New Zealand Hut Culture

Brewster Hut

Brewster Hut

For those wondering about what it’s like in these backcountry hostels that dot New Zealand’s landscape: look no further.

(Okay, maybe look a little further, if you’re really interested…)

The beauty of tramping here–backpacking, in New Zealand speak–is that you so rarely have to carry a tent or sleeping pad. (The exception is when you’re a lowbagger like me who doesn’t want to pay for the $34-$54 Great Walk huts and instead opts for camping with the sandflies for a mere $18.)

Your load thus lightened, you’re free to replace it with extra food, games, and maybe even a Gatorade bottle or two full of wine, if you’re so inclined.

Angelus Hut

Angelus Hut

There are a few types of huts in New Zealand, ranging from serviced and spotless to basic (i.e. big lodge to shed of questionable integrity). Here’s a snapshot of the differences in what the range offers:

Big Lodges:
(You’ll find these on Great Walks, easy walks adjacent to Great Walks, popular locations like Angelus Lake, and occasionally inexplicable spots like the 36-bunk Carrington Hut that is never close to full.)

– Flush toilets (seriously)

– Vast expanses of clean aluminum counters

– Gleaming wooden benches and tables

– Well-constructed clothes-drying apparatus

– Wood/coal-fired stove

– Long decks frequently surrendered to sandflies

– Sinks with running water

– A helpful hut warden

– About 20-40 other people dancing around each other making dinner and brushing their teeth.

Sheds:

– Tiny tables, maybe with matching benches but probably not, that have seen better days

– Old photos, magazines, intentions books, and histories of the area littering said tiny tables

– A water barrel outside with a faucet attached, or just the creek or lake nearby

– No heat source except your gas cooking stove

– Long drop pit toilets (BYO toilet paper)

– Mouse poop

– Likely no one but you and your friends.

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

I have to admit I like the sheds better. Not surprising to any of you, probably, given my search for wild.

I’m also biased because I’m not a morning person at ALL, and big huts are not sympathetic environments for non-morning people. For me, the starts of backcountry days are beautifully lazy, involving sleeping in, at least two cups of coffee, a book or a journal, and lots of gazing at gorgeous scenery. (Unless it’s a powder day – give me SOME credit.)

Because you’re sleeping in a room with 10-20 other people in the big lodges (sometimes side by side on one long bunk bed with mattresses lined up literally right next to each other), it’s difficult to sleep in, even with the requisite ear plugs. People are often up before dawn, rustling sleeping bags, organizing packs, and crinkling plastic bags far more than is ever necessary. People are bustling about making breakfast, cleaning up breakfast, crinkling more plastic bags, and putting on smelly hiking shoes as soon as the sun comes up–even if they only have a 4-hour walk to the next hut.

Why? I don’t know. Apparently they’re morning people.

For your enlightenment, allow me to share some universal hut rules that I’ve learned, applicable to both big lodge and shed situations:

– ALWAYS remove your hiking shoes before heading in, and if possible, leave those smelly beasts as far downwind as humanly possible.

– Unless there are keas. Then don’t leave anything outside if you’d like to be wearing it again.

– Go to sleep when it gets dark in the big lodges, because everyone wakes up at dawn. (Disregard if you’re in a shed – you’re welcome to have dance parties and play cards all night long.)

Caples Hut

Mid-Caples Hut

– If you know you’re a snorer, maybe pull your mattress into the kitchen and spare your bunk mates the trouble.

–  If you forget earplugs, you’re screwed. (See above.)

And there you have it. Everything you ever wanted know about hut culture. (Or so you think. I already have three more blogs lined up on this subject.)

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