19 Feb 2024

Call for trampers to pay: Track closes due to full toilets

From Checkpoint, 5:52 pm on 19 February 2024

A poo pile-up which forced the Department of Conservation to close a track at a national park to some people has triggered a suggestion that people should pay to enter.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) urged day trippers to stay away from the Mueller Hut Route on Aoraki Mount Cook because the toilets there were almost at capacity.

People who have booked the hut are still welcome. 

One of the country's most experienced mountain guides told Checkpoint more people, in particular overseas visitors and day trippers, should pay to access popular tracks to help pay for facilities like loos. 

DOC said in a statement that the track would re-open to day hikers on Wednesday, dependent on weather conditions.

The Aoraki operations team were scheduled to empty the toilets at Mueller Hut later this week, they simply filled up faster than expected, DOC said.

Many of the 2000 toilets it managed were in remote locations and maintaining them was a big job, it said.

Occasionally, temporarily closures were necessary when they could not be serviced immediately. 

DOC said this was the first time the Mueller Hut Route had been temporarily closed due to toilet issues. 

Charlie Hobbs, who has been guiding in the area for more than 30 years, said it cost a lot of money to upkeep the tracks at Aoraki Mount Cook.

"Poor DOC at Mount Cook, they're overrun, they've got budget cuts, they're getting no money and there's no income for them to look after these tracks ... the toilet paper bill itself is massive. They go through crates and crates of toilet paper.

"There's thousands of people coming in there every day, and it's for free, and a lot of these that are coming in are not coming in to the village and using the amenities. They're coming in, driving in, driving out. 

"When you go to national parks and other lands in other countries, people don't mind paying for the service and it helps the local organisations or the DOC organisations pay the way, help pay the fees. It's quite sensible really, isn't it?"

Although there was a statutory law meaning national parks had to be free, Hobbs suggested that could be changed or other ways of paying a fee could be found, like charging for parking. 

"From what I can see, there are a lot of illegal small bus groups coming in that don't have concessions. Every bus that comes in could have up to 40 people, the small buses have 12 to15-16 people and there are numerous ones coming in, they need to be checked.

"We don't want to close it off to people because it's an amazing national park ... but I think if people come in, they've got to understand there's value to it. It's not just a case of piling in by the thousands and doing it for free. 

"Charging them won't put them off coming."

He believed a reasonable fee could range anywhere from $5 to $20.