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July 2015 Issue
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Foreign walkers not to blame

Te Araroa Trail walkers in a spick and span Hamilton Hut. Photo: Eef De Boeck

 

Belgian Te Araroa Trail walker Eef De Boeck defends her fellow hikers from accusations of unsavoury hut etiquette

The article ‘A load of crap’ (May 2015) described the abominable condition of Hamilton Hut and its surroundings found by the author on recent visits. No matter how much I agree with his irritation towards people leaving their rubbish behind, not cleaning huts or doing their business everywhere, I found the conclusion he jumped to – that this must be done by Te Araroa Trail hikers who ‘use the trail as freedom camping and will crap anywhere, anytime’ – contrary to my own experiences and made without offering any substantial proof that through-hikers were to blame.

Publishing this sort of article, that merely consists of useless finger-pointing and blaming, is not productive for anyone. So as a recently finished Te Araroa Trail tramper, I felt the need to reply.

I stayed at Hamilton Hut in the beginning of March, right after the TA rush-hour. Dozens, possibly hundreds of hikers had been staying there in the weeks before us and a large group had just left a few days before we arrived. Yet the hut was clean, there was no crap lying around and there was no trash. Indeed, I found many huts that are mostly frequented by Te Araroa Trail hikers – places like the Clent Hills and the Two Thumbs Range – to be in a good state.

These huts are our homes for months on end. We come from all over the world to cherish them. They are a key feature that makes the Te Araroa Trail the unique experience it is.

Throughout my journey, I met people carrying out trash that had been lying around (my boyfriend and I often did this too), buying mouse traps and setting them up, giving the huts a spring clean and even fixing them up. All these people were through-hikers wanting to preserve these huts for the generations of hikers coming after them, and to look after this important piece of New Zealand history.

I didn’t meet a single Kiwi weekend tramper doing the same. That’s not to say all Kiwi trampers are people lacking hygiene and common sense when it comes to huts. We shared many great nights in huts with Kiwis who love to enjoy the outdoors. Yet I have met proportionately far more New Zealand residents and other tourists who haven’t bought hut passes than Te Araroa hikers. For the hikers I know, all but one bought an annual hut pass.

At the DOC office in Wellington, I was told the sales of annual hut passes have boomed since the TA gained fame, proving TA walkers do make a contribution to sustaining the backcountry hut system.

If you look at hut books you will find the great majority of through-hikers are signing the books. We find it amusing to see who’s ahead of us and read each other’s comments. We understand the need. The huts we found the most trash, dirt and crap in were unfortunately those frequented by hunters (and here I must specify: the kind of hunters that will chase cows on their cross country bikes and shoot at the loo, not the true hunters who respect the bush and will patiently stalk their prey), and those close to the roadside that can be easily accessed by car.

Hamilton Hut is not too far from the road at Bealey and is on the Cass-Lagoon Saddle Loop, receiving people passing through on shorter walks other than the Te Araroa Trail. Of course, there are exceptions, and unfortunately I have met a few through-trampers whom I was happy not to run into a second time. There were a few Kiwi tramping club members I’d rather not run into again, either.

What I am trying to say is that finger pointing is unnecessary, unfounded and over the top. I agree it is helpful to talk about the need to increase awareness of basic courtesy when using huts, but such talk needs to include all people using them, not just putting the blame on one group.

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