Living in the city, I can sometimes get a bit of cabin fever. I’m a country girl at heart; back home I live in the middle of nowhere amongst miles of farmland. I’ve lived in towns and cities temporarily, but my heart lies in the countryside.
Every so often I have to get my fix of nature: perhaps I’ll sit by the sea or get lost in the woods… if I feel too cooped up like I can’t escape, I’ll just go outside and watch the clouds moving with the wind. I love hiking, partly because of the beautiful scenery, but mostly because I feel more connected and content when I’m in the forest or on top of a mountain.
Wellington isn’t a massive city. Although it’s home to 496,000 people, logistically it isn’t much bigger than my hometown of Peterborough in the UK. The thing I love most about Wellington is that the suburbs are located in the leafy hills, meaning you wake up to the sounds of tūi singing and kākā screeching. This said, you never really feel alone, because there are houses built in every nook and cranny of the hillside. Even though Wellington isn’t overwhelming, I still need my nature fix.
A couple of weekends ago, James and I went to a reserve located close to where we live. Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton’s Bush Forest Reserve (or, as it’s more commonly known, Otari-Wilton’s Bush) is situated in the suburb of Wilton, about 15 minutes drive from Wellington’s city centre. Just fifteen minutes from the hustle and bustle of Lambton Quay, fifteen minutes from the artsy café culture of Cuba Street, fifteen minutes from the lively nightlife of Courtenay Place.
But once you arrive, all of that seems so far away. Otari-Wilton’s Bush offers you the chance to escape into another world, away from the offices and skyscrapers, the fast cars and the commercial shops, and into one of quiet, calm serenity.
There are six walking tracks in the reserve which vary in length. The walks aren’t overly challenging, though a reasonable level of fitness and good walking shoes are required.
We walked the Blue Trail, a one hour loop walk that penetrates kohekohe forest and passes one of the oldest trees in Wellington, a Rimu tree which is estimated to be over 800 years old. It towers above the canopy of the forest, a real impressive sight.
There is something enjoyable about how Mother Nature can make you feel insignificant. I love watching the power of the waves as they crash against the shoreline or craning my neck to look at the trees towering above my head. I love wondering how many people have ever sat in a certain spot, or climbed a certain tree, or sheltered in a certain cave. Mother Nature stands the test of time and has so many untold stories.
One of my favourite things about being in the forest is when you can just stop and listen. This is something I can’t explain in photos or words. It’s the feeling I get from knowing I’m completely alone (bar James’ prescence), bound by Mother Nature’s charm – it’s excitement and serenity and kinda magical. When everything is still, and the only sounds are the rustle of the wind as it dances through the trees, the call of the tūi from the canopy and apart from that, complete and absolute silence.
I’ve written about bush walks on my blog before, and I’m not very fussy so long as I can smell the fresh air and listen to the birds singing.
It’s hard to believe that the dense, podocarp broadleaf forest seen today used to entirely cover the Wellington peninsular. The name Otari means ‘Place of Snares’, named as such by the Maori who used the forest for hunting. Then, when the European settlers arrived, much of the native forest was cleared for farming, timber and housing. Now, only 1% of the original forest on the Wellington peninsular remains, and over half of this forest is at Otari-Wilton’s Bush.
Thankfully, one of the early landowners named Job Wilton fenced off some seven hectares of the original forest, and after the area became a scenic reserve in 1906, much more work began in the name of conserving and cultivating the native forest and plants.
The botanic garden houses a plant collection of about 1200 species (some endangered), most of which have been raised from cuttings or their seeds were collected from the wild. The forest reserve comprises of 100 hectares of original and regenerating forest – with trees such as the tawa, mahoe and kohekohe as well as towering conifers like the matai and rimu. There are also many native birds: the tūi, kereru, fantail and kingfisher to name a few.
For anyone looking to escape the city, without really escaping the city, I urge you to visit Otari-Wilton’s Bush. You’ll get your fix of nature – and don’t forget to hug the Rimu tree!
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Note: All of the photos used in this post are my own.