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May 2015 Issue
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A load of crap

Photo: Terry Austin

Many people walking the Te Araroa Trail seem to lack common sense, especially when it comes to using the toilet, writes Terry Austin

I have been tramping throughout New Zealand’s forests and parks for the last 35 years or so and one thing I’ve learned is that you learn from your mistakes, or from others’, to gain an appreciation of what we have here in the backcountry.

I have noticed an ever increasing amount of human spoil around one particular hut in the Craigieburn Range during the last three years or so. Hamilton Hut is nestled on a grass terrace above the valley floor and is more commonly known as the Hilton. But it now appears to be taking on the appearance of a rubbish tip.

On one recent trip, a friend and I were approaching the hut from the upper Harper Valley on a reasonably warm day when an aroma remarkably like that of human waste greeted us. We walked up onto the veranda and dumped our packs, poking our heads inside the hut door. No one at home – at least we had the first choice of prime bunks as we both knew the hut was part of the Te Araroa walkway and the occupancy rate high.

We walked the veranda and at one end, by an outside sink, found a used sanitary pad lying on the grass. Walking over to the woodshed, the pungent aroma was strong and, lying behind the back wall, were piles of human waste dotted with toilet paper, with no attempts at covering it up. Behind the hut was more human waste. Though I had seen some of these on earlier trips, it appeared to be increasing in volume.

Hamilton Hut has a well-established toilet facility, but you wouldn’t believe what greeted us when we went to check it out. As I approached the toilet door, a strong and familiar smell was very evident. Lying on the ground by the toilet was a magazine held down by two small rocks which appeared to be covering something. Further along, an open page from a newspaper covered something else again, with two small rocks. And finally a third pile behind the toilet. Sure enough, a poke with a stick had us gasping in disbelief. We didn’t need a CSI to verify what had happened here.

We filled the hut wheelbarrow with dirt and got to task covering up the mess. Not perfect, but at least the smell was gone. Next thing was to check the hut book and it revealed some trampers of foreign nationality had just departed the day before. I’ve tramped to this hut on many occasions, the most recent time one week earlier, only two of the 12 occupants on this particular evening were from New Zealand. I made a comment about the revenue this hut generates through hut tickets and two of the foreign trampers replied they didn’t buy tickets. They offered to give me some money but I encouraged them to visit the next DOC field centre on their travels south.

The other interesting part is that only four trampers out of the 10 made an entry in the hut book – the two fee dodgers were not among them.
On the second day of my most recent trip, two groups of foreign trampers arrived. We had a few laughs and chatted into the evening. I even made a comment about what other trampers had done outside the toilet earlier.

But a short time after going to bed, one of the young ladies tip-toed out the hut door with her headlamp on and completed her business right at the veranda edge by the steps. We found this out the next morning, being the first up and outta here!

I don’t mention nationalities, because I wouldn’t want to offend one particular group, but would they like it if we did this outside their accommodation lodges?

I suspect some trampers using the Te Araroa Trail treat the walk as ‘freedom camping’ and will crap anywhere, anytime. Hut etiquette and hygiene – or is it just common sense? – remain a mystery to some of them. Foreign trampers appear to be taking a budget approach to the Te Araroa and I have doubts that many use a hut pass or buy tickets judging by the lack of entries in the Hamilton Hut book.

I just hope giardia does not establish in the water supply to Hamilton Hut.

The lack of hut wardens may compound the issue. There used to be a long term warden there, but he retired some years back.

Be careful out there.

Update: Foreigners walkers not to blame – read the response to this article from a Te Araroa Trail walker.