If you’re looking for a path less travelled, New Zealand’s network of nearly 1000 huts throughout its backcountry provide a fantastic and unique option. The backcountry huts can vary dramatically from tiny shacks to larger more modern buildings with basic facilities. It pays to do a bit of research before you go so that you pack properly and aren’t surprised when you get there.
Types of Backcountry Huts in New Zealand
There are 4 different categories of huts that you can stay in. These vary from comfortable warm huts to basic shelters that’s only aim is to keep your head dry.
Great Walk Huts
These are your 5-star huts. They are mostly well-equipped with heating, mattresses, water, washing facilities, toilets (some even flush. Fancy) and a hut warden. You will find these huts, unsurprisingly, on the Great Walks such as the Waikaremoana and Heaphy Tracks.
Similar to Great Walk Huts, Serviced Huts have all of the above, the majority do have a wood burner but no other form of heating. Serviced huts tend to be placed on more popular and easily accessed tracks such as Rangiwahia and will have a hut warden in peak season.
Standard huts have mattresses, water supply, toilet (often long drop type loo away from the hut), and a wood burner if below the bush line. These huts are placed in more isolated areas and are harder to get to. Standard huts tend to be less popular than the tracks with serviced huts. Iron Gate Hut and Field Hut are good examples of serviced huts.
Basic Huts / Bivouacs (Bivvies)
Basic huts/bivvies provide you with a roof over your head and often do not have mattresses or wood burners. Toilets are usually a distance away from the hut and are of the long drop variety. Bivvies are in very isolated areas that are rarely used. Toka Biv, just off Shorts Track/Knights Track has been declared ‘Minimal Maintenance’ which means that if it falls into disrepair, it will be removed rather than repaired. Many bivs face this future.
If you are unsure of the standard that your accommodation for the night will be, check out the Department of Conservations website. All 950 odd DOC huts are profiled on their website. You will find information about the cost, tracks that lead to the hut, facilities and other bits of useful info.
The facilities at the huts and campsites can vary depending on the track.
Great Walks are known to be much more fully serviced, with running water, stainless steel cooking benches with propane stoves, running toilets (summer season) and solar lighting.
Standard huts and serviced huts will have mattresses, woodburners if under the bush line and a water supply. They will usually have a long drop loo away from the hut.
Bivvies, on the other hand, are simply a shelter with very little else. These will usually not have heating, mattresses or wood burners.
No matter where you stay you will need to pack:
- Something to cook on
- Cutlery and crockery
- A sleeping bag, while some huts provide mattresses, bedding is not supplied
- Your food
- Loo paper (never assume there will be some, even in a serviced hut)
- A first aid kit
- Hut shoes, boots are not allowed in the hut
- Earplugs – you never know when you will be sharing a hut with a snorer!
- Air mattress if you are going to a more popular hut (just in case)
As a general rule, Great Walk Huts are the most expensive and vary in price. Serviced huts are $15 a night for an adult and Standard huts $5 per night per adult. Bivvies are usually free.
You will need to buy a hut ticket either online or at one of the many retailers that sell them. If you are going to stay in quite a few huts you can purchas a backcountry hut pass for $122 a year or $92 for six months.
Things to remember when staying in backcountry huts:
- Not all huts are first come first served so check the Department of Conservation website first.
- Some backcountry huts only need to be booked during peak season.
- Great Walks DO need to be booked and vary widely in price. You will need to check the DOC website for prices and book early. They tend to fill up very quickly.
- Many of the huts are run off an honesty system. Please pay your fees. A few can spoil it for everyone. Plus, the fees go towards maintaining the huts, tracks and other work DOC does in the area.
- If you’re staying at a hut that required a booking, make sure you bring a print out of your reservation. Many tracks have Hut Wardens who will check your reservation
Hut Wardens often work on the Great Walks and other popular tracks. It is their job to make sure that the hut is clean, tidy, people are paying their hut fees and to provide advice, assistance and a welcoming environment for those staying in the hut.
Hut Wardens are knowledgeable and passionate about their hut and the surrounding area. Have a chat with the Hut Warden to glean more insight into the hike you are on and some interesting local knowledge insights. They may even know of a hidden gem or two.
Backcountry Huts Tips
Staying in one of NZ’s many backcountry huts is a great way to get anyone outdoors. Especially in the winter! There are a few things to keep in mind if you are going to take advantage of the hut system though.
- Always pay your hut fees, even if it isn’t a monitored hut. The fees go towards maintenance of the hut
- Fill out the hut book. This is so DOC can gauge how the hut is being used and also in case of an emergency, your last movements are recorded.
- You will never be turned away from a hut but you might have to sleep on the floor if the hut is full.
- Display good backcountry hut etiquette (read this post to find out more)
- Leave the hut as you would like to find it. Especially in a standard hut or bivvie. These don’t have someone picking up after you so make sure you give the hut a good sweep, leave firewood for the next person and stack the mattresses against the wall.
What happens when we don’t look after our huts
A-Frame hut is a perfect example of what happens when we don’t look after our backcountry huts. Numerous vandals due to the easily accessible nature of the track have consistently destroyed the hut. So much so that DOC have removed all facilities inside and around the hut. A-Frame hut is now simply a shelter sitting derelict overlooking the ranges.
Always make sure that you respect the hut that you are staying in. It will ensure others have the same opportunities as you to use them.
Final thoughts on backcountry huts
I love our hut system. It makes exploring our beautiful country more accessible without having to lug heavy tents and equipment up the mountains. The first multi-day hike I did by myself at Iron Gate Hut was absolute bliss. Being in the middle of the mountain range in this cute wee shack was my idea of heaven. If you get a chance, definitely take advantage of these wee shelters in the bush. Trust me, you’ll love it.
More hiking tip posts
- Hiking Etiquette
- Solo hiking tips
- Multi-day hikes with children
- The complete guide to New Zealand Hiking
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