Tramping nappies – a sign of the times?

 —  19/11/2009
Some of you may have come across this story from the Southland Times last week about imitation DOC signs being placed on the Routeburn Track in Southland.

I had a bit of a laugh, and (aside from its content), thought the sign followed our Outdoor Sign Manual rather well! But as well as being a bit of a joke, there is some seriousness to the matter. One of the fake signs directed people towards an “effluent station” up a steep bluff, and as DOC Wakatipu programme manager Richard Kennett pointed out, this could be dangerous for those visitors who don’t have a strong grasp of English, or also for those who don’t visit the outdoors very often.

One of the fake signs spotted on the Routeburn Track. Photo: Southland Times

DOC uses signage to provide visitors with all kinds of information: directions on how to get to places, on-site orientation, hazard, safety and regulatory messages, all of which are intended to help visitors enjoy the vast array of great DOC-managed areas around the country. 

Signs come in all shapes and sizes. Photos: Nick Fisentzidis and Fiona Colquhoun

DOC signs are very easily spotted with their green and gold colourings and distinctive logo. So although they may seem like a harmless joke, the consequences of fake signs like the ones on the Routeburn may end up being more than just a laugh.

Fake sign, real issue: getting rid of waste.

From the ‘minimising your impact’ side of things, in the past rubbish was either burnt in hut fireplaces or buried in rubbish pits near huts. Thankfully these practices have been abandoned, and now visitors must follow the mantra ‘pack it in-pack it out’. 

And rather than using ‘tramping nappies’, check out the poo pots developed in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park for all your outdoor sanitary needs.

So next time you’re bashing around in the hills, take a moment to read the signs you come across, and if they mention anything about bodily functions in the backcountry, maybe take them with a grain of salt.

Which is a better way to get your point across? A fake sign or this… Photo: Sue Wilkins

6 responses to Tramping nappies – a sign of the times?


    Yahoo — I have a reader! Thanks for the nice comments. (I’m afraid I took a while to respond as I either forgot to tick the Notify-by-email box, or it isn’t working well for me. Probably the former knowing me.)

    Sadly we didn’t get to see much of Vietnam, just a few short days in Hanoi and it was mostly a city visit. Definitely a place to go back to, though, now that we have a better idea of what to expect and how to get around.


    Hi Mike,

    Cheers for you comments and photos (that Ruahine one is a classic…), love your blog too by the way. I’ve been checking it out for about a year or so now, great descriptive trip reports.

    Indeed you have to take the good with the bad in regards to feedback from the public, its swings and roundabouts really. For every nasty note in a hut book there is usually one saying thanks for the quality services provided! And really what it comes down to is regardless of the delivery, any kind of feedback from the public is integral for us to make sure we provide facilities and experiences that encourage people to get out in the hills more often.

    You are right about the signage in huts too, boiling water and carbon monoxide warning signs are a mandatory requirement in our Hut Service Standards.

    I also see in your blog you’ve recently visited South East Asia, my two earlier posts are about my experiences in two Vietnamese national parks during August this year (we unfortunately didn’t get to Laos, but there’s always next time…).



    Oops, I guess image inserts are disabled, but the Aorangis thing is visible at and the DOC sign is visible at


    Yeah, I’ve generally found that flicking an email to someone usually works really well once it’s gotten through the system and arrived at the right person. (I’ve only had one exception so far, but it wasn’t too important.) Sometimes I think it’s crazy what you guys have to put up with, but I guess it comes with being in an organisation that has to balance massive amounts of conflicting interests, plus the odd moron thrown in here and there. I found a great example in the Aorangis. (Hopefully the image inserts okay):

    My favourite DOC sign, which I’m fairly sure is a real one, is this gem that people see shortly after entering the Ruahines near Rangiwahia.

    Some of the signs around huts seem excessive at times, eg. the ever-present signs that remind people about how the water’s probably fine but you should really treat it if you have any doubts, even in the more remote regions. I can appreciate that they probably have to exist given the legal aspect though.


    Hi Johnny,

    Yeah it’s a bit of an extreme way to make a point isn’t it!

    For those that way inclined, how about trying the usual methods of communication before you reach for that shotgun…



    I like the last sign that has had a volley of shot gun fire…