Ok kiwis, you know you live in a beautiful country. Outsiders always comment on how lucky you are to be from ‘these parts’ and you probably have a good appreciation of how well New Zealand is set up for an outdoors based lifestyle.
However, sometimes it’s easy to forget the opportunities that are abound in the natural world, even in this great country of yours. You can get caught up in the ins and outs of daily life and neglect to prioritise outdoor adventures, let alone regular time in nature. Often this is especially so during these colder months when a little more motivation and effort may be required.
As a fellow kiwi who has recently moved abroad, I just want to give you a gentle reminder about what an amazing country New Zealand is for nature play. These are based on observations from my efforts to get out and about for nature play in South East Asia.
If you’ve gotten stuck in the ‘daily grind’ and haven’t been making time for nature play, I hope these observations will help you to get out and explore nature in your amazing country!
Why I think New Zealand is the best place for nature play:
A distinct lack of scary, annoying or irritating things in the wild
There are no snakes in New Zealand. No sea snakes, poisonous snakes or even friendly garden snakes! Where I’m living there is certainly a minimal risk of a snake bite. However it is something that I need to consider and be aware of any time we go and play ‘in the jungle’. I’ve done some research on how to care for bites and the chance of getting bitten by a snake is probably very slim, even for a nature lover like me. However the risk is still there and poisonous snakes are around. The worrying thing is that very few hospitals actually hold ‘anti-venom’ so our chances may not be great if we actually did get bitten by one!
Most spiders in New Zealand are harmless, as are mosquitos. Ok, so I know that sand flies and mosquitos can be annoying. And I know there can be a lot of them in certain areas, at specific times of the year. But you don’t find them in high levels in every piece of nature you visit. And you certainly don’t need to worry about things like dengue fever or malaria!
A good dose of weather
You might find it frustrating that New Zealand can offer four seasons in one day. However this just requires a bit of forethought and preparation. For example, I always used to carry spare clothes in the back of my car at home.
Here it’s just a constant 30 degrees +, at any hour of the day. The only options that come with that are 100% or 110% humidity. Oh and a very good chance of a two hour intense downpour coupled with thunder and lightning. This is an almost daily reality here for six months of the year.
So…embrace those elements and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your hair and rain on your face! There isn’t really such a thing as ‘bad weather’ – just inappropriate clothing, gear or preparation.
Various terrains to enjoy
In New Zealand you are spoilt for choice in terms of location. In many cities, towns and rural areas you can choose whether you hit the hills, mountains, bush, wetlands, forests, lakes, rivers or ponds. If there’s one or more of these that you can’t easily access you’re probably still quite spoilt for choice. The others can also be visited on a day out or weekend away.
Here it’s pretty much city and jungle. The jungle offers amazing exploration opportunities, but the scenery is less diverse than what New Zealand offers.
Clean and green
Ok, so New Zealand has this ‘clean green’ image. Many of you (myself included) will probably feel that there are ways that this image has been tainted over the years. For example there has been a slippery slope over the past few years of being less and less ‘swimmable’ rivers due to pollution.
This is an important cause and one I feel deeply saddened by. I sincerely hope that things will start to turn around in the coming years. However, to put things in perspective, the beaches are relatively clean. They’re not completely littered with plastic and you probably don’t need to worry too much about stepping on a needle. In designated nature areas there is (relatively) little evidence of people interfering with the environment.
On the contrary, where I live it’s a bit different. I took my daughter to the beach last week and picked up a plastic bag full of rubbish without having to take more than a few steps around me. The saddest thing is that there was a rubbish bin right there. I witnessed a group of people get up after they were done with their outing and leave all their plastic plates and rubbish lying on the beach. I saw a little girl playing with an empty plastic bottle that she’d bought with her and then just leave it behind when she left. Her parents simply smiled and continued along. Education and environmental respect has a long way to go over here and I’m not even living in one of the worst places.
It can be pretty easy to find others in New Zealand who place value on an outdoor lifestyle. There are groups abound to get involved with. For example, in Christchurch we used to be part of the ‘trail babies’ group, which we found on meetup.com and we also took part in a weekly nature play group.
