313832592_4d91ffb524_mIn New Zealand, any hike that doesn’t require staying overnight is called a walk.  Even if you’re hiking for 8 hours over alpine scrub, it’s a walk.  But an overnight hike – now that’s a tramp.  (Bloody Kiwis.)

Now, I’ve done heaps of day hikes, but overnight?  That’s a whole other set of complications, and what with having no one to go with and no experience, I’ve never gotten around to it.  Where to sleep?  What to eat?  What to dress?  And the horror of not being able to take a shower at night.  But my friend is a very experienced tramper, and when I heard she was going tramping in the Tararua Mountain ranges over the holidays, I more or less played Poor City Canadian Girl Who Wants a True Kiwi Experience.  Being incredibly generous, she was happy to initiate me into the joys of tramping.

Three days later, I have a blistering cold from washing in the spring mountain stream.  I can’t walk down the stairs without feeling and looking like an old, old woman.  And man, do I feel great.  It’s not just the nature (which is pretty phenomenal) or the sense of accomplishment (which is gratifying), or even the companionship (which was pretty darn perfect).  It’s all of it combined to make a wonderful experience.

Anyway, here are five things I learned after my prolonged commune with nature:

  1. Dirt.  Don’t think about it.  Just…don’t even go there.
  2. Mosquitoes.  Go in the spring or autumn, as I did, not just because the weather is neither too hot nor cold, because then you don’t have to worry about mosquitoes.  And if I could extinguish one animal on this planet without damaging the chain of life, it would be the mosquito.
  3. Caution.  Better be over-cautious than over-cocky.  I believe in leaving the track uninjured, even if I am slower than a slug.
  4. Preparation.  It’s true.  You can never be over-prepared.  Cause you bloody well never know what will crop up.
  5. Humour.  Possibly the most important tool in your kit.  Because when you’re a schoolteacher who went tramping to escape high school students, and landed in a 12-person hut after hours of tramping, and wanted a nice, quiet, relaxing evening with other trampers, then looked out the window at 7:00PM to see a horde of 15 high school students swarm in with their iPods and dripping wet clothing – that’s when you’ll need your sense of humour the most.

Have you gone hiking or tramping?  Any memorable experiences?

– Jean AAR