‘Good for the soul’: Solo mom finds solace on New Zealand hikes with her seven-year-old


For Victoria Bruce, the “strange energy” that buzzes in her body as a result of chronic anxiety dissipates whenever she sets foot on a hiking trail.

Growing up in Australia, the 36-year-old New Zealander spent much of her time outdoors, but it wasn’t until she returned to her native country as a solo mom-to-be that she went back to hiking in a big way.

“As a Kiwi who didn’t grow up (in New Zealand) and had very few connections here, it wasn’t easy,” she says of moving from Myanmar, where she worked as a journalist, seven years ago.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child and at the time I didn’t know what that meant, but I fully understand now.”

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Victoria says walking with her daughter Emilie eases her anxiety.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Victoria says walking with her daughter Emilie eases her anxiety.

Immersing herself in nature with her daughter Emilie, now 7, she soon discovered was an effective treatment for the weak combination of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and of self-doubt that prevented him from finding inner peace.

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“Living with chronic anxiety is almost like feeling like you have too much adrenaline in your body. Your brain and body are constantly on high alert and over a long period of time it can be so exhausting. It affects the way you see yourself and the world around you. You know you don’t need it, but it’s there and you have to find a way to handle it.

4-year-old Emilie during her first night tramp.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

4-year-old Emilie during her first night tramp.

Working from home while caring for Emilie during the first nationwide lockdown, her anxiety increased, so she decided they were going to be vagrancy more of their lives as soon as they were allowed to.

“I find walking and being in nature so peaceful, calming, and fun – and all of that weird energy in me goes away. Since then, we’ve been doing it as much as we can. “

Victoria started walking with Emilie when she was still a baby, carrying her in a bag until she was able to walk on her own. Emilie was only four and a half years old when she made her first night wanderer – at Woolshed Creek Hut in the Mt Somers area of ​​Canterbury – and it turned out to be a defining experience for both of them.

“We loved it,” says Victoria. “Since then, we’ve grown our knowledge, confidence, stamina and walking gear, and she has now visited 43 huts around the South Island.”

The rain didn't spoil the couple's fun on the Stewart Island Rakiura Trail.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

The rain didn’t spoil the couple’s fun on the Stewart Island Rakiura Trail.

Living in Christchurch, the couple tackle a new trail about once a month, organizing day hikes and multi-day wanderers around work and school.

One of the mother-daughter duo’s favorite adventures was to climb a dark mountain in a hailstorm to a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut that looks more than a walkway like the little tin shed in my backyard. .

The couple were heading back to Christchurch after completing the 20-mile Rākiura Trail on Stewart Island when Victoria decided she wanted to do another wanderer. Emilie was less enthusiastic at first, but nodded when her mother told her that she had found a goodie that was “only” 5 km long.

“I didn’t know then that it was, like, vertical,” says Victoria.

Victoria outside Buster Hut, where they spent a night, in Oteake Conservation Park.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Victoria outside Buster Hut, where they spent a night, in Oteake Conservation Park.

The weather was not good as they made their way along the scenic but spooky gravel road over the Danseys Pass to the tussock-covered alpine wonderland that is the Tuscan Conservation Park. Oteake, but they’re pretty hardcore hikers these days. They weren’t going to let what was then just a light rain shower hamper their new mission: to climb Mount Buster to a hut next to Buster Diggings, where Mother Nature and the missing gold miners collaborated. on a series of gravel and quartz sculptures on what was once New Zealand’s highest gold deposit.

Being pelted with hailstones as they made their way through said tuft and brush on the five kilometer ‘shortcut’ to Buster Hut was what Victoria came to consider as ‘type two fun’: experiences that don’t have a bunch of laughs until looking back on them.

“We were watching the next batch of ominous dark clouds when the hut appeared, and it was even smaller than what the DOC website had shown,” Victoria said. “But we were so happy to get there – I remember my daughter running to the door and shouting ‘It’s us mum!’ We are the only ones here! ”.

For Emilie, staying in cabins in the middle of nowhere is a highlight of their walks.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

For Emilie, staying in cabins in the middle of nowhere is a highlight of their walks.

