Date: 14 January 2022
Dale Chittenden, Acting Operations Manager Rakiura says DOC is constantly monitoring the situation, but very few people are cancelling their trips.
“Trampers staying in DOC huts on Rakiura, Stewart Island and the Kepler in Fiordland, get booking alerts informing them huts have been treated for bed bugs, that we are constantly monitoring them, and that they are welcome to change their plans or get a refund if this deters them,” says Dale.
On both tracks, monitoring has continued to detect the occasional bed bug over the last few months, a good reminder for DOC and visitors to remain vigilant, but still come along and enjoy the tracks. It is important to note that bed bugs are a community problem, not specifically a DOC hut problem, and travellers should be wary of accidentally spreading the bugs.
“Very few people are cancelling,” says Dale. “Appreciative of the heads-up, those with concerns are opting to communicate with DOC and bring a tent to stay in as an extra precaution, or switch tracks.
“DOC treats affected huts with a chemical that leaves a non-toxic residue that targets bed bugs. A basic “bora bomb” is not enough to counteract them, and we strongly recommend other accommodation providers in affected areas use professional pest control services.
“When people check in at the DOC visitor centre on Stewart Island, they are advised of bed bugs on the island and given tips such as shaking out their sleeping bags and checking gear for the tiny hitchhikers, before entering the huts. Bed bugs are visible, they look like small brown beetles, so you can easily see if they’ve come along for the ride. They hate light and sunshine (as well as extreme cold) so airing gear outside is helpful.”
Dale says insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) is effective to ward off bed bugs for an individual, just like sandflies and mosquitoes.
“People often report a suspected bed bug bite that turns out to be a mosquito or sandfly bite. Applying insect repellent is helpful in all cases.
“Bed bugs are very difficult to eradicate and require constant monitoring. We do know there are still bed bugs being found on the island, and we will continue to do everything we can to eliminate them.
Between DOC, other accommodation providers, and individual travellers all doing their part, we can keep bed bugs under control and hopefully extinguish them for good.”
How to avoid carrying bed bugs
Walkers should clean their gear. In our experience bed bugs do not tolerate extreme cold or hot temperatures well. So for items such as sleeping bags which are not often washable, people could put them in a black rubbish bag and either place in direct sunlight for 24 hrs or in a chest freezer. Followed by air drying on an outside line.
Check their equipment prior to heading into the outdoors. While in the outdoors, and especially before entering huts, take precautions to reduce risk of spread:
- store gear in large plastic bags
- shake out sleeping bag before and after using it
- if possible, leave unused tramping gear outside of the hut
- on returning home check you gear again.
Please note that at Luxmore Hut Fiordland it isn’t possible to keep gear outside (the Kea will have a field day)! And leaving 54 peoples gear in the kitchen area is a big risk to cooking facilities with gas involved and our fire exits.
There seems to be a common misconception that we can tell the difference between sandfly/mosquito bites from bed bug bites, unfortunately for most cases we cannot.
We really appreciate the positive feedback we have from the public and the vigilance, patience and curiosity they have shown with rangers who are on-site when dealing with bed bugs!
Trampers have appreciated being kept up to date with the bed bug issue so that they can make well informed decisions around using DOC facilities.
Bed bugs are very common, probably more common than a lot of operators who have high-use sleeping areas would want to admit. What we are doing here in Fiordland is being proactive about the issue by keeping the public informed, with two goals: 1 of ultimately eliminating bed bugs at Luxmore Hut but more importantly stop the spread to other huts.
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