A unique part of New Zealand's heritage and culture lies in its vast network of backcountry huts. With 1400 shelters spread across the country — from riverside flats and alpine valleys, to the highest peaks — it's a system unlikely to be found anywhere else in the world.
But what exactly is a "hut" — and what differentiates it from a bach, crib, lodge or shed?
It depends on who you ask. There's no clear definition of what a hut entails, although New Zealand's Building Code Handbook describes them as basic structures "intended to provide overnight shelter to any person who may visit and carries his or her own food, bedding, clothing and outdoor equipment".
Historically, this may have been true, with huts traditionally used by musterers, cullers, and alpinists to provide a safe space in storms. But although the majority of DoC's 950 huts may still meet this definition, our backcountry shelters have evolved along with how we use them. Today, you don't have to be an outdoor enthusiast or even an amateur tramper to enjoy a night's stay at one of New Zealand's huts — all you need is access to a set of wheels.
From modest lodges to luxurious getaways, we've round up 11 of the country's best easy-access huts.
1. Puketi Forest Hut in Puketi and Omahuta Forests
It's only a short drive inland from Kerikeri to reach this DoC-managed hut, nestled within one of the largest continuous tracts of native forest in Northland. The Puketi Forest Hut provides prime access to the wilderness area's hiking and biking trails, where you can see more than 360 indigenous species of plants, including mature kauri, podocarps and northern rātā.
Open year-round, the serviced 18-bunk hut must be booked in advance through DOC's online booking system (adults $18 per night; youth $9 per night, kids 10 and under free) but you'll be well-equipped once you arrive; the hut even has electricity.
2. Robson's Lodge in Kaweka Forest Park
Built in 1908, this historic homestead was once part of the thriving farming area of Kuripapango. Along a handful of other heritage buildings in Kaweka Forest Park, it's now one of the few structures of the era that remain.
Only a hour's drive from Napier or Taihape in Kaweka Forest Park, there's no electricity, but there is the luxury of a flush toilet, hot water and a veranda looking out towards the area's mountains. Best of all, you don't have to share; the entire hut can be booked exclusively for $80 per night, a bargain price that would put many Airbnbs to shame.
3. Coast Road Hut in Remutaka Forest Park
In the Orongorongo Valley bush is a quirk of history and legislation. Here, more than 50 privately owned huts are hidden in the Rimutaka Forest Park, most built by Wellingtonians for weekend getaways as early as 1910.
Six of these are managed by DoC and are accessible via a short tramp, but there's one exception in the area that you can drive right up to. Just a 10-minute drive from the start of the Catchpool and Orongorongo Valley walking tracks is the Coast Road Hut, although "hut" might be a bit of a stretch here. The three-bedroom house has everything you might need for a holiday getaway; crockery and even pillows are supplied (although you need to bring your own linen). Bookable for exclusive use, it costs $200 per night.
4. Nydia Lodge in Pelorus Sound
Ask Picton locals and they'll tell you the area's premiere walking path isn't the Queen Charlotte Track — it's the Nydia Track along Pelorus Sound. But you don't need to walk to get to this 50-person DoC hut — you just need to shell out for a water taxi. It's even wheelchair accessible, with flush toilets and hot showers.
Popular with groups, Nydia Lodge books up quickly during holiday periods, but if you get in fast, you can reserve it for exclusive use ($450) or claim an entire bunk room ($36 to $96 per room).
5. Pepin Island Huts
Compared to some of the other options on this list, it feels scandalous to even call this trio of private cabins "huts." Situated on a farm near Nelson, each of Pepin Island's huts has panoramic views of Cable Bay and beyond.
The Nikau Hut ($110) is the most basic of the three, but this isn't the time to skimp and save — book the Passage Hut or Rocky Point Hut ($190), both of which boast Instagram-worthy outdoor bathtubs. All three huts can be accessed by short to moderate walks, but we won't tell if you decide to pay the additional price of $40 for a 4WD pick-up or drop-off.
6. Waiuta Lodge
Trust us; one afternoon isn't quite enough time to explore the remains of Waiuta, a ghost town near Reefton that was once one of the largest gold mines in New Zealand's history. Spending the night at Waiuta Lodge allows for a full exploration of the area, including the nearby Big River township, which was also abandoned.
Luckily, with a picturesque porch looking out towards the Paparoas, the lodge is anything but spooky. It has all the creature comforts you'll need, including crockery, instant boiling water, electricity and flush toilets. It costs $15 adults per night, while kids are just $7.50 (5 and under are free).
7. McCauley Hut in Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park
Although it's on DoC land, this popular 14-bunk hut on the northern end of Lake Tekapo is owned by the Mackenzie Alpine Trust. The volunteers who maintain it pride themselves of keeping it in good nick to encourage people to experience the Mackenzie high country.
You'll need to be an experienced 4X4 driver to get to it; there are both river crossings and large boulders to navigate around. But once you arrive, you might not want to leave — for just $10 (paid to an honesty box), you get a night's stay in one of the region's best-serviced and most attractive huts, complete with solar lighting and gas stoves.
8. Sign of the Kiwi in Christchurch's Port Hills
At the start of the 20th century, politician Harry Ell had a dream to build a network of 14 rest houses that would provide refreshments to trampers exploring the Port Hills. In the end, only four were constructed: Sign of the Bellbird, Sign of the Kiwi, Sign of the Packhorse and Sign of the Takahē. Today, the only one you can still spend the night in is Sign of the Packhouse, but there's a hike involved to get there.
The other three are accessible by car. Last year, Sign of the Takahē reopened as a restaurant, Sign of the Bellbird is an open-air picnic spot, and Sign of the Kiwi is popular spot for cyclists to have their morning coffee. Sure, you can't stay overnight—but you can still immerse yourself in the history of NZ's early outdoors culture.
9. Shepherd's Hut at Washpen Falls, Canterbury
In a country where walking is one of the greatest free activities available, it doesn't make much sense to pay for trail access. Washpen Falls is one notable exception to this rule. Running through private farmland, the well-maintained track is one of the finest day walks in the Selwyn region, going through a diverse range of eco-systems and past its namesake falls.
With that being said, you don't have to walk anywhere to access the Washpen Fall's Shepherd's Hut. A self-contained traditional English Shepherd's Hut, this accommodation is fully kitted-out. All you need to do is bring ingredients to cook up a feast in the outdoor kitchen, and yourself to soak in the outdoor wood-fired hot tub.
It can be booked from $295 per night.
10. Honeywell Hut, Motueka
Let's face it — most of Canopy Camping's properties sit firmly on the more "glamour" side of "glamping." Maybe that's why the rustic but still luxurious Honeywell Hut, near Motueka, stands out among its offerings.
The restored one-room cabin is totally off-grid, with its water even heated by woodfire. Don't worry though; it still has Canopy Camping's trademark outdoor bathtub, so you're not going to be too hard done by.
11. Ōkārito School House
Just north of Franz Josef is a building that's lived many lifetimes in its 150-year history. At the turn of the century, it served as a schoolhouse. By 1960, it was YHA hostel for visitors. In 1990, the building was fully restored and run as accommodation. Today, it's a drive-up access DoC hut.
With parts of the building date back as far as 1867, spending the night here is one for the books, providing a take on history that you won't learn in any other classroom. With enough room to sleep 12, electric heating, and crockery, it can be booked for exclusive use for just $100 per night.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com