consider:

1.  Bring your own paper as 98% of the DOC facilities will not have any.

2.  USE THE TOILETS! There was a lot of hate for Te Araroa thru hikers in the media several years ago as tales of sordid toilet habits were made public. It seems that some people were "doing their business" outside hut doors and on tracks rather than using the toilets provided.

It was probably not TA walkers but that is who got blamed.

Don't be that guy or gal... if there is a toilet available then bloody well use it!
If you must "s - - t in the woods" do it right and bury your waste at least 100 meters away from water/tracks/huts.

Martins Hut, Longwood Forest...the first/last hut on the Te Araroa Trail

Miscellaneous Hut Gear

Stuff you will commonly find in a DOC Hut:
  • Broom (Hint: You use it to sweep the floor...)
  • Ash bucket for the fire
  • Axe and/or saw for cutting firewood
  • Half brush and shovel
  • A green DOC hut visitors book

Axe and bow saw, Mt Rintoul Hut, Richmond FP

Stuff you might find in a hut but don't rely on it:
  • Buckets/bowls/pots/pans
  • Cleaning materials/soap/dish wash liquid
  • Reading matter..books, newspapers, magazines, bibles, a half set of the Encyclopaedia Britanica..yep in Magdalen Hut in the St James Conservation Area
  • Paper/matches/lighter for starting a fire
  • A pack of cards
  • Spare tramping food left by other visitors...exercise caution if mice/rat activity in the hut!!!

Cleaning materials at Hawdon Hut, Arthurs Pass
     Weird stuff I have found in a hut:
    • an unopened 750ml bottle of excellent red wine (seriously...why didn't you just drink was delicious by the way).
    • A pair of lavender frilly french knickers?
    • a 12 pack of condoms...found near the knickers...???
    • One newish sized 10 boot??????
    • a kiddie paddling pool???????

    Tramping etiquette note: 

    Sex in backcountry huts.....yes it happens...hey what do expect when you have a bunch of mostly young, fit trampers spending a lot of time together in intimate settings. Of course stuff is going to happen. There is nothing wrong with it, if you start feeling hot and heavy for each other who am I to stand in your way.

    BUT...please have a bit of sensibility for the other people around appropriate...if you need some 'together time' dont do so in the middle of the hut with everyone else around you. Especially if children are present...or elderly trampers....or church youth groups. 

    'nough said!


    Use them....don't abuse them!

    Outdoor loving kiwis are justifiably proud of our hut network and we are also very protective of it. We are privileged to be able to use these huts, just imagine how different the New Zealand outdoor experience would be without them.

    East Hawdon Biv, Arthurs Pass NP

    Please remember they are a finite resource: DOC is always strapped for cash so if you damage a hut or burn it down it will probably not be repaired or replaced (Casey Hut in Arthur's Pass is a case in point...).

    The spot marking the burnt down Casey Hut in 2016...

    Please fill in the hut book, DOC maintain these huts based on the number of visitors to them and hut book statistics are their main source of data. No maintenance!

    DOC will not search and destroy you just because you didn't pay your hut fees!!!

    Standard DOC hut visitors book...fill it in!!!

    That said, pay your hut fees........I do, so should you. This includes all kiwi you haven't already paid for them with your taxes, Joe Taxpayer paid for them back in 1971 when the hut was built! A DOC hut pass costs about $100 per year - how many coffees is that: 20!

    Don't be so goddamn cheap!

    Jon on his way to Nina Hut in the Lewis Pass National Reserve

    If in doubt, treat the hut like you would your own home (provided you are not a total slob) thanks very much...