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Book-a-bunk system becomes permanent

Rangiwahia Hut is becoming a popular backcountry destination in the Ruahine Range. Photo: Ian Peacey/Creative Commons

Two popular huts in Ruahine Forest Park have been added to DOC’s booking system, but Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) is critical of the move, saying it creates a “nasty tension” between hut users.

Rangiwahia and Sunrise huts are now bookable from Labour Weekend to the end of April, after DOC ran a trial last season. The bookings only apply to bunks and users who do not book can still stay at the huts, though they may need to sleep on the floor.

Manawatu district operations manager Duncan Toogood said the move would help manage overcrowding and encourage new people to get into the outdoors.

“We trialled bookable beds at both huts last summer,” said Duncan. “The trial indicates that use of a booking system is likely to improve visitor experience if it is well-publicised and properly managed.”

Toogood said the booking system also encouraged families and new trampers to use huts, as it gave them security that they would have a bed. Both huts are accessed by well maintained tracks and are about two to three hours walk from the road end.

But FMC president Peter Wilson said conflict could arise between hut users, where those who arrive at a hut first feel they have a right to a bunk, even if they haven’t booked.

Wilson said he experienced this first hand last season. The FMC executive stayed at the 13-bunk Rangiwahia Hut and had booked ahead. However, a family, who hadn’t booked, was already in the hut and refused to move.

“We didn’t want to create a scene, so we slept on the flood, but it created a nasty tension,” Wilson said. “Our view is that the booking system only works if there’s a warden there to enforce it.”

Toogood said hut wardens will be present periodically throughout the season, especially over peak times like public holiday weekends.

The huts won’t be locked, and shelter in a storm is guaranteed, he said.

“If you’re out on the track and the weather starts to turn, it’s important to know that you can always seek shelter at these huts.”