Picture this: it’s evening in the backcountry. The last rays of the day’s sunshine are fading, leaving just the glimmer of incandescent glow across the horizon. You’re in one of DOC’s 900-odd huts spread across Aotearoa, and you’ve had a ripper day exploring the Great Outdoors TM. You lay your weary head to rest on the “comfort” of a plastic DOC mattress, nestled in your sleeping bag, the day’s adventures vivid against your sleepy eyeballs.
Until: what was that? Something just crawled on you. Oh no. Is it a mouse? No, too small. A spider? Ugh, I’d rather a mouse. Oh there’s more than one. They’re moving. They’re biting. And they’re so. Damn. Itchy.
We’re lucky in Aotearoa that bed bugs aren’t a common problem across our network of huts. The same plastic mattresses we humans love to complain about are typically just as inhospitable to these snuggly little vampires – they prefer soft furnishings, like Dracula in his coffin. Every now and then, however, we get reports of the odd infestation. Wherever they pop up, you rest assured we’re doing our best to evict the little monsters as quickly as we can.
Just, you know, don’t rest near the bedbugs.
It’s important to note there’s no blame game here. No one wants them, and no one intentionally transports them from place to place. Frankly, if someone was, that would raise far more serious questions. They’re also no reflection on the hygiene or cleanliness of the home, gear, or hut they inhabit.; they’re an equal opportunities nuisance.
But let’s be fair, we’re confident they aren’t walking themselves from hut to hut, and they’re too little to reach the pedals in a 4WD. So, trampers of Aotearoa, this is where you come in.
I’m not saying they’re everyone’s most hated backcountry bug (a title that surely goes to sandflies) but they’ve got to be a close second. Whenever there’s an outbreak, we need to work together to be part of the solution.
So, what can you do when you see a bed bug? There’s a couple of options.
Run screaming for the hills? Too late; you’re already in the hills. And guess what, so are the bugs. Bad end.
Run screaming to the nearest hotel? Don’t do that either. Chances are if you’ve seen a bed bug, it’s family’s probably already taken up residence in the lining of your sleeping bag. Wherever you go now, you could be spreading eggs like disgusting confetti at the world’s most miserable party. Please don’t do that to our local hotels; they’ve already had a hard year.
Burn everything to the ground? Look I get it. This author suggested that very option upon hearing of the recent infestation at North Arm hut, which was still crawling despite being fumigated four times in one month. But regardless of how effective this would be, please don’t start fires. We quite like our huts, and we’d prefer to keep them non-smouldering.
And in all seriousness, fires in the backcountry can get out of control very quickly – remember to check before you light.
Alright then, what can I do?
Alright calm down, there’s a right answer. If you see a bed bug, bed bug by products, or anything bed-bug adjacent dead or alive in your gear or in the hut, let us know ASAP. Either chat to the hut warden where you are, or report it to the nearest DOC office when you get back into civilisation.
The sooner we know about a problem, the sooner we can bring the thunder.
Thoroughly check and clean your gear in between hikes. Use warm or hot water if possible (check care instructions first – I will not be held accountable if you shrink your favourite merino).
What about if I’m only one night in to a three-night trip?
I’ve called them vampires more than once here, and not just because they’re bloodthirsty parasites. It’s also because they share their Achilles’ heel with Nosferatu: sunlight. Praise the Sun!
Let the rays of big yellow touch every zip, seam, and pocket lining of your gear in between huts. Shake everything thoroughly (outside the hut, obviously) and once you return home make sure you give everything a good wash.
Again, if your trip requires an overnight stay at a hotel at the other end, do the right thing and keep your gear away from their soft furnishings.
What happens if I’m bitten?
Bed bugs are a diabolical nuisance, but luckily they’re not dangerous for most people. The most common complaint is a series of small, itchy bites, though like most bites these can get infected if scratched.
Unfortunately, their penchant for soft fabrics and taste for human flesh means that wherever humans go, it’s also a destination for bed bugs. Most of the time, they’re not a problem at DOC sites, but every now and then we need to call the Bug-Busters (fumigation) and we’ll work with hikers to change bookings if they can’t stomach the thought of sharing a bunk with a cartful of critters (fair). Bed bugs are master hitch hikers who just want to see the world while feasting on your blood. Don’t give them that opportunity.