By R. Richards
The "Lodge" at Routeburn!
Fellow MSI board member Bob Stremba and I recently decided to spend a couple of days on New Zealand’s Routeburn walk, one of the famous tracks in the Southern Alps. We did it last week, during the shoulder season so there were only a handful of people on the trail. But I can imagine the numbers grow exorbitantly during the summer months. Fair enough, that’s how New Zealand has decided to funnel foreign hikers, and showcase tourism into a few of the well-known tramps. Milford Sound not far away is another.
All went well, aside from a bit of rain. We met some nice hikers, one from Ireland, Australia, Switzerland and four from Canada. We stayed at the small Routeburn Flats hut, and the next day proceeded to the Routeburn Falls hut for a quick lunch break . That’s when something seemed out of place. First, the size of the Department of Conservation (DOC) hut was quite impressive, equipped to handle large amounts of hikers. I then noticed above me, and pondered what in the world, could the huge building possibly be that stood above the DOC hut? Since it was the off season, this larger upper building was closed, bit we could peek in the windows . As I approached, a big wooden sign in front of the building called out the “Routeburn Falls Lodge”. I saw a smaller sign behind it, mounted on the wall stating: “Strictly Guided Walkers Only” adding “Independent walkers please continue on to the DOC Hut.”
Private Rooms for the Gentry
The irony of first class and coach system arriving in the mountains struck me immediately with the thought that there should be a sign on the DOC hut stating, “Strictly Independent Walkers, Guided hikers should continue on to the nearest Hilton”. Of course I don’t really feel that way, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Better yet, maybe the cognoscenti should overthrow the highfalutin hut and invite the coach class to join them, (and possibly even have a food fight).
The only site I can remotely remember seeing like this was in the Alps. Of course high living gentiles are still staying in the hotels just below the faces of the Matterhorn and Eiger. The only class arrangement I can remember seeing was in the Alpine Club huts of the Alps where the mountain quide’s quarters, were separated from us chattel climbers. But this, here in New Zealand was a whole other matter. I’m sure Oliver James, author of Affluenza would be proud of most Kiwis who shun this sort of thing in their mountains. I then found my tolerance level further tested with another sign telling “independent hikers” to a) turn around, b) march their little butts down to where they belong c) and stay there, all with the Orwellian salutation of “Hi There!” See the actual text in the image above.
Bob Stremba, overlooking the Backcountry (?)
I hope that “haute couture” in the backcountry stops with this hut. I’m assuming there may be others though. Even though this super-duper hut sits in the heart of the Routeburn, in the real backcountry, we’re still all the same. The problem is, having such a lodge like this goes a long way in destroying the very experience the concession is trying to offer. By its very nature, it removes itself from the backcountry. It brings the virulent virus – the epidemic of affluenza to the doorstep of paradise. Tell us what you think about allowing such multiple uses on government land such as luxury lodges (such as this one run by Ultimate Hikes) Is it a bad idea? Are we missing something about the land use plans of NZ?
If you’re thinking of taking a guided hike, suggest to your guide that he put you up with the rest of us. You’ll find it much more inspiring. Also suggest that they could change their signs to a less snooty sort.