While inflating their air mattresses on the wooden floor, the two warmed up with steaming bowls of chocolate pudding and played cards until the dim sunlight faded away enough to reveal a huge harvest moon.

“We huddled up and watched the wind dance on the tussock grass in the moonlight,” recalls Victoria.

It was so cold that night that the water in their pots froze, but they were as hot as freshly heated chocolate pud in their down sleeping bags with thermal liners.

“The next day we walked through icy puddles to the car, drinking in the stunning landscape of bushy grasses and mountains.”

Victoria says Emilie only complains on hikes if her mom has no more interesting things to say.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Victoria says Emilie only complains on hikes if her mom has no more interesting things to say.

Another recent highlight has been the 20-mile Rākiura Trail on Stewart Island, a large, less-traversed boardwalk that features beaches and native bird bushes that look very similar to what they would have thousands of years ago. ‘years. Again, they were unlucky with the weather, they rained three days out of four.

“One part was definitely type two fun,” says Victoria. But there were some pretty special type one funny moments. “One day we went from knee-deep mud on the track snuggling in a tent listening to raindrops and kiwi calls, which was just magical.”

Their longest overall route in terms of distance was the 66km St James Walkway through the subalpine sections of Canterbury’s St James Conservation Area and Sumner Lake Forest Park, which DOC considers a great introduction to tramping from several nights. In terms of time, their longest hike was in Kahurangi National Park in the Nelson-Tasman region, where they spent “six magical days exploring a loop trail starting and ending in the Cobb Valley. “.

Victoria says Emilie is probably fitter than she is these days.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Victoria says Emilie is probably fitter than she is these days.

The latter, who saw them swimming in Peel Lake amid a cloud of red dragonflies, has so far proven to be Victoria’s favorite wanderer.

“Each day was its own adventure, especially the Dry Rock Shelter, where we spent the night alone in our little tent under a huge rock overhang listening to weka scratching outside and kea screaming above.”

Emilie is clearly following in her mother’s footsteps in terms of her love of vagrancy. Right now, Victoria reckons the third-year student is in better shape than she, saying “if she’s well fed and has the right equipment and fun she’ll keep going.”

She only complains, Victoria says, when her mother fails to keep the conversation going.

“She loves to chat and we often tell each other long stories while we are on the track.”

She is so talkative that Victoria is sometimes relieved if other people are around, so she “can talk to them while I enjoy the scenery!” “.

Victoria says that she and Emilie mentally prepare themselves for each hike by talking about the terrain they will be covering, and they take as many breaks as they need.

Emilie on a multi-day trek in Kahurangi National Park.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Emilie on a multi-day trek in Kahurangi National Park.

“I think kids like to feel safe and have fun, and if you provide them with these basics, they’ll follow you on any adventure. I asked Emilie (what she likes most about hiking) and she told me that these are the people we meet, who stay in the huts or in our tent, and who play in the bush .

The couple have never had a serious incident on the trail (slips and trips are about the extent of that), but they always tell someone where they are going before they go and wear a locator tag. personal so they can call for help if needed.

“For both of us, trust and experience are essential. Once Emilie has tried something a couple of times and is confident in her own abilities, it all comes together a lot easier. “

Despite their years of walking together, Victoria feels like she’s seen a fraction of what New Zealand has to offer. She would like to take six months to hike the Te Araroa Trail, which runs 3,000 km from Cape Reinga to Bluff, but is still in the early planning stages.

Victoria says her hikes with her daughter gave her the time and space to connect properly.

Victoria Bruce / Supplied

Victoria says her hikes with her daughter gave her the time and space to connect properly.

Victoria’s advice to other parents keen to get their kids out on the prowl is to start them young and slowly progress to more difficult terrain and nightly wanderers.

“Our children are the future guardians of our environment, so it is important to give them a good foundation and a good appreciation of nature. Remember to keep things safe and fun – it’s about the experience, not the destination. Long walks are a great opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, play silly games, or share deep thoughts while experiencing the magic of the New Zealand bush.

No matter how old you are, Victoria believes trampling is “good for the soul.”



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