The Mount Somers Track, located in the Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury, is a 26km circuit track for intermediate to advanced walkers and trampers. It is a popular track for families, with several different routes giving options for day trips, single overnight trips, or the full circuit 2-night experience.
There are two serviced huts on the route; the 26-bed Woolshed Creek Hut and the 19-bed Pinnacles Hut. Both facilities are tended by a lead hut warden over the summer months, supported by an active group of volunteer wardens who provide additional compliance and maintenance checks year-round.
It is well known amongst the tramping community that DOC huts traditionally operate under a ‘first come, first served’ bed-allocation system; while no one is ever turned away in bad weather, arriving to an actual bed was not always a sure thing. Mt Somers is no exception, with the huts being frequently over capacity at peak times.
Keen to provide walkers with the certainty of a bed at the end of the day, both huts created an online profile on DOC’s booking system and implemented the ‘book-before-you-go’ approach on 1 October 2019. Walkers are now required to book and pay for their accommodation before beginning their excursion.
Senior Ranger Murray Thomas, DOC Geraldine, has already seen an astonishing 173% increase in bookings for November, when compared to visitor numbers for November 2018. “Woolshed Creek Hut is nearly fully booked for every Saturday until Christmas,” he said, “and Pinnacles Hut is at half capacity right now, for the same period. There is still plenty of space on weekdays for both however”. Of the two entrances, the track from the Sharplin Falls carpark to the Pinnacles Hut is a harder trail, with more family groups opting for the easier Woolshed Creek carpark to Woolshed Creek Hut route.
“The ability to pre-book a bed provides certainty for families”, said Chris Dyson, Supervisor DOC Geraldine, “Walkers are able to pace themselves and don’t take unnecessary health and safety risks trying to be the first to the hut. And with access to the daily manifesto, we can respond more quickly if walkers do not arrive as expected”.
In the short time the huts have been bookable online, the Geraldine based staff have noticed other benefits emerging. Trails are becoming less overcrowded as people forward plan their trips based on bed availability. Record-keeping of visitor numbers is more accurate and compliance tracking and management is much easier. Administration tasks related to the collection of cash-based payments have also reduced, however not without some consequence.
Holders of the DOC pass and ticket products have mistakenly assumed that their pre-purchase provides them with a guaranteed bed, without any notification to the facility of their intention. Staff at the Geraldine DOC office have been proactive in managing this expectation, with signage promoting the requirement to pre-book posted at each carpark.
Murray and Chris are enthusiastic about the change, “overall, it has been a positive change for us, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out”.
For more information about the Mt Somer’s volunteer hut warden programme, check the DOC website.