A walk in the woods
September 2018, Southland, New Zealand
It was getting late on Friday by the time we rounded the bend to see Colac Bay streaming out in front of us. Located on the south coast of New Zealand, Colac Bay looks out over the stormy Foveaux Strait. Beautiful, but we weren’t stopping to appreciate the view. Jordan and I were heading into Longwoods Conservation area for the weekend. Finding Cascade road, then the track, then Martins hut was our objective – and before the daylight ran out.
Having only briefly glanced at the track notes Jordan and I are feeling our way with some optimistic guesswork
The Corolla bumped and scraped along the four wheel drive track. Gorse made teeth clenching assaults on the paintwork. Not knowing how far the road went on for, I stopped only when the potholes became too alarming for my ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. Having only briefly glanced at the track notes Jordan and I are feeling our way with optimistic guesswork. We are delighted to see orange triangles leading off the road only a couple of kilometers on from where we parked the car. After about 30 minutes along the track Jordan stops “Liv we’re going south, we’re meant to be going northwest”. Hmm. That very effective gutter beside the track does actually look like an old water race. Which puts us on the right road but the wrong track. Turning around we headed back to the road and continue uphill. Before very long we had found the Martins creek track. Excited to have found it before dark we hurry up the hill. A fire is built, the hefty amount of chinese takeout unearthed from a backpack.
Longwoods stand tall in their mossy cloaks. From outside we are a glowing window pane. A sickle moon peers down, envious of our comforts. Jordan prods the logs, whiskey in hand. Martins hut has character. It is one of the three gold mining era huts still standing and accessible on public conservation land in Southland. Built in 1905, the generations of people housed in its rough hewn walls have left their mark. An adventure novel, candles, tequila bottles, and an old canteen are assembled on the mantle. When we close the door behind us the wood is shiny and soft to touch, the whorls and crescents caressed by many hands.
Saturday is an easy five kilometers towards Turnbulls hut. We criss cross the graveyard of trees, standing like a giant fossilised playground where Turnbulls Dam used to be. The hut, dam & water race remains are from gold Mining efforts in 1875. Now the dam catchment is a lake of grass filled with afternoon sun. We laze about, read the hut book, and enjoy the solitude – worlds apart from our busy messy flat. Jordan shows me how to swing an axe, and I spend a happy hour or so learning how to chop firewood. I split a log down the middle to fall in two pieces. Its belly is raw and smelling of dirt.
Writing this during mental health awareness week in New Zealand I am reminded how important it is for me to connect with nature mindfully and frequently. The theme for for this years mental health awareness week was: “Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga!”. Looking after ones mental health looks like a variety of different things for different people. For me it looks like a walk in the bush, or, even better a weekend in the bush. I believe connecting with nature is a way to connect with our breath, and through our breath our soul. I believe connecting with the natural rhythms and cycles in nature lets those same rhythms and cycles be present in your body. Remind yourself that a walk outside isn’t something that comes at the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. It is a privilege in Aotearoa to be sure, but not a luxury. Deep breaths of fresh air is self care.
The drive from Colac Bay up towards Cascade road turns to gravel in places. Cascade road wasn’t marked, but we figured it out by process of elimination. You want to keep going up Cascade road as far as possible. It will get fairly rough. The trail to Martins hut is marked at the entrance to the bush. The intersections on the trail are also marked with distances and estimated times. Coming back from Turnbulls hut along the 4WD track there is a gully and stream crossing which could present a problem after heavy rain. Longwoods conservation Area is managed by the Department of conservation Te Papa Atawhai.
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