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February 2016 Issue
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No. 9 – Go bush-bashing

Going off-trail can lead to spectacular places like Rocky Knob in the Richmond Range. Photo: Jo Stilwell
Bush-bashing might not be everyone’s idea of a good time in the hills, but if you’re willing to give it a go, a whole world of new opportunities will be opened.

Bashing through bush allows access to remote valleys and passes that are unreachable by tracks and to link places you wouldn’t usually visit on the same trip. More than anything though, bush bashing engenders a sense of adventure that comes from exploring the unknown.

Different regions have their unique challenges. North Island leatherwood has a fierce reputation and can leave the most hardened tramper battered and bruised. Thick groves of supplejack and kiekie in coastal Westland are nigh impenetrable, and even comparatively benign beech forests hide rotting logs ready to swallow a foot at any moment.

You never quite know what you’ll encounter when you set out on a bush-bashing trip; the only certainty is the awaiting challenge and the immense satisfaction gained after successfully navigating untracked terrain.

It’s not always easy and you may swear a lot. Sometimes you might need to grovel like a walrus, or play tug-o-war with a branch that has grabbed your pack and won’t let go. But there are also times when the travel can be surprisingly easy, like when stumbling across a deer trail or finding unexpected clearings.

Sometimes the bush wins and retreat is necessary, and I’ve experienced this more than once, but it has never put me off. My most memorable tramping trips often include some sort of off-track travel and my most recent bush-bash experience involved traversing a ridge in Mt Richmond Forest Park that I had been eyeing up for more than 30 years.

This ridge connects Richmond Saddle Hut with Ada Flat on the alpine route and is traversed by a hardy few each year. The first leg over Grass Knob is straightforward, but after this it gets interesting as the sinuous bush ridge undulates over a series of small knobs. The odd rocky outcrop provides relief from the thick beech forest, allowing views of your progress. Being short, I had a distinct advantage over my husband whose long legs and tree-trunk thighs have been leaving me behind in the hills for years. During this trip, my more nimble frame ducked and dived obstacles which he had difficulty negotiating. I loved every minute, and am already planning a return, next time as part of a solo traverse of the entire Richmond Range, much of which will be bush-bashing.

It takes a certain mentality to leave the security of the track and head off-trail, into uncharted territory, but bush-bashing is an exhilarating must-do that should be on every tramper’s bucket list.