Try Out a Room with a View

While I walk the land and meet the people along the Te Araroa trail, every day spent in what I call "nature's therapy room" brings fresh delights.

Chief among these is discovering the unique system of huts that dot the trails like oases of comfort and warmth for the weary tramper.

Before I left Auckland last week, I popped into the DOC office and bought a Back-Country Hut Pass from a friendly and knowledgeable staffer. In exchange for $92, I gained access to hundreds of rooms with a view. True bargains are rare but this has to be the deal of a lifetime.

An even better bargain is a 12 month pass for $120. If you're visiting for a few days, you can buy individual tickets for about $5.00.

Like beach-side baches and local tramping clubs, bush huts are a Kiwi institution.

Here in Tongariro, you can even step an authentically restored hut that dates from the 19th century. Just a few hundred metres away stands the 21st century equivalent: a brand-new 23 bunk "Great Walk" hut that cost over $750,000 to build.

In recent years, DOC has invested millions of dollars, often in collaboration with tramping clubs, to upgrade, replace and build from new simple, comfortable and clean wilderness shelters.

I think it's a wise investment. It encourages people to venture safely and enjoyably into the outdoors. In a fast-changing world, it keeps alive a vital connection with a simpler, less complicated lifestyle.

Most of all, the investment offers a connection to the many benefits of entering nature's therapy room.

When you stay in a hut, you gain a different perspective.

You live as our forebears did.

You'll drink, wash and cook with clean, fresh water often piped straight from a stream into a tank outside the building. No hot water here. If you want that, you'll boil your own.

You won't find a flushing toilet, either. However, there will be a "long drop" or perhaps a winterised chemical loo situated a discreet distance from the hut. Bring your own paper.

A few huts have solar power for lighting but typically, there'll be a few candle stubs stuck in bottles or candle-holders. The room looks snug and warm in the warm glow.

Without harsh lighting or the discordant flickering of TV and computer screens, your brain begins to produce more and more melatonin to give that nice drowsy, relaxed feeling.

Voices drop to a murmur and then there's the sound of sleeping bags being opened and closed. You'll sleep well after a day on the trail and if you don't, no matter. Have an afternoon "toes up" the next day.

The huts are beautifully sited to take advantage of views while protected from wind, avalanches or floods.

Step inside and you'll find one or two rooms with wood-panelled walls, ceilings and floors. Some huts now even have double-glazing.

A wood- or coal-burning stove takes a commanding position. Fuel is plentiful and free of charge. Above the stove are racks for drying wet gear. You'll set off in the morning dry and warm.

There is a simple table or two and benches, perhaps a shelf with a few well-thumbed books, newspapers and magazines, even a deck if cards.

Bunks with comfortable rubber or vinyl-covered mattresses line most walls. You may sleep side-by-side with your neighbors or have your own space. Bring your own bedding (and perhaps ear plugs!)

Some huts accommodate 20 or more, others less than eight. In a period of prolonged bad weather, there may be trampers sleeping on the floor.

No matter; hut life teaches tolerance and fosters social connections.

You'll meet people from all walks of life, of all ages and levels of experience. Some you'll end seeing again and again as you move from hut to hut. Email addresses are exchanged, friendships form or may be just a temporary connection.

There'll be a stainless steel sink and counter for cooking. Bring a cooker, fuel and food.

Hut life brings out the best in you and others. Need help? Just ask. You're in a micro-community for an hour, a night, a day or longer. People care and look out for each other. You may even find a DOC hut warden (each Great Walk hut has a live-in warden.)

In an age of social isolation and disconnection from the natural world, huts bring people together. At the same time, they bring you closer to nature.

Staying in a hut "rewires your brain".

It's why I see them as an integral part of nature's therapy room.

And it's the reason they are such a wise investment.