When you’ve gotta poo

Department of Conservation —  06/03/2020

…when visiting and hiking on public conservation land.

We promise poo isn’t our favourite topic to talk about at DOC, but as it happens, we’ve gotta put the word out there to keep the tracks clean — especially when it gets into waterways (ew!) and disrupts the way people experience nature.

Just like when you visit someone’s home, there’s an understood etiquette about where you do and don’t poo.

National parks are home for many native species and are here to be enjoyed by all New Zealanders and our international guests, which means, the track isn’t the right place to go. You wouldn’t poo in a living room (your own or in a home you were a guest).

There are toilets at every DOC hut and campsite, however there aren’t toilets on most tracks and even when they are, they’re usually far apart.

We’d like to think all visitors to public conservation land know to poo in a loo; but if you’re stuck on where to go when you’ve gotta go, here are two options for when there’s no toilet, you’re already on the track, and there’s absolutely no chance you’ll make it.

Toilet at Brod Bay, Kepler Track | Image: Lindsay Young

Preferred Option: Poo in a loo

Before we introduce you to the two options for managing your waste when tramping or on the track, we want to stress the best, no-mess option: to poo in a loo. This means when you’re in the car park all excited for your big adventure, or you’re walking by one of the few toilets out in nature, use the facilities available to you. Every time.

Toilet paper on the Abel Tasman Coast Track | Image: Michelle Bridge

Option A: Dig a hole… but make sure it’s well away from people and water

The next best option if you came prepared (always be prepared!) with a trowel: digging a hole.

But you can’t just dig a hole anywhere. You’ve already walked this far, it’s not too difficult to walk an extra 50m (or about 70 steps), well away from water, tracks and campsites to do your business. Bonus: it’ll be private and you won’t be spreading nasty diseases such as giardia, an infection that can cause diarrhoea, nausea and stomach cramping. This is a huge concern for overnight hikers as many DOC huts and campsites get their water supply from streams. Essentially, you could be spreading disease – and it could be ending up in your drinking water. You don’t want that, and nor do you want that for other trampers, do you?

So, dig your hole well away from your fellow outdoor lovers and dig deep (we’re talking 15-20cm, which is about the length of your hand).
Bury your poo and all toilet paper with soil, filling the hole right to the top. When doing this, use as little toilet paper as possible, or alternatively, use soft leaves or bark. Don’t use bleached toilet paper or wet wipes as they often take a long time to biodegrade and stay in nature for years to come.

Option B: Take it with you to the next long drop

No one wants to come across poo when enjoying nature. Be considerate and take it with you (including your toilet paper) in a compostable bag and poo pot – your fellow trampers will appreciate you for it.

Once you get to the next toilet, first check that it’s a composting or long drop toilet. Also make sure that your bag is compostable. You can’t dispose of pocket toilets, poo tubes or poo pots in there, as they have materials that aren’t compostable. If you’ve confirmed both of these things, you can put the compostable bag with your poo into the toilet.

There are certain places where you’re not able to dispose of your poo, including:

Flush toilets
Containment-vault toilets
Motor-home dump stations
Rubbish bins or landfill(unless the contents have been treated)

When you’ve gotta poo, remember:

• To be prepared for your adventure (go before you head out and pack your trowel or compostable bag)
• Poo in a loo (whenever there’s one around)

Poo in nature can get into waterways and spread disease. There aren’t many toilets in nature, so use one when you see it. If you can’t wait, make sure you bury your poo well and discretely.

There are a range of products available to help you when you need to go in the wild, including trowels and pocket toilets. These can be bought from some of our DOC visitor centres, most outdoor recreation stores and online.

Check out last week’s blog post about menstruation and what to do when you’re out in nature without a dedicated disposal bin in sight.

6 responses to When you’ve gotta poo

    Cheryl Horrell 12/03/2020 at 4:29 pm

    Saw this breach of etiquette and pollution of nature today, 12/03/2020 at Mill Creek, Stewart island. Thought I saw a young woman sitting in the reeds at the waters edge and went to take a photo. As I went to press the shutter button a young man stood up pulling his trousers back on. I wanted to challenge him but he knew I was waiting for him to come out of the reeds so he moved further away. I ended up photographing him holding his phone to his ear. I wish we could stop him at the ferry terminal and make him take it home with him, unfortunately it will be floating in the tide with the wild life by now!

    Philip Fenner 12/03/2020 at 2:51 pm

    The funniest thing I heard on my Routeburn Track tramp, from the guides, is that “every tree is a lava-tree!” That’s how they say “lavatory” in NZ!


    The New Zealand Alpine Club’s online store sells reusable Poo Pots with compostable bags in three sizes. Suitable for use by individuals or groups. https://alpineclub.org.nz/product-category/nzac-products/poo-pots-and-bags/

    Michael Mason 07/03/2020 at 9:49 pm

    I always carry omw of these in my pack, just in case…