The Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) has criticised DOC for failing to consult on adding Brewster and Siberia huts to its booking system, saying the decision goes against the egalitarian ethos of the backcountry and could be a safety risk.
Brewster and Siberia huts, in Mount Aspiring National Park, will be bookable on the DOC website from December 1 to April 8.
FMC president Peter Wilson said the booking system changed the huts’ social environment.
“Booking systems effectively make huts unwelcome places,” Wilson said. “They are meant to be a home in the hills, but a booking system excludes people. They create a class dynamic between those who book and those who haven’t and, unless there’s a warden, they fall over and don’t work.”
He said it could also encourage trampers to push on through bad weather, rather than cancel their booking.
“If it’s not designed right, there’s no flexibility for someone turning up. In an alpine environment it will create a safety problem if people feel they can’t change their plan.
“That’s why we like to have engagement and dialogue so we can address these issues. But there’s been nothing.
“They haven’t consulted anyone. They have broken a long standing protocol that the department consults us about these changes. We had to find out through the media and that’s not good enough.”
He said FMC hasn’t seen any evidence that there is a need for these new systems.
DOC Central Otago district senior ranger Annette Grieve said last summer Siberia Hut had 2081 hut nights and 287 camp nights. The hut was at capacity for 19 per cent of the season, up from 12 per cent the year before.
Commercial operators made up 12.5 per cent of the hut users. Grieve said DOC would closely monitor the commercial use of the hut during the trial. Under the conditions of the concessions, commercial operators could not occupy more than half of the beds in the hut and commercial groups were encouraged to be self-sufficient and camp out to avoid overcrowding.
Figures for Brewster Hut weren’t as comprehensive as the hut does not have a warden. But the number of loads of sewage taken from the hut had increased from one load a season before 2015, to three loads a season in the past two years.
“For the past two years we have had repeated verbal reports from visitors to Brewster Hut that it was overfull,” Grieve said.
DOC Central Otago operations manager Mike Tubbs said the huts were increasingly at or over capacity last season.
“Some people were arriving at the huts after a long day only to find they’d missed out on a bunk”, Mr Tubbs said. “Adding the huts to the booking system means we can ensure the correct hut capacity is maintained and provide trampers with a guarantee of a bed at these huts.”
Siberia Hut is a popular destination on the Gillespie Pass Circuit, while Brewster Hut is a popular overnighter and a base for mountaineers wishing to explore the alpine tops.