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December 2014 Issue
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No room for cry babies

Woolshed Creek Hut is a great destination for kids of different ages. Photo: David Norton

When it comes to getting enough sleep in a front country hut, you really have to just hope for the best

I like nothing more than to wrap myself in my familiar-smelling sleeping bag as I settle in for a solid, well-deserved sleep after a hard day’s walk. I enjoy winter when it’s dark at 5pm and the nights are long, and equally I appreciate summer when I can lay my foam mat amongst the tussock and read until 9pm without my headlamp before falling asleep under a starry night sky.

But there is one thing that can be guaranteed about tramping and sleep – if I choose to stay in large, popular, front-country huts I know my sleep will be compromised.

This was the situation for a correspondent to Wilderness, who wrote the letter ‘Nightmare at Woolshed Creek Hut‘ . He’d experienced a sleepless night in the popular Woolshed Creek Hut, being woken a dozen times by a family with a 12-week-old and a toddler. He suggested that people with such young children really shouldn’t stay in huts, and was incensed that the parents hadn’t offered an apology in the morning.

But even I, who am more precious about my sleep than most, cannot agree with the sentiments expressed. As a parent of teenagers, I have great admiration for parents who take such young children into the hills. Their children would have required carrying, both would have been in nappies, and I suspect adding a tent to this load was impossible. Choosing an easily accessible hut such as Woolshed Creek makes total sense to me.

I have been part of a tramping group to Woolshed Creek Hut comprising six adults and nine kids. With a group this size we were not a quiet party; with excited children, rustling sleeping bags and numerous night-time visits to the loo, I didn’t get a good sleep, but then I didn’t expect to either. On another trip to the same hut we were two families with five kids aged between three and nine. Once again I had what I call a typical, hut sleep: hot, noisy, and broken.

Children, babies and toddlers aren’t the only cause of sleepless nights in a hut. Hunters sometimes come and go at all hours, photographers are up before dawn for the perfect sunrise shot and then there are snorers – at least babies will be quiet at some stage during the night, something which cannot be said for snorers.

I’m not even sure parents should apologise for the noise their children make during the night. I’ve never heard a snorer or a hunter apologise for the disruption they cause. And I don’t expect an apology from the tramping party starting their thunderous cooker because they want an early departure. I just know when visiting large, popular, front county huts to never expect the same quality sleep I might get in my tent or in a six-bunker in the middle of nowhere.

My good friend Margaret tells a story about a trip to Fenella Hut in Kahurangi National Park with her then 12-month-old daughter, Rata. They ended up moving their mattresses to the porch in the middle of the night for some peace and quiet, as a snoring hut companion was so loud sleep was impossible. Not a peep from Rata though. Rata also visited Pinnacles Hut in the Coromandel at eight weeks old and slept soundly between her parents with breastfeeds during the night as necessary. On another trip to Jumbo Hut in the Tararuas, this time as a four month old, Rata impressed the full hut of trampers with another long, sound sleep. Yes, the trampers did look concerned when the parents arrived with a young baby, but probably no more concerned than they would have, had a fellow tramper arrived with the word ‘Snorer’ stamped on their forehead.

When staying in busy huts, you need to hope for the best from your unknown hut companions, but be prepared to take what comes. It isn’t appropriate to have rules about who should or shouldn’t be allowed to stay in public tramping huts.

Large, easily accessible huts are perfect for family trips with kids of any age, but are especially important for parents who are carrying babies and toddlers.

We weren’t brave enough to venture off on an overnight tramp with our children when one was just 12-weeks-old and the other still a toddler. But had we been, I think Woolshed Creek Hut would have been a fine destination.