As I shuffled down the scree at Avalanche Peak, I wished I was back in the bush | Rose Lu


Nothing beats the New Zealand bush. Writer Ashleigh Young once tweeted: “Sometimes New Zealand writers say ‘the forest’ instead of ‘the bush’ (and they definitely mean ‘the bush’) because they’re nervous about saying ‘the bush’. Bring back the bush. If everyone does it, we’ll be fine. ”

So here I am proclaiming, “I love the bush!” Perhaps this is my opinion as an outdoor enthusiast and bisexual, but “bush” is a more accurate description of the native flora of Aotearoa. Our bush is thick and scratchy, used to the trampling of boots. Our bush is dense and lush all year round as few native plant species are deciduous. Our bush is not a pale forest: it is wild and overgrown and does not encourage easy passage.

Since my family was neither from the middle class nor from Pākehā (white Europeans), I only ventured into the bush as an adult. It’s been 10 years since my first foray through the bush, but I will never forget that first experience.

A friend who grew up with the bush persuaded me to come with a two-day tramp. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Surely a tramp was just a long walk. How difficult can a walk in the bush be? I lacked outdoor gear, but my friend sorted me out with her spare parts, other than hitchhiking boots, as our feet were not the same size. “Maybe I’ll start trampling,” I decided, and bought the cheapest pair of boots I could find.

The route climbed up to Avalanche Peak, the only masted peak in Arthur’s Pass, a national park famous for its silver, red, and mountain tawhai (beech) trees.

I didn’t appreciate the bush on the way up. Instead, I cursed the 1,100 vertical meters, which made my lungs burn and sweat soaked my back. I envied my friend’s fitness, which enabled her to go ahead and find features of the bush that were shown to me: the peat floor covered with spiny shield ferns, the sponge moss and lace lichen, and the undergrowth of snow totara, the edible Cashew apple shape bears berries.

I thought the climb was the hardest part, but then I discovered what happens when you leave the bush. Behind the bush border, the tall trees have been replaced by strong, hardy bushes. Some people refer to this as alpine scrub, but I think you could also call it alpine bush.

This alpine bush featured plants I’d never seen before, like the Mount Cook lily, with bristly white petals and leaves as tough as leather. This bush was patchy and uneven to walk on and somehow I was as slow on the plain as I was uphill.

Soon the alpine bush disappeared too, and the only vegetation was moss and lichen that grew on the rocks and gravel that we crunched under our feet. My friend pointed out a fan of broken rock, the size of a palm to a head, that tumbled into an open plain.

We had to go down this scree slope to get to our accommodation for the night. It is an art to walk down scree slopes, as my friend showed, where you “surf” on the surface of the rubble. It drove off a jetty like a motorboat, creating a rattling wave of cascading rocks that made me cautiously follow. I tried to imitate their movements, but kept falling until I gave up. I sat on my bum thinking back to earlier in the day. I never fell into the bush.

The bush was protected, the bush was safe. I wish I was back in the bush. I ended up shuffling my bum down the slope, ripping open the buttocks of my cotton shorts.

Fortunately, that first trip didn’t stop me from trampling and since then I’ve visited Busch across the country. There’s the bush of Kahurangi National Park, which looks blue from a distance, and the goblin forests of Taranaki, which are named after the gnarled trees and the mosses hanging on them. I can now enjoy the cool, fresh air of the bush around me and look forward to where it will take me.


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