Other than the myriad health benefits hiking has to offer, a jaunt through the bush can also bring us closer to the natural world. Hiking offers us an opportunity to enjoy a world of experiences that many of us are lacking in our modern lives. As we journey up slopes, through meandering gorges, or under leafy canopies, we come face to face with nature: we see, hear, smell and feel a tapestry of phenomena too often lacking in everyday life. Importantly, “green-exercise” such as hiking can improve mental wellbeing; including self-esteem and mood (Barton, J and Pretty, J 2010): in fact, the related concept of ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin-yoku is a well established form of relaxation and stress management in Japan.
To hike is to expose one’s self, however briefly, to the reality of the natural world. We can feel the sun warming our shoulders or test ourselves against alpine rains. We can power towards the horizon in search of new sights and landforms, or we can stop to smell the chocolate lilies and become intimate with the biology around us. There is always the thrill of discovery and a touch of uncertainty, and it is this that brings vibrancy to our lives.
While the term “hiking” often conjures images of snowy peaks and seasoned adventurers, hiking does not need to involve months of training to face mountainous milestones. The word is used the world over in a variety of contexts and replaced by other words of similar meaning (e.g. ‘tramping’, ‘rambling’, or simply ‘walking’). The common thread is the simple concept of walking in a natural environment, and the evidence suggests that some of the psychological benefits may be almost immediate (Barton, J and Pretty, J 2010).
Developing a connection with the natural world is a deeply personal process and as such what we wish to get out of a hike is equally personal. Whatever your motivation, there are a variety of resources out there to assist you on your journey, including Wild Melbourne’s Bush Beats.