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April 2016 Issue
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The death of hut decorum

Photo: Heather Davidson
Mike Evans leaves his toddler at home for the peace and serenity of the Routeburn, but finds it anything but

The pungent smell of marijuana smoke hung in the air around the four young men who sat jovially on the steps of Lake Mackenzie Hut. Their portable stereo broke the otherwise serene environment that is normally the Zen of the outdoors.

In hindsight, the already quarter-empty bottle of Jack Daniels should have set off alarm bells about how the rest of the evening was likely to unfold – a night devoid of peace and quiet – but my wife’s twisted ankle made the hut a glorious respite so we didn’t think too much about it.

That evening we mingled with the other hut occupants over dinner and a roaring fire, while our four male friends continued to enjoy the company of Jack D. By 10pm we were both in bed sound asleep.

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” The unmistakable sound of my wife’s voice snapped me out of sleep close to midnight. With headtorch on and adrenalin flowing, my eyes and brain tried to make sense of the scene that was unfolding. Not one metre from my wife’s head, one of the drunken men was urinating onto the bunk bed next to her. My wife, zipped up in her sleeping bag tighter than King Tutankhamun, was trying to wriggle as fast and as far away as possible from the steady stream.

I added to the din by yelling at him as I flew out of my sleeping bag. Somehow he managed to stop mid-stream. He mumbled a slurred apology and headed outside the bunkroom to finish what he had started by urinating on the steps that led to the dining room and hut exit.

As we moved stuff and took stock, the urinator stumbled back into the room. He was still ‘off his face’ and useless in helping to clean up his own mess so I sent him to bed vowing he’d be cleaning it up in the morning.

Another tramper, having just come back from the toilet, pulled her ear plugs out and tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said, “why are my socks wet?”

I rinsed the stairs down with lake water mixed with bench top disinfectant and not surprisingly didn’t sleep too well.

In the morning, a very sheepish, embarrassed and hungover tourist apologised profusely to my wife and I. I gave him a verbal lashing and explained how the stairs and bunk better smell like roses.

With a 2½-year-old son, the previous night was something we’d had lots of practise with of late. To his credit, the urinator cleaned up his mess and as we headed towards Howden Hut, our story spread like wildfire over the ‘bush telegraph’.

Howden Hut was a welcome sight. My wife’s ankle was badly swollen and we were both tired from lack of sleep. With only two other couples and four hunters in the 28 bunk hut, we had plenty of space to spread out.

Another pleasant evening was had making friends over dinner. Everything went well until the hunters decided to celebrate a birthday by pulling out a bottle of bourbon.

“Oh great, here we go again,” we thought.

Trying to catch up on much needed rest was next to impossible. The hut’s walls were paper thin and the hunters became ever louder as they became ever more drunk. Repeated attempts to get them to quiet down after midnight fell on deaf ears.

It was only after I used some choice words and a sharp tone that peace finally reigned at 1.30am.

Just 4.5 hours later they were up to catch their ride. I lost track of how many times the front door slammed with no effort made to sneak around or whisper. It didn’t seem to matter that six other people were trying to sleep.

Not surprisingly, my wife and I cut our trip short. Her twisted ankle made it difficult to press on and we were both shattered from lack of sleep. Ironically, if we had stayed home with our infant we’d have had better nights’ sleep.

And so I’m left wondering what’s happened to hut etiquette?

Were these once-in-a-blue-moon experiences I was unfortunate to be caught up in? Or is this simply how the next generation enjoy the outdoors?