We have heard tempting stories about hut hiking before, but New Zealand was our first experience. I mean the Appalachian Trail has “shelters,” but this is in the loosest definition of the word. At least on the Tennessee portion, this involves a 3-sided structure with 2 levels of barn wood platforms for you to lay your sleeping bag and therma-rest if you’re lucky. Usually, you will also find a primitive outhouse and maybe a fire ring to build a fire. The hut system in New Zealand is much more advanced than this. The buildings are well built and usually designed to integrate well with the surroundings. Inside you will find some type of hanging apparatus to dry wet clothing. This is often near the wood or gas operated stove that is usually lit for warmth, since some of the areas often experience cold weather. A few to many tables and benches are located around the main room, in addition to several gas stove tops and a few sinks with cold water brought in by pump or regular plumbing. Everyone is required to leave their shoes outside the door, which is helpful at maintaining an impressive level of tidiness and keeping your feet dry. Usually in side rooms or buildings, and occasionally also in the main gathering room, are two levels of platforms with vinyl mattresses (about half the thickness of a normal mattress – think Short Mountain Bible Camp:) ) in varying numbers and variation. You will find a few picnic tables located outside with a walkway to a few nice outhouses, that may have a sink for hand washing or hand sanitizer, in addition to supplied (maybe even thick ply) toilet paper. Camping luxuriously … well sorta …
But the best part is the camaraderie it often leads too. Often, you trek several days, and in turn crash at the same huts each night as the others on the trail. You have the experience of the trail and the weather to bond you quickly. And, I have heard the best stories and met the some of the most interesting people since our Around the World trip started in huts!
Along the Tongariro, We met a couple from Britain on the Tongariro who had traveled all over. They had retired early at 55 with no children and bought a flat in London. They rented out their flat for 3-6 months at a time and traveled the world. They were amazingly fit and agile, working together in the spartan setting like a well oiled machine. When I asked him what was one of his favorite experiences, he told us how they had purchased a tandem bicycle that would break down to fit in a canoe. Then they bought a Norwegian canoe that would break down in order to be pulled behind a bike. Using both.. seriously … they traveled from Britain through France, from water to land. He said his favorite part was each morning when they would pull out of the campground, and the camp warden’s facial expression when he had seen them come in with a different type of vehicle. They talked to us a lot about our upcoming Nepal trekking, considering they had hiked Everest Base Camp, Manaslu, Leggit, and Annapurna Circuit. Then, we met a friendly bloke from Victoria, Canada who talked with us in depth about socialized medicine along with the British couple, as we well as what it was like to inform your employers you wanted to travel the world! An American surgical resident joined us from Colorado, who also bemoaned our seemingly only American tradition to have short vacations, where everyone else seemed to take four weeks and adding more without pay easily. Finally, we were surprised to meet a father, who we later found out went to Harding University, and his two sons. One of them had started “A Just Brew” at the University of Chicago, St. Louis, which supports International Justice Mission to my delight. The other was studying abroad in New Zealand for 1 year. The father talked with us for a while about affording college and study abroad, and we were tickled to hear he was familiar with Lipscomb, who would guess?
At Mueller Hut, we met a Norwegian guy that had traveled all over Asia and Myanmar. He told us how he had bought a few meals in NZ and realized very soon he would be broke in no time, if he continued. He decided he would have to learn how to cook, and didn’t have any idea how. All he knew how to make was spaghetti bolognese and didn’t want to live on that! Unfortunately, he did have a proclivity for a certain four letter word, the kids whispered to me, “pick another word, please.” At the same hut, we met a Dutch girl who was hitchhiking across New Zealand, who bounced about looking out the snow covered windows and was excited to have shared such a remarkable adventure in the blizzard-like snow conditions. She was soon headed to Myanmar as well, which we have determined must be the up and coming destination, because we keep hearing about trips there. We laughed about learning to drive on the left side of the road, especially with a stick shift. We offered our blanket to the sweet Asian girl who was barefoot and barelegged in the hut; and she laughed it off, seemingly unfazed by the bitter cold. A group of burly Czechs arrived late and had to set out early, but we enjoyed their hardy laugh and smiled when they pulled out several heavy wine bottles form their pack. Two very kind, soft spoken Danish guys let us borrow a pot, since we had left without ours.They were a carpenter and a medical student who had taken time off to travel two months in NZ. They had rented a station wagon, purchased a mattress, and were sleeping in their car and were debating the advantages over a camper van. We enjoyed the familiar accent too of a couple from North Carolina and talked with him about options with a Biology undergraduate degree. He had taken a year with a work visa in New Zealand and his girlfriend was studying there. Later, we were shocked when two Canadians showed up at 9PM out of the bitter cold, who were hiking the Te Araroa Trail and plopped down to warm up.
Along the Routeburn, we met two young couples form Israel who were traveling in NZ and Australia for several months after they had completed their military service. One of the guys told us his name was “Or,” you know in English like “this or that,” he laughed. We kidded that Ella didn’t like her name in Spanish either, but his girlfriend assured her in that in Hebrew it meant “goddess.” That will do … lol. We also met Pino from Germany, and Italy originally, who assured us we would love hiking in Nepal. He had hiked the Annapurna Base Trek and one of the Israelis had hiked the Annapurna Circuit and assured us we would survive the jeep trip. In addition, we had a group of older Scandinavian men and women in our hut there, who talked with us about our travels and complimented “our” Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yellowstone Parks. We also watched them, shocked, as they took a dip in Mackenzie Lake that had to be freezing!! I also had the opportunity to chit chat with another mother traveling with her teenagers from the North Island of New Zealand and be thankful together for the lack of electricity and wifi that forced our children off their devices. These are just a few views from the huts:
Hostels have a similar vibe, but the huts are even better I think, due to the outdoor adventure component. I highly recommend them and hope we might develop our own system in the US someday. We hope to hut hike in Europe and tea house trek in Nepal as well, so we’ll let you now how that goes too!
This is a pitiful video, Chris and Ella are the artists in that field, but it will give you a quick look!