NZ Trail Huts Provide Shelter, Conversation and Community
“I wouldn’t have guessed that backcountry huts would become a focal point of my travels in New Zealand. Sixteen years later, I had come for the forests of Lothlorien, the peaks of the Misty Mountains, the hills of the Shire. But it was in the huts that I immersed myself in the culture of those landscapes,” writes Jeremy Cronon in an article for the New York Times. “New Zealand’s commitment to this vast network of public huts that fosters something unique: a community of strangers even in the most remote backcountry.”
“No two huts are the same. Even if they look similar from the outside, each hut has its own quirks, stories and memories. They are a product of their environment, the people who use them, and their moment in history,” writes Cronon. “In 1987, the newly established Department of Conservation took responsibility for maintaining New Zealand’s hut network and the web of tracks that connects them.”
“There are four tiers of huts in the system. Basic Huts are any combination of walls and a roof that will pass for “very basic shelter,” but not much more. Standard Huts are more robust but still spartan structures with a few added amenities. Serviced Huts feel similar to their Standard brethren, but are generally in high-traffic areas or above tree-line. Great Walks Huts are the most heavily visited and expensive of the bunch, with gas stoves and resident hut wardens,” as reported in the article.
“No matter what its tier, I found every hut worth visiting,” said Cronon.
At every hut there’s an “Intentions Book”, which “serves as a guide to each hut and a registry for all visitors”, who share details about their party and intended route along with their comments and stories.” “While some of this information could prove useful in an emergency, it amounts to a beloved anthology of the shared experiences that define New Zealand’s huts.” “Together, the entries form a living document of hut culture itself, where stories, knowledge, advice and humor pass freely among strangers,” said Cronon.
“When you arrive at a hut, any sense of urgency melts away and is replaced by the easy rhythms of hut life,” writes Cronon. “As quaint as they may seem, huts also serve a very real need. They provide essential shelter in New Zealand’s most extreme environments,” writes Cronon.
“Even hardened adventurers could be convinced to choose the protection of Iris Burn Hut over the characteristic downpours of Fiordlands or the warmth of Mueller Hut over the unpredictable snowfields of the Southern Alps.”
Cronon describes Cameron Hut, a standard hut, as “perfectly suited to the needs of a solo traveller”. “Neither too big nor too small, Cameron Hut’s modest footprint couldn’t compete with the 32-bunk, multiroom huts with flush toilets on the Rees-Dart Track in Mount Aspiring National Park. Yet it felt palatial compared to the tiny Sefton Bivvy nestled beneath the Tewaewae Glacier.”
“You never know who is going to walk through the door of a hut, but you can be fairly confident that your time together will be marked by a trust and civility that Americans rarely expect from total strangers. Generosity and hospitality anchor the communitarian ethos that makes these backcountry huts so welcoming,” Cronon writes.
“Local resident or foreign traveler, old or young, novice or expert, hut goers have spent their day exploring the wild. At night, their focus tightens to a small room filled with strangers. You share the experience of a common place, even if you come from opposite ends of the earth. The hut makes this happen. Over dehydrated dinners and morning coffee, people open themselves to their fellow travelers and write each other into their common story,” writes Cronon.
Article Source: New York Times, Jeremy Cronon, February 14, 2018
Image Source: NZTramper