New Zealand has a total of nine Great Walks, most of which are outfitted with a few huts to aid trampers in their quest to accomplish the long journeys.
The huts are bare-boned and simple: running water and toilets (a luxury when you’re backpacking with the strict mantra of Leave No Trace), plain kitchens with gas stoves and sinks, long tables with communal benches, and vast, open rooms with rows of double bunks. No showers, no electricity, no privacy. No ego.
Meals are cooked standing next to your fellow trampers, and the dim, solar-powered lights go out by 10 p.m.
These walks draw huge crowds. Thousands traverse these spectacular journeys each year, and the huts are filled with the echoes of varying languages, accents and dialects.
The huts are a wonderful mechanism designed to support the New Zealand Department of Conservation and make long journeys more accessible to those eager to try them.
They’re also an exercise in minimalism and tolerance. Any trash created is carried out with you. There are no garbage cans, no accessories, no pretension.
Inhabitants sleep in long bunks, in some cases (as was mine last week), are separated from fellow occupants by nothing more than a foot or so. Respect is integral in this mechanic. Last week there were 57 occupants in two huge rooms- 1 occupant over capacity.
The system relies on honesty, tolerance, and mutual respect. Any one ambitious hiker who is too noisy in early departure will potentially rouse 30 other occupants. Any messy or irresponsible camper who leaves trash or belongings behind creates extra work for rangers and decreases the space available to others.
Stark virtues emerge in this environment stripped of technology, luxury and most amenities.
Self-importance quickly disappears, along with many aspects of modern-day comfort. Natural beauty abounds however, and friendliness and easy chats aren’t hard to come by.
This, I think, is not a bad way to live.