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March 2022 Issue
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Taking his time

Paul Kilgour's Gone Bush is the story of a wanderer, long-distance tramper and hut-bagging legend. Photo: Alistair Hughes

Paul Kilgour’s memoir Gone Bush contains a lifetime of outdoor experiences as well as a cast of interesting characters encountered on his journeys. 

What did you hope to achieve with Gone Bush?

I wanted to celebrate the places, adventures and the people I’ve met, and my experiences of growing up. I don’t consider myself a famous or heroic person, I just wanted to talk with normal people about my normal life. And the time was right.

The ultimate thing is feedback, with people contacting me to say that the book has reconnected them with places and characters they’ve enjoyed meeting along the way.

How do you reconcile your love of solo adventuring with the love of people which is conveyed in the book?

Some people assume I’m a loner, heading off into the bush on my own, but you meet so many people and I always emphasised to the publisher that I didn’t just want the book to be about me.

Your most commonly asked question must surely be: do you have a favourite tramping trip?

I’ve been to some lovely places in North America and the outback of Australia. Uluru at sunset with the moon on the horizon; memories like that will be with me forever. But it’s not where I live, and I’ve found that the place I grew up in is part of me, or I’m part of it. So I like going to Parapara Peak in Kahurangi National Park. It’s such a lovely place. But there are so many places that are really amazing under certain conditions.

If you could give trampers one bit of advice, what would it be? 

Patience. I’ve seen situations where impatience has led to a lot of problems when time could have been taken to avoid things like bad weather and injuries.

When I first started tramping, there was a tendency to race into things, to beat that mountain or break that record. Then some people I knew began to die in the mountains. That was the turning point. I realised that was not what I wanted to do. I’m here to enjoy every part of it. And that meant taking my time and tuning into nature more.

What is your most essential piece of equipment? 

It would be my backpack. I’ve tried quite a few through the years, but as you get older you appreciate a pack that adapts to your body. I use a pack now that is very comfortable and has been tried and tested by me for the last 20 years (an Aarn Balance pack).

My PLB is very handy. Having one stops other people worrying about you.

Would you say that there’s a philosophy to tramping in New Zealand that might have changed over the decades?

In the 1970s and earlier, there definitely was and it was one of total focus. You’d book months ahead for a particular trip and there would be no distractions or change. But even now in Golden Bay, it has become increasingly difficult to organise a trip because people always seem to be busy with other things.

But I’ve also met people whose tramping seems to become a more special, individual thing.

Are you intending to slow down in future? 

I don’t consider that I’ve been going fast. But what I’ve found is that if you slow down as you get older, it’s harder to get back to what I call normal. But by taking my time, I see more and enjoy more.

Gone Bush is available in the Wilderness store. Subscribers get a 10% discount. Buy it here.