Notes from a social trail
GG had been on the Routeburn trail in New Zealand and wants to share little tidbits he couldn’t find before he left. So this is sort of a big aside from the usual course of things….
Camp vs hut vs guided walk. On the Routeburn you can do all three (some other Great Walks have fewer options). Huts are a godsend in rain or cold weather, they have flush toilets (!), but bunk rooms are a community noise machine. We had folks get up at 5 am in one hut, making a racket as they packed up. If your sleeping bag is warm, you will be hot and for some the smell can be a bit much. But huts let you carry a lot less stuff (no tent, pad, stove, fuel). Camping gives you some space from neighbors and at least here you get sinks and a covered area to cook, so not quite as rough as much American backpacking. Guided walks are for those who wish to do this as a series of day hikes, their animal needs met at night by a full hotel experience. Of course there is a price to be paid for luxury built by helicopter in a national park…
What can you leave behind either way: dish soap and sponge or scrubbie. Water purifier (well maybe-more in a moment). Toilet paper. But bring a trash bag.
What you might question: water is a big one. DOC (Dept of Conservation) guys in Queenstown claimed water was from roofs and collected in cisterns. Not a chance at huts with flush toilets. Where is the water from? Streams or springs. Notes at huts say the water is usually ok but you could purify it if you like. DOC hut wardens might say there are no animals that might carry Giardia, but we saw deer and deer scat (do stoats carry Giardia?). One day DOC might regret this if they get something in their water. But right now they are basically using stream water.
About that “social trail” in the title. No, not referring to an unofficial trail but instead one where you constantly meet people. And the Routeburn is almost like a days’ long international journey. As GG’s daughter noted, you could play language bingo, so many tongues are spoken. And then as camping or huts concentrate folks, you almost always are chatting with people from across the globe. In fact, it often seems like New Zealanders are the least common people on the trail. Similarly, the level of backcountry experience varies a lot from total neophytes to expert travelers.
A minor surprise was how rushed most folks were. Most do the Routeburn in 3 days but some in one (it is about 20 miles long). A lot of folks get to a hut well before sundown and just sit inside, which seems strange. (Better to be leisurely on the trail in that case).
As in many mountains, weather can be quite different on opposite sides of the track. The hut wardens post weather forecasts for their location, which might not help you to get somewhere. This can cause some confusion for the inexperienced (you can see a forecast for a sunny day and find on the other side of the divide that it is raining–best to be prepared for anything).
Any ways, just some info GG would have liked to have had beforehand.