Archives For Backcountry

By Andy Thompson, Technical Advisor Recreation, Christchurch

As a passionate hunter I love exploring our backcountry—so much country, so little time!

Hunting tahr up the mighty Rakaia River.

Hunting tahr up the mighty Rakaia River

The backcountry—its huts and tracks—are our inheritance.

For me, the places where I first took my kids on an overnight tramp, and where they shot their first deer or chamois, are ingrained into my character and our family’s folklore. It’s a legacy I want my grandkids and their grandkids to have.

Andy Thompson's family on the Kepler Track.

A day walk with the family at the bottom on the Kepler Track

I’m also one of the lucky DOC staff working with the New Zealand Outdoor Recreation Consortium, who are keen to look after and maintain New Zealand’s backcountry facilities.

The consortium is a partnership between the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand, New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association and Trail Fund NZ.

Reischek Hut.

The great wee Reischek Hut in Canterbury

My heroes are the people that go on major missions, who use these places and then choose, in their spare time, to put something back.

Andy Thompson's family on the Hollyford Track.

Whānau and friends on the Hollyford Track

This isn’t about DOC shedding its responsibilities to look after backcountry huts, this is about doing more and looking after the places where many of us spend our holidays and weekends and enrich our lives.

Stanley Vale Hut.

One of my favourite places and backcountry huts—Stanley Vale in the St James Conservation Area

So, if you’re a tramper, hunter, mountain biker, 4WDer, horse rider, caver, kayaker, mountaineer or more, and want to find out what we’re up to come check out the New Zealand Outdoor Recreation Consortium website.

Moss Thompson looks out over the Mt Sommers Walkway.

Moss Thompson looks out over the Mt Sommers Walkway

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.

Felicity Deverell has left her home and studio behind her to embark on a drawing adventure in the New Zealand backcountry. She plans to draw about 50 huts to feature in an exhibition/book. Felicity writes about some of her challenges so far.

Drawing Mangamuka Hut in the Kaimai Range.

Drawing Mangamuka Hut in the Kaimai Range with my co-plotter Caleb

Drawing out in the wilderness is very different from in the studio. It has its difficulties but is very enjoyable on the whole. I love being outside, and I love drawing, so it was a great holiday for me.

A drawing of Te Totara Hut in the Te Urewera National Park.

Te Totara Hut in the Te Urewera National Park

The challenges of drawing huts abounded. In the first place, it was difficult to find a good angle to draw the hut from. It wasn’t just a question of which side the hut looked most interesting from, often finding one possible drawing angle was hard. Most huts were either closely surrounded by bush or long grass, so I had to find ways of getting around that.

Getting far enough away from the hut to get a good view of it, and to get it to fit on my paper, was a challenge, but I always found a way.

At Te Totara Hut in the southern Ureweras I sat up on a slip over the river from the hut. The hut was surrounded with tall grass so that was the only place I could get a proper view of it.

Felicity sketching amongst the native bush.

Sketching amongst the native bush

Before I began drawing the huts, I thought of just doing sketches of them, and working on larger more detailed drawings later, as the main thing to show at an exhibition. But I am now thinking that what I draw out there is worth more than what I could do in my studio. They have more interest and character to them, and capture the feel of the place.

A watercolour paining of a hut hanging on the hut wall.

Watercolour on location

For an exhibition and a book, all I really need is the material I get out there. But I still intend to do a few paintings on canvass and for those I will work on my studio from sketches and photographs.

More information on Felicity Deverell and her ‘The Art of a Hut’ project is available on her blog.

You could enjoy a backcountry hut experience of your own by finding your ideal hut break on the DOC website.