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June 2017 Issue
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Pigeon post, June 2017

Our letter of the month correspondent wins the Black Maxi Boot Dryer worth $90 from Footwear and Apparel

Letter of the month

Fixing it or finding fault

In visiting several West Coast huts recently I gained a brief insight into a range of user expectations and contributions to these backcountry assets.

At Youngman Stream and Tarn huts, I read in the hut books that both had recently been repainted by DOC, assisted by a team of volunteers who enjoyed the challenge in wild weather.

Two days later, I headed up the Mikonui River to Explorer Hut. The route had recently been marked with rock cairns in the upper riverbed, and the final stretch to the hut had also been cleared and marked. In the hut book, I read how Permolat Trust members had cleared four routes that depart from the hut, cut back nearby vegetation, re-piled and painted the hut, and built and stocked a new wood shed.

The crusade to save such facilities seemed well ensconced.

Lastly, I visited the historic Kahurangi Keeper’s House. The hut book recorded far greater visitation than the other huts and over a considerable period of time, there was frequent complaint about DOC letting the hut reach its current run-down state. The complainants assumed that listing faults in the hut book would see a fix. At the other sites, users had worked with DOC, or had taken total ownership, to fix what was required.

Perhaps it would be better for those who wish to move from critics to contributors to the ‘fix’ to record what needs doing and inform local clubs or other groups that have the ability to plan a fix (with DOC).

– Keith Hawkins, Whangarei

–  Keith receives a Black Maxx Boot Dryer worth $90 from Readers, send your letter to for a chance to win.

DOC should sell trowels

Regarding the ongoing issue of toilet waste not being adequately disposed of by trampers, I have just contacted DOC to suggest they intensify their efforts in this regard through their visitor centres.

At DOC visitor centres, plenty of shelf space is devoted to selling merchandise of more general tourist appeal, they have ignored the one tool needed to dispose of toilet waste: the lightweight trowel. And while DOC goes to lengths to tell visitors to be prepared for the NZ weather, I have never seen any signs or notices instructing trampers on how to deal with their waste.

I’m not at all confident my correspondence will change DOC policy, but perhaps with the aid of encouragement from Wilderness and others, we can shift them and make a difference.

It’s in our interest, as much as it is in DOC’s, to save money on cleaning up or negating the need to impose restrictions on camping.

– Chris Fetto, email

Hut hygiene a problem

Your correspondent Graeme Ferrier’s letter ‘Hut design contributed to norovirus outbreak’ (April, 2017) was read with interest.

I don’t entirely agree with him. Sure, the wash basin is at the opposite side of West Sabine Hut from the toilets. But it is no effort to walk from the toilet around to the wash basin without walking through the hut building.

On hearsay, my thinking is drawn to overcrowding as a possible contributing cause of infection at West Sabine Hut. I understand the hut was so overcrowded, some resorted to sleeping on the kitchen benches – a possible source of infection. Credit to DOC, which undertook a thorough sanitising of huts once alerted.

To think positively, with the large influx of overseas tourists using the DOC hut system, and especially where the hut system is part of the Te Araroa Trail, with its greatly increasing numbers of thru-walkers, DOC foot soldiers appear to be under pressure to maintain the huts to the standard New Zealand trampers are accustomed to. I was recently asked by a thru-walker to alert DOC staff to an overflowing toilet at Old Man Hut as a case in point.

On a recent visit to Lake Angelus, my wife and I observed many foreign trampers using the toilet and not bothering to wash their hands at the outside tap, where soap was available but came back into the hut and continued preparing their food or washed their hands in the kitchen sink.

To top it off, many brushed their teeth in the food preparing area, spitting into the kitchen sink. I find this appalling.

I suggest the general hut hygiene standard of foreign hikers, which includes sweeping out huts, is below that of New Zealanders.

– Pat O’Sullivan, Blenheim

Skills increase options

I moved to New Zealand three years ago from the UK and since I have been here, I have found my love of the outdoors has grown.

Over the past year or so I have enjoyed tramping, which is not something I had done much of before. I soon realised two things: firstly, that I want to do more tramping and explore this beautiful country; and, secondly, that I didn’t have sufficient knowledge to ensure that I kept myself as safe and comfortable as possible while trying to achieve number one.

In searching for ways to improve my skills, I found Outdoor Training New Zealand courses that, in their words, ‘provide high quality, cost effective bushcraft instruction to give you the skills for greater safe enjoyment of the outdoors’.

I signed up for an entry level course. It was fantastic. I learnt so much and a lot of it was about things I probably would not have considered needing to learn, but that would make a huge difference if anything was to go wrong on a trip.

I am so pleased to have done this course and am already looking forward to heading out into the bush with more confidence, as well as signing up for the next level.

– Emma Widdrington, Wellington

How Mt Betsy Jane got its name

In the article ‘See more… pet themes’ (April, 2017), four backcountry locations that are named after early explorers’ pets are mentioned, including the odd spelling of Mt Betsy Jane.

In March 1980, Brian Turner and I made the first ascent of a high unnamed peak that dominated the skyline from Top Forks Hut. We started from the hut and climbed a spur to the Main Divide from the bushline up the south branch of the Wilkin.

A year later, while researching the journeys of Charlie Douglas in the Waiatoto for my book New Zealand Explorers, I climbed what Douglas called ‘Mt Ragan’ with Don McFadzien although this peak was, in fact, off the Divide. A year or two later, I applied to the Geographic Board to have the name ‘Mount Betsey Jane’ applied to the unnamed peak and ‘Stocking Peak’ to Douglas’s ‘Mt Ragan’ to mark the fact he had climbed in his stockinged feet.

At first, the Geographic Board would not accept Betsey Jane because it did not name geographical features after one’s family members. When I explained Betsey Jane was Charlie Douglas’ pet dog, they accepted it, but then spelt it incorrectly on the map.

– Philip Temple, Dunedin

Wardens thin on the ground on Heaphy 

I recently walked the Heaphy Track and noted that hut wardens now have to cover two to three huts each.

The result being that James MacKay Hut was dirty with a bag of rubbish beneath a bunk – obviously left on purpose. There is not enough notices for trampers about what to do in regards to cleaning a hut and disposing of rubbish. I met a Kiwi and his wife from the USA who said the huts are too cheap. They suggested charging $40 for overseas visitors and $30 for Kiwis.

Such a proposal might improve DOC’s finances.

Even though wardens were thin on the ground, DOC appeared to be spending a fortune flying load after load of metal to improve the tracks – most likely for the benefit of mountain bikers.

– Graham Struthers, Auckland