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July 2013 Issue
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Pigeon Post, July 2013

Some hut wardens can make your day, others can turn a smile upside down. Photo: Keri Moyle

Letter of the month

Wardens not all bad

I have tramped and climbed for many years and I have always found hut wardens very helpful, ‘Wardens: Friends or foe’ (June, 2013).

In my mid 70s, without sufficient training, I walked the Kepler Track solo. On the second day, while descending the ridge from Luxmore down the many steps to Iris Burn Hut, I developed cramp. Half an hour from the hut I was greeted by the hut warden who had been told of my difficulty by some younger walkers. He offered to carry my pack and when we got to the hut he took me into his quarters and made me a cup of soup and asked if I would like a whisky. How’s that for service?

In return, I spent the day doing minor repairs around the hut and cleaning dirty benches.

I’ve been a hut warden on three occasions since then. While at Whirinaki Central, four young Americans with just $10 between them arrived. They were going to pitch a tent but I said the hut’s empty, come on in.

I invited them to pitch their tent in my garden in Auckland and a few weeks later they arrived on my doorstep and took over half the house. A day or two later, one of the boy’s parents who were touring in a campervan, arrived and parked on my section. With eight people the house was a bit crowded but we had an enjoyable few days exchanging stories.

– John Smith, email

– Our letter of the month correspondent receives a Patagonia Capilene 3 zip neck worth $129 courtesy of Send your letter to for a chance to win.

Warden behaviour explained

I was somewhat taken aback by the article ‘Wardens: friends or foe’ in which the author relates an experience of an encounter with a hut warden in the Caples Valley.

As the warden concerned was one of my staff, I cannot preclude she may have had an ‘off’ day but in saying that I would like to offer some explanations.

Firstly, for the Caples/Greenstone Track we have a system of ‘roving’ wardens who move between huts. This is the reason wardens, when they meet trampers between huts, ask to see hut passes or tickets, which have printed on them ‘Please display on your pack’, if they are going in the other direction.

Secondly, the tramper who claims he was denied use of the hut as he did not have a pass or ticket would be invoiced by the Warden – not sent out into a ‘cold, dark, snowy night’.

On these non-booked tracks, wardens are often confronted with trampers without passes or tickets and, in some cases, those who refuse to pay. The wardens are well versed in how to deal with these situations. They do not turn trampers out of the hut. The warden in this case is a very experienced person.

In the course of the tramping season I received lots of good messages from trampers using the excellent tracks in the Wakatipu about their experiences with our wardens. Every so often I get negative reports which we do discuss with the staff concerned. They are most often the only DOC staff trampers will encounter so we aim to leave a good impression of the department whenever possible.

– Greg Lind, DOC area manager, Wakatipu

McKellar Hut warden no friend

The article about wardens reminded me of an experience our family had while walking the Routeburn-Greenstone tracks in 2011.

Upon entering McKellar Hut, we lit the fire to dry our wet clothing which, in January, made the hut hot and stuffy. Suddenly, an irate hut warden growled at us for lighting the fire and wasting precious firewood. Next came an authoritarian extract from DOC policy regarding lighting of fires in huts.

This warden sensed I must be trouble and when I ventured outside to view a plaque was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to venture into such territory as it was Maori land. DOC policy was for all visitors to stay within park boundaries.

Later that night, the warden collected our hut tickets and I got into trouble for writing our name on them. This was counter to DOC policy, though I had been advised to do this as proof of payment. Our youngest daughter’s age came under scrutiny even though she had produced her driver’s licence when buying her youth ticket.

To be fair, the warden did give us an excellent weather briefing and track update.

Tickets collected, the warden departed to a private hut where we all noticed smoke billowing from the chimney.

– Sharon Boulton, Geraldine

Bush survival

I enjoyed the recent bout of survival articles, including ‘Survival grub: eels’ (April, 2013) and in the same issue ‘Talking with the Forest’.

Of note is the fact that without meat protein, the bush provides so few calories that long-term survival is difficult. Personally, while I have hunted for a number of years, and while I would encourage people to harvest possums for the sake of protecting our delicate eco-systems, I would not encourage regular eeling except under extreme survival conditions. This is because of the notable decline in native eel stocks. Eeling may become controlled as a result.

I used to often undertake journeys of two weeks or longer in the bush. For protein I took dried bacon, salami, milk powder and complan. Most people do not need to replace vitamins they have sweated out until about week two.

In my opinion, after good navigation and river crossing skills, a tramper needs first aid and emergency shelter skills. Harvesting food is a very distant requirement.

– Brett Smith, email

– Brett is correct in that the longfin eel is threatened. However, the more common short fin eel is not classed as endangered. -AH

Hut ‘privatisation’ essential

In his article ‘The worth of a backcountry hut’ (April, 2013), Pete Lusk said ‘every dollar paid in hut fees is another step on the road to the privatisation of New Zealand’s huts and tracks’ and he said he refused to pay fees.

The way I see it, the ‘privatisation’ of huts is better than their removal. DOC is low on funds, we all know that. As a West Coaster, Lusk should be well acquainted with the Permolat group, a shining example of the type of ‘hut privatisation’ the hut system needs to survive. Permolat has saved multiple huts that DOC had designated for removal, and has kept even the remotest and least-visited of these huts open to the public. Without groups like this, DOC will continue to cut down on the number of huts until it is manageable within their budget.

On the topic of whether or not to pay hut fees, I feel that they are necessary and am happy paying them as long as they help keep the hut system alive. I would suggest, however, that DOC ensures and proves that every dollar paid in hut fees goes right back into keeping huts and tracks in good condition.

I challenge other regions of New Zealand to start up their own hut community groups to continue to ‘privatise’ our huts and keep them open for public use, instead of letting DOC remove them due to lack of funding.

– Mitchell Everly, USA