Sunday, 30 January 2011

Home Sweet Hut: Part 1

Ironstone Hut: a charming Tasmanian hut nestled into a hillside near Lake Nameless

Bushwalking huts: where do you start? They’re smelly, dank, draughty, ill-lit, noisy and uncomfortable. Their conveniences aren’t, and their inconveniences are legion.  Moreover they’re full of joke-telling, card-playing, snoring, messy, raucous individuals. Just like me. And I love them!

But it’s taken a few seasons of walking in New Zealand for me to realise how huts can and should function. Before that I think I saw huts as something of an optional part of bushwalking in Tasmania. After all it is rare for hardened Tasmanian bushwalkers to walk without a tent.

And to be brutally frank some of Tassie’s huts are ugly, mean little edifices probably built out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it feels as though they were built with scant regard for either the surroundings or the would-be users.

Such huts are little cared for, little loved and tend to promote a mean-spirited culture among users. If you and your fellow walkers have ever walked into an already-occupied hut and been greeted as though you’re a leper, you’ll know what I mean.

My New Zealand experience contrasted starkly with that. It may help that hospitality is etched deeply into Kiwi DNA. But New Zealanders also take deliberate steps to create a welcoming atmosphere for trampers.

We arrive at Routeburn Falls Hut and find the hut warden turning his weather report and pass checking session into a social – and very funny – get-to-know-you exercise. Reluctant at first, we end up laughing and chatting and bonding with the group that we’ll share the whole walk experience with. Some years later, some of us are still in email contact.

Routeburn Falls Hut (NZ): A palace on stilts between forest and mountain

My mate Jim and I once tried the same at the old Windy Ridge Hut (now the new Bert Nicholls Hut). At the time it was one of the “meaner” huts on the Overland Track, and when our party arrived late, we duly got the “leper” treatment.

The next day the hut emptied of its anti-social inhabitants, but our party stayed on. We weren’t walking the Overland Track, and some of the group wanted to explore the waterfalls beyond Du Cane Gap. Seeing the wet weather, and being more than familiar with the falls, Jim and I decided to have a hut day.

But as we set ourselves up for a day of sleeping, eating, talking and reading, we also chatted about our experience the night before. We both agreed that we wanted to see what difference a welcoming attitude might make. So from mid-afternoon, as the next set of walkers arrived, we laid out the proverbial red carpet. We offered cups of tea and chocolates to the exhausted; shared stories with the bright-eyed; joked with the lively-looking, and generally acted like hosts for each new arrival.

It worked. That night, and the following morning, were among the best hut experiences I’ve ever shared. All because of a small shift in attitude.

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