A Bunk for the Night

Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown & Geoff Spearpoint
Potton & Burton


New Zealand has around 1000 backcountry huts, mostly managed by the Department of Conservation (Doc), which help make this country a paradise for those who love the outdoors. The authors, all well known in outdoor circles for advocacy work and for books and photography, have captured a good representation of these in this revision of their 2016 book, covering 201 huts.

These range from tiny two bunk ones (known as bivs, short for bivouac) to the massive 80-bunk Pinnacle Hut in the Coromandel; dating from the 19th century to brand new. Only a couple are new in this edition.

The book is dedicated to the memory of conservationist Andy Dennis, and its fitting that the outstanding new addition is Mataketake Hut, which was funded by a bequest from his estate. This hut, set on the tops north of Haast and accessed via a recut miners track will, like Jubilee Hut, undoubtedly lead to an upswing in interest in the area (a fact that I acknowledge won’t please everyone).

Geoff Spearpoint’s introduction sets the scene by evoking the place of huts in outdoor culture, before discussing the selection process. The entries for each hut range from a half page to a two page spread. Each lists the huts Doc category, number of bunks and heating source. The longer entries, in particular, devote space to the story of the hut, and all conclude with a brief description of how to get there.

A Bunk for the Night concludes with an interesting chapter on hut maintenance. It starts with detailing the work of volunteer groups like Permolat, which has maintained obscure huts and tracks on the West Coast for many years.

It then covers the formation of the Outdoor Recreation Consortium by national recreation groups, designed as a way to channel Doc funding to volunteer-led projects and which has now morphed into the more-enduring Backcountry Trust. It then gives the reader some useful ideas on how to take the lead on a hut project, with tips on finance and how to plan the work.

The book is illustrated with a great selection of photographs, mostly by the authors but complemented with images drawn from the photo libraries of a number of well-known backcountry photographers. Over 30 new images make the cut in this edition.

I will not be the only person whose first move after quickly thumbing through the book was to count how many of the featured huts I had been to, followed by swiftly planning more trips. For me, that is what guidebooks are really about, not so much step by step instructions but a primer for schemes and ideas.

David Barnes lives in Lower Hutt and is an avid tramper and armchair mountaineer

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