Backpackers Tokyo

B e it the crest of an icy mountain peak, the depths of the dense native bush, or the slopes of sleeping volcanoes, New Zealand’s wild and remote landscapes are coveted by outdoor enthusiasts the world over. But what really sets the country’s nature apart from the rest is what is at one’s disposal when nature calls – spectacular loos with views.

These scenic spots – small, remote, and lacking in plumbing – are a curious quirk in New Zealand’s landscape, and offer up some of the best panoramas in the country.

“It’s pretty funny when you get to the end of an amazing track, you get to a hut, and it’s just absolutely stunning, and that view is not lost from the long-drop,” keen tramper and photographer Julie Gursha says.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Gursha moved to New Zealand just prior to the pandemic. She has hiked all over the world but says New Zealand’s loos with views stand out.

“There are 360 degree views in a lot of places in the States, but I have been backpacking there with my tent. Having the option to be in a hut that comes with a nice loo, that is definitely unique to New Zealand and pretty special,” she laughs.

Her personal favourite is at the Cameron Hut in the Hakatere Conservation Park, near Ashburton in the South Island. “That one is just a little more off the beaten path – it’s a really special one.”

The highest outdoor toilet in New Zealand is at 2,500 m at Empress Hut, Aoraki in Mt Cook National Park.
The highest outdoor toilet in New Zealand is at 2,500 m at Empress Hut, Aoraki in Mt Cook National Park. Photograph: DOC

The department of conservation is responsible for the extensive network of landscape latrines and holds the unusual gong of “managing more toilets than any other organisation in New Zealand”.

“The department of conservation manages 2,200 toilet buildings, with about 3,500 toilet pans … many of these sit in stunning locations,” says Steve Taylor, its heritage and visitors director.

The department has been appealing to trampers to please “poo in the loos”, saying while most do take the opportunity to relieve themselves in the toilets provided, others sometimes use the walking tracks. Last year, the department reprimanded New Zealanders for not respecting their back yard, as closed borders ramped up domestic tourism.

“If it’s done in nature, it can be unsightly, smelly and unhealthy,” a 2019 campaign video states.

Taylor said: “There aren’t many toilets in our wild places. Remember to always go before you start your trip and if you’re heading out for a longer walk, be properly prepared and use a loo when you can.”

Many of the impressive long-drops are linked to some of the 970 huts dotted through the more remote and striking parts of the country, and require helicopters to fly the waste out.

The department says it is looking at ways of reducing helicopter flying to reduce cost and carbon emissions. In some places where the climate is suitable, roughly 100 composting toilets are used, though these are based at more accessible campsites.

The oldest toilet is believed to be a 90-year-old pit toilet at an old farm homestead now managed by the department as part of Rakiura national park called “Island Hill Run” on Rakiura/Stewart Island.

The toilet with the most impressive altitude is at Empress Hut, 2,500m up New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook in the Southern Alps.