Don’t lose your torch down the long drop

Department of Conservation —  21/01/2014

Community Relations Ranger Clare Duston writes about proper etiquette when visiting backcountry huts.

Many of us are scared of the unknown. Not always because of any danger, but because we just don’t know what to expect, how to do it, or the etiquette around it. These can be things as simple as going to a really fancy restaurant, catching a bus in an unfamiliar city, or staying in a hut. Staying in a hut is a highlight of an outdoor experience.

Boyle Flat Hut, Lake Sumner.

Boyle Flat Hut, Lake Sumner. Photo by Jon Noble | CC BY-SA 2.0.

They may not be quite as luxurious as your own home; you don’t get a hot shower and they definitely don’t have coffee machines, but when you arrive after a long walk or in the middle of the pouring rain to find that someone has already lit the fire that hut feels like a palace.

It is true that for most huts, you cannot book a bed, although most Great Walk huts have a booking system. For all other DOC huts you can buy hut tickets from any DOC office, and they don’t expire so can be used any time in any part of New Zealand.

Sunrise at Pinnacles Hut, Mt Somers.

Sunrise at Pinnacles Hut, Mt Somers. Photo by Mike Goren | CC BY 2.0.

Bed allocation happens on a first come first served basis – the first one in gets the best bed. It is acceptable practice to place your pack or sleeping bag on a bunk to bag a space. It’s definitely not acceptable to removes someone else’s stuff because you like that bunk better than yours. However, I am definitely not recommending that you walk as fast as you can just so you can get to the hut first and get a bed – it would be a great shame to miss the scenery along the way. Remember that most of the time you are in the hut, you will have your eyes closed, sleeping. Unless there are snorers – earplugs are very small and very light so take them! If there are more people than beds, don’t worry, it can be nice and cosy on the floor by the fire.

Bunks at North Arm Hut, Stewart Island.

Bunks at North Arm Hut, Stewart Island

Hut etiquette basically revolves around common sense and consideration. If you are arriving late or are leaving early, be as quiet as you can. Boots come off at the door, as well as wet raincoats. Clean up after yourself – last person out of the hut in the morning sweeps the floor. If you have a fire, collect some more wood to replace what you have burnt. Conserve wood and water.

Long drops are not the highlight of staying in a hut, but they are necessary, and often have a great view. Take your own toilet paper as it’s not usually provided. My big tip with long drops – don’t drop your torch down the hole.

Toilet facilities at Waitawheta Hut near Tauranga.

Toilets at Waitawheta Hut near Tauranga. Photo by Julie Starr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The great thing about huts is that they are warm and dry when it is stormy outside. You spend time with interesting people from all over the world, who are there for the same reason as you – to get away for a while and unwind in our amazing wild places.

So go on, I dare you – stay in a DOC hut this summer and discover the magic!

Enjoy a backcountry hut experience this summer by finding your ideal hut break on the DOC Website.

One response to Don’t lose your torch down the long drop


    “If there are more people than beds, don’t worry, it can be nice and cosy on the floor by the fire.”

    Thanks, Clare. Balconies of many huts also make nice sleeping areas if you have a reasonable sleeping bag, and if the weather suits I’ll often drag a mattress outside even when a hut’s mostly empty. (Hut mattresses often beat thermarests hands down. 🙂 )

    I’m tempted to take a print-out of this with me for the next time I run into a group who’ve decided to claim a hut as their own, and try to turn people away on the grounds that they’ve already filled up each of the beds. (I’ve no problem with larger groups walking to a hut, even filling them up, but trying to turn people away when they also turn up is just bad.)

    That said, it’s even more of a safety thing than good etiquette to ensure you have your own portable shelter regardless of the itinerary of huts. Expecting a 6 bunk hut won’t already be filled with 14 people hanging out the windows doesn’t always work. 🙂