Take a hike
By the time you have carved out a few spare moments for yourself, chances are you won't have energy left to work out what to do with your precious me-time. Here's a fresh idea, says Ellie Gwilliam - dig out your comfortable shoes, find a friend, and take a walk!
Tramping, known elsewhere as hiking, trekking, walking, or rambling, is one of New Zealand's most popular outdoor activities. With spectacular scenery freely accessible and fresh air in abundance, it is no surprise that we Kiwis love to walk. I come from a long line of avid bushwalkers. In fact, my great-great-grandfather spent so much time tramping and exploring the South Island that there are a lake and a mountain named after him. Admittedly, I am more inclined to spend my leisure time sitting down for coffee and/or calories. Despite my lineage, I can't say it comes naturally to me to don walking shoes and aimlessly wander, but when I do, I'm always surprised to see just how good it is. Here are some tips, from an enthusiastic amateur, that may just encourage you to grab a friend and venture beyond your local café.
As a chronic multi-tasker, I find tramping an attractive me-time activity, as its benefits are multifaceted. Firstly, it provides incidental exercise, my favourite kind. Not one to voluntarily dedicate my precious spare time to any sort of fitness regime, tramping makes sense to me because it's a workout, recreation, and a mode of transport all in one.
General health and fitness guidelines suggest that at least 10,000 steps per day are required to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Push Play, a national campaign inspiring New Zealanders to become more active, and to value sport and recreation as integral to their day, cites women as their primary audience, as it is women who are generally less active. This surely refects the incessant demands on our time, rather than any laziness on our part, but perhaps we do need reminding that the advantages of keeping fit should be a priority in our lives. Because walking is low-impact, it is easy on your joints while still providing great exercise. Walking is a great choice for burning calories, strengthening back muscles and bones, lowering blood pressure, shaping and toning your legs and buttocks, and reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even stress!
Without sounding completely clichéd, being out in nature can't be beaten for ambience. Fresh air, views, peace and quiet. A chance to step out of the daily grind, be it domestic or otherwise, and slow down. Awaken the senses! A chance to clear your head and think, have ideas, and be inspired. No traffic, sirens, washing machines, kids yelling… You and your girlfriends will be able to hear each other talking. In fact, you may even get to finish your sentences!
To be honest, tramping appeals to my frugal nature as well - one can get from A to B for free, which is incredibly satisfying, even if the track you are walking is a round one, and you are simply back to where you started.
What will I need?
First things first - what to wear. Most importantly, you need comfortable footwear. Nothing will put you off faster than ill-ftting shoes and an imminent blister or two. Tramping boots are great for more adventurous tracks, as the ankle support means you can tackle steep paths and uneven ground with added confidence. Proper tramping boots also provide waterproofng, which is handy in unpredictable New Zealand weather conditions, as dry socks can make a huge difference to comfort levels. (Just quietly, tramping boots also go a long way to enhance credibility. I bought a pair of boots while living in Switzerland - high credibility value. Alas, they have, for the most part, sat idle in our basement since my return to New Zealand six years ago - credibility points all but de-valued.)
For many tracks and terrains, however, good sport shoes will be adequate. The things to look for are quality soles providing good grip, and good cushioning and support of your feet. Also, don't underestimate the value of quality socks. Outdoors and sports shops sell a variety of socks especially designed for tramping, with breathable fabrics and even cushioning for your soles - true respect for your feet!
Concerning the rest of your walking wardrobe, look for comfortable clothing made from lightweight, breathable fabrics. Generally speaking, shorts can see you through all seasons as you add the necessary layers - thermal underwear, feece, waterproof jacket, etc - to your top half in order to cope with colder weather. Shorts best allow for movement, and if you have to cross a stream, it's easier to dry your legs than it is fabric. If it's really cold, you can go for the hard-core look of thermal long johns under your shorts - but we might leave that for the extreme outdoorsy types! Layering is key in tramping, especially if you are walking where weather conditions can quickly change. But if you're planning more of an urban stroll, you can probably avoid the polyprop altogether and just go for comfortable, non-restrictive clothing.
Another piece of equipment where comfort is key: Your backpack. Ultimately, you are going to need a bag to carry supplies - the longer the walk, the more supplies. A backpack makes sense so you can keep your hands free. In my experience, it's the straps that make the difference. I have been ready to ditch my bag and all its contents in the nearest bin, simply because the straps were badly designed and cutting into my shoulders. Depending on the weight of your load, you might find that a hipbelt improves comfort, allowing the weight to be carried on your hips instead of neck and shoulders.
There are a few essentials to pack for all-round tramping enhancement. Remember protection from the elements: Sunscreen, insect repellent, and hat. Don't be beaten by nature! Plenty of water to avoid dehydration is very important, as are snacks! As a child, the highlight of tramping for me was Mum's scroggin. The chunks of chocolate hidden among the nuts and raisins were as thrilling as the walk itself. Whatever your chosen treat, pack plenty in your rucksack as you need to keep your energy levels up. A small frst-aid kit (with plenty of plasters) is a very useful addition, as are maps and a cell phone. If you're embarking on a longer hike, especially through mountains and/or bush, ensure you are adequately prepared and educated.
Too many accidents happen in New Zealand when people are naïve to the dangers, and ill-prepared for the conditions.
The fitness benefits of tramping are obvious, but it is not just the domain of the über-fit. With the vast variety of terrain offered by New Zealand landscapes, you can find a track suited to your fitness level. And pushchair accessibility is not an issue if you're taking some time out for a walk with your girlfriends. It's got to be good for you - especially the scroggin laced with chocolate!
Ellie Gwilliam is OHbaby! Magazine's sub-editor and mum of two. Having spent the summer heavily pregnant, Ellie never really walked further than the letterbox in fip-flops - the only footwear that fit - but hopes to dig out her tramping boots and take a walk or two this Autumn.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 5 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW