High-in-the-sky alpine huts losing money because of freeloaders filling toilets

Centennial Hut found 2400m above sea level.

Richard Wesley./Supplied

Centennial Hut found 2400m above sea level.

At some stage on a day of tramping New Zealand’s gorgeous terrain one needs to use the loo, and for hut keepers, a full toilet is a healthy sign of a well-walked track.

But there’s a problem. Some of these walkers are freeloading on hut facilities; dumping and leaving without paying the small fee for their night’s stay.

The New Zealand Alpine Club fears it may have to consider closing its facilities to the public after forking out nearly $5,600 over and above received hut fees to empty toilets at two of the country’s highest alpine huts.

The Alpine Club’s general manager Karen Leacock said the toilet deposits had to “come from somewhere”.

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“When we are emptying out these toilets as often as we have to, you cannot tell me people are not staying up there.”

The full toilets were at the Pioneer and Centennial huts which sit 2400 meters above sea level in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Pioneer hut is described as “one of the busiest alpine huts in New Zealand” situated on a rocky cliff above the Fox Glacier, while Centennial hut was at the head of the Franz Josef glacier.

She said it was clear some trampers were staying in the huts without paying the $40 charge for non-members or $20 for club members.

Leacock said the irony was that most of those who used the Pioneer and Centennial huts had paid for a $1000 helicopter trip to reach it. “They are flying a helicopter to get up there, you can’t tell me they can’t afford it.”

Pioneer Hut is owned by the NZ Alpine Club and relies on users to pay fees to maintain it.

Kester Brown/Supplied

Pioneer Hut is owned by the NZ Alpine Club and relies on users to pay fees to maintain it.

The club owns 15 huts across New Zealand and relies on the honesty of users to pay fees through a simple online transaction.

Missed fees were a problem across all 15 huts, she said.

The huts that did not have wardens were not locked and this would not change as they were an important emergency facility.

“It’s an honesty thing and that’s the way we want to keep it,” said Leacock.

“It’s a shelter from the storm, and we don’t want to lock the door on people. It could be an emergency situation, and we understand plans can change while out in the bush.”

She urged hut users to keep each other honest. “Check your mates have paid their fees.”

The value of the huts to outdoor adventurers is shown by the club’s $40-a-night Homer Hut in Milford Sound. If it did not exist the next roof over a tramper’s head would be a chalet at Milford Sound Lodge for $875 per night.

The huts were expensive to maintain, especially those at high altitude which were battered by the weather and emptying the toilets required a helicopter.

“We often pay over and above the fees collected, which is not uncommon. But this [latest bill] is a lot higher and there are a lot more users than those paying.”

The club found even huts with wardens often relied on people’s good word as some users said they would pay when they got home, but then didn’t.

NZ Alpine Club general manager Karen Leacock is urging hut users to keep their mates honest.

Supplied

NZ Alpine Club general manager Karen Leacock is urging hut users to keep their mates honest.

“People might think “it was only one night, who cares?”, but this avoidance is hurting the club financially,” said club administrator Marie Gilbert.

“Carrying the cost of multiple people with this attitude has resulted in the club having expenses that go well beyond the revenue from paid hut nights.”

The club used volunteers to make the huts clean and safe, she said.

She said freeloaders were discouraging for them, knowing their efforts were taken advantage of by a few. “These volunteers are the lifeblood of the club.”

The club is currently renovating Aspiring Hut which will cost it over $1 million. “We are still short of our fundraising target even though the hut is almost finished,” said Leacock.

The stone-clad Aspiring Hut, in Mt Aspiring National Park, is being renovated at a cost of $1 million.

MARJORIE COOK

The stone-clad Aspiring Hut, in Mt Aspiring National Park, is being renovated at a cost of $1 million.

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