A recent online booking trial at Brewster Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park found at least half of hut users may have been dodging hut fees.

Last summer, DOC trialled a booking system at Brewster and Siberia huts in a bid to manage the growing number of hut users.

At Brewster, the number of people paying hut fees more than doubled after the booking system was introduced, going from 505 in 2016/17 to 1153 in 2017/18.

However, the amount of sewage flown out from the hut remained the same, suggesting rampant fee dodging by past users.

Unlike Brewster, Siberia Hut usually has a warden during peak times, so the booking trial had little impact on people paying hut fees.

“Compliance in bookable, well-used huts and campsites is high and, while it’s not cost-effective for DOC to closely monitor compliance in our remote or less-known facilities, we know that the majority of users appreciate DOC’s work and want to do the right thing,” said DOC recreation, tourism and heritage director Gavin Walker.

DOC is also putting more effort into catching fee dodgers, with more rangers in huts and campgrounds, and it is developing an online payment system for its facilities over the next year to make it easier for users to pay for huts and campsites.

Overall, there has been a marked increase in hut revenue since the booking system was introduced for selected huts. Revenue from backcountry huts increased by over 30 per cent over the past five years, from $1.5m to $2m, while campsite revenue increased by 79 per cent, from $4.2 to $7.5m.

Brewster and Siberia huts will be permanently added to DOC’s booking system. The huts will be bookable from December 1 to April 15

DOC Central Otago district senior ranger Annette Grieve said the department is also considering introducing a booking system at NZ Alpine Club-owned Aspiring and French Ridge huts and DOC’s Liverpool Hut in the Matukituki Valley.

Alpine Club general manager Karen Leacock said the club would make a decision about making Aspiring Hut bookable in the near future.

“I’m still on the fence,” Leacock said. “I like to be able to head to a hut without booking, but the level of overcrowding means it is becoming more difficult.

Families also like to have a guaranteed bunk so they don’t have to rush and I’m all for supporting young people getting into the outdoors.”

This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of Wilderness magazine.