Backcountry Huts In New Zealand
Tramping in New Zealand is amazing. From well-maintained trails, to classic NZ bush bashes, to beautiful and challenging technical routes, this country has a little something for everyone. New Zealand tramping is unique in the world due to its vast and incredibly inexpensive hut system. There are hundreds of huts all over the country. Some are historic buildings: mustering, rabbiting, or Forestry huts for deer culling, schools, or homes; while others are more modern, and built by local clubs, or by the Department of Conservation. While some of these are privately owned and booked, hundreds are maintained by DOC and have open access.
New Zealand has four types of backcountry hut:
Basic Hut - Basic huts are just what they say on the tin: a basic shelter. They can be anything from a tiny bivvy with just enough room for a bunk to a six bunk bungalow with mats, a fireplace, and maybe even a long drop outside. Don’t expect anything extra here, these huts are seldom checked over by DOC, although some are quite popular with hunters and might surprise you with what they hold. Basic huts generally rely on nearby streams for water, so be prepared to boil water if necessary.
Standard Hut - Standard Huts are generally built with a little more comfort in mind. Here you would be more likely to find a wood-burning stove, a rainwater tank, and a larger “kitchen/common” area as well as the long drop outside. Standard huts might be a little more run down, or they could be pristine. We’ve found that they often have much more character than the more expensive alternatives.
Serviced Hut – These are the big, beautiful bunkhouses of the wild bush (and sometimes are actually quite small.) There is a lot of variety here, but usually serviced means there is firewood/coal supplied, DOC workers frequent the area (or even live on trail for the summer) and/or the trail is very popular. They always have a water supply and a toilet (you will still need to bring your own toilet roll).
Great Walk/Alpine/Pre-Book Huts: There are some huts that are just too popular for the regular fee systems, and they must be booked in advance. Though this is generally done to ensure users a comfortable night, some huts also require a higher fee to help battle the growing traffic on the trails themselves. The Alpine, and other Pre-bookable huts are similar in amenities to standard and serviced huts. The Great Walk huts are often fancier, with the higher traffic ones supplying gas, larger or multiple common spaces, and flushing toilets. The fees for these range from $15 to $140 for overseas visitors per night.
As certain trails and huts become more popular, they are often bumped up a price bracket (a standard becoming a serviced for example) without anything in them changing, so be sure to check what to expect before you go.
Basic huts are free to everyone. Standard and serviced huts can be paid for with either backcountry hut tickets, or backcountry hut passes. Cash is not accepted at the huts, and payments are often on the honour system. There are two types of adult hut ticket (and corresponding youth tickets) The blue standard hut tickets are $5 each, and the green serviced hut tickets are $15 each, although three blue tickets will be accepted at a serviced hut as well.
If you are planning on hitting up a few trails, a backcountry hut pass is an economical way to go. Hut passes cannot be used on huts that require pre-booking, with the exception of two near Wanaka. Hut passes can be purchased from DOC offices, by mail, or from YHAs around the country. The cost is the same wherever you purchase your pass, with the exception of a YHA, which offers a discount to its members. Passes are available for either six (A-$92 Y-46) or twelve months (A-$122 Y-$61), and self-renewing annual memberships are available for local residents (A-$85 Y-$42).
Hut tickets can be purchased from the same locations, as well as at some service stations and i-sites. A full list is available here.
What do you need to know about staying in a New Zealand backcountry hut?
Huts are shared spaces, and anyone can show up at anytime. Yes, even snorers might end up in the bunk next to you. Everyone should do their best to accommodate everyone else, though at the end of the day beds are first come first served. It is good practice to carry a camping mat, rain fly, and/or tent with you for this reason, especially in the busier months. If you end up on the floor, know that early risers have just as much right to that space as you do.
Hut Etiquette (AKA the Hut Users Code):
Leave your boots outside or in the boot room.
Leave your wet rain gear outside.
Keep your gear and food in one place and save room for others.
Take your rubbish with you.
Sweep the floor when you leave, wipe the counters after use.
Flip your mat up when you leave.
Bring in firewood to dry for the next people (firewood can mean life or death to someone with hypothermia). In a standard hut, collect dry (dead) branches for the woodshed.
Use only what you need.
Every backcountry hut has a hut book in it. Reading comments previous trampers have left is a good way to learn about trail conditions, who might be at the next hut, and if a mouse is going to get into your food overnight. Hut books are used by DOC to decide which huts are worth maintaining and which ones don’t see enough use for them to keep. So make sure you sign each book, even if you are not staying the night. The hut book can also come in handy if something happens to you on the trail. While a hut book is not a replacement for telling someone who loves you where you’re going, they can save your life in an emergency. Search And Rescue groups can read your intentions in the hut book, and have a better idea where you’ve gone and what the conditions were like in the event you are reported missing. It also allows them to figure out who might have seen you on the trail that day, and through them, pinpoint your location ever better.
Interested in trying the hut system out for yourself? Find a hut near you, and don’t forget to look up the amenities it includes. Oh yeah, and have fun!