There are certainly people over here who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, including hiking the hills and spending regular time in nature. However it is not the norm and many prefer to go from one air conditioned building to another instead!
You can get the gear you need
New Zealand has plenty of retail stores that are supportive of your desire to play in nature. You can also find a lot of great clothing and gear at second hand stores. I haven’t seen any evidence of awesome outdoor shops over here.
I have made two purchases since I arrived here – both for my daughter of course! The first was a new sunhat, which proved incredibly hard to find. I have noticed that locals don’t tend to wear sunhats. I’d suspect most of them would spend a lot less time outdoors than we do, and with more olive skin complexions their concern might not be as great. Irrespective of skin colour though, a sun hat can really help prevent a person from ‘flaking’ in the hot sun so we really needed one! So let’s just say that I did find one in the end but it involved visiting numerous shops and wasting time in the process.
The second item was a pair of sports style sandals…which I ended up buying online.
Marking and maintenance
I know that there are varying levels of trail quality in New Zealand. However there are plenty of options to follow both well marked and well-kept trails. There is an organisation (DOC) that looks after this very cause. Trail health and safety as well as prioritising the creation of and protection of nature areas are not areas of focus in many other countries.
If you need any convincing, here’s a photo of a sight I was recently met with when exploring an ‘educational forest’ with my daughter. Yes, you’re correct – it’s not blocked off in any way! Never mind that monster tree that has destroyed the path aye!
So there you go! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these seven reasons to get out and prioritise playing in nature today. Enjoy your great country and I would love to hear about any nature play adventures you’ve been getting up to!
Thanks Elly for your wonderful insight. Here are some links if you want to check out more of what Elly is up to!
Thank you Elly, I did very much enjoy reading your blog re outdoor experiences in Malaysia. It brought back my own memories of spending time in a childcare centre in Malaca a few years ago. The centre owner ensured children had time outside each day – though this had to be on a rotation basis – each section of the centre had an allocated time to venture out into the small playground – this was about 30 minutes a day. Children had to wear shoes and a hat before going out to the patch of grass and the climbing structure. It did take me a long time to get used to this routine, but I did understand some of the reasons why they followed this practice – especially after having to wait while a python was dealt with one day!!! The high humidity, as you mention, did make active play exhausting and the limited outdoor resources meant children had fewer choices for play than inside – where it was cooler. I agree also about the different mindset about outdoor exploration – I often asked to visit parks etc, usually to be met with curious looks. I was also reminded not to walk in long grass on the few occasions I did manage to find some. On a walk by myself one morning I was set upon by four large dogs and required medical attention – not to mention the fear of rabies! So yes, we are so blessed here in New Zealand and should not take our outdoor freedom for granted! Thanks again Elly for the memories! Leena
Gosh you had an interesting time there too! Glad you have re-connected with your wonderful memories.
Thanks for the stories Leena! I certainly get a lot of the curious looks you mention when my daughter is out exploring, and generally just being a kid. There’s a wonderful tree to climb at our condo but I have a feeling she might be the only one there who has ever climbed it!
Great article Elly. I absolutely love this website you are guest blogging on! Though not a Kiwi myself, I agree that New Zealand is THE BEST country for outdoor exploration and nature play for children!
I have mentioned to Elly she has some lovely comments. Great that you love our Website too. Where are you from?
Valerie! Thanks for your comment:). I saw that you had shared an article from this site the other day – small world!
[Celia; Valerie is from the States but she is my best exploration buddy here in Penang. We enjoy taking our kids on adventures together – I’m very blessed to have met her!]
Valerie, if you get a chance when you’re in Christchurch, I’d highly recommend connecting with Celia. I’m sure she will be up for showing you a trail at bottle lake forest or somewhere and she has kids of similar ages. I miss the Friday morning nature play group that we used to go to with a bunch of outdoorsy Christchurch mummas; it was my fave weekly outing:)
I am from the US but residing in Malaysia. I have visited New Zealand twice in the last year and have another trip there coming up in a few months. It is my favorite country to visit due to the ease of outdoor exploration. Your country is perfect for a family of nature lovers like we are.