Comforts of home in the great outdoors

By Jarrod Booker

Trampers can share DOC huts on the Routeburn Track or stay in luxury. Photo / Supplied
Trampers can share DOC huts on the Routeburn Track or stay in luxury. Photo / Supplied

It may be frowned upon by some outdoorsmen, but packages with "the comforts of home" on the country's Great Walks are gaining popularity.

Where once multi-day bush treks meant tenting or being crammed in with other trampers in an old hut with a long drop, there is now an option of being pampered in stylish new private rooms with your own ensuite.

Queenstown-based Ultimate Hikes, which offers fully catered guided walks on the Routeburn, Milford and Greenstone tracks, has recently started building 16 new private ensuite rooms on its Routeburn Track guided walk. The rooms are scheduled for completion in November.

Ultimate Hikes general manager Noel Saxon said: "What we really offer is some comforts of home in the bush".

Eighty per cent of his company's clients are tourists, and most are aged 50 to 60. The private ensuite rooms are "attractive to a lot of people who would never really get a chance to see the environment we have".

Christchurch Tramping Club president Warwick Dowling, 55, said club trampers like him were interested in the grassroots back country experience rather than the more luxurious, higher-cost one.

"There's nothing like getting out there under a nylon tent, or even a bivvie bag for hardier souls [like] myself, and sleeping under the stars," said Mr Dowling, who has tramped for about 25 years.

"We are not trying to run down the luxurious experience. It will have its place for people who are new to the country, or getting older or infirm."

North Shore tramping club member Ian Morris, who has tramped for about 50 years, said the more pampered experience was not something he would be part of.

"I would use the standard Department of Conservation facilities - that's just my personal opinion. I just don't think there's any need to pay that amount of money to enjoy [the outdoors]."

Mr Morris takes his tent with him when he's on a multi-day trek and there is no DOC hut available. He tries to steer away from the tourist-dominated tracks.

"You have got to have different ways of getting the money out of tourists' pockets, I guess," he said.

DOC spent $50 million last year maintaining more than 900 huts and 13,000km of track. It recoups some money through fees for huts ($4.7 million last year) and concessions from companies that offer guided treks and private accommodation ($3.1 million).

Home comforts or roughing it?

The luxury option:

A three-day guided, catered walk on the Routeburn Track with Ultimate Hikes starts from $1125 for an adult during low season.

Accommodation options include bunk rooms for four with a shared bathroom or private rooms with ensuite bathrooms.

Facilities include hot showers, flushing toilets, drying rooms, full kitchens and electricity until 10pm.

DOC huts on Great Walks (per night):

$54: Routeburn, Milford, and Kepler.

$32: Heaphy, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui Journey, Lake Waikaremoana.

$22: Rakiura Track.

Huts are double-glazed and include gas cookers, heating, toilets and mattresses. Some have resident wardens.

Charges on other tracks on DOC land:

Free: Basic hut (bivvy, shelter, simple hut).

$5: Standard hut (sleeping platforms, toilets, water).

$15: Serviced hut (sleeping platforms, mattress, toilets, water and fuel).

- NZ Herald

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