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Bushwalks cure the heart, mind and spirit for Denise

Nature heals, as Denise Young discovered when she embraced bushwalking. As told to Chelsea Roffey.

In my youth I used to enjoy hiking and camping, but they became a thing of the past when I got married.

I rediscovered these activities after my husband died about seven years ago. We used to travel a lot together, so I thought a walking holiday, getting back to nature, would help after I lost him.

I signed up for a local walk along the Great Ocean Road, with no training, no real experience or equipment. I just thought I’d give it a try…and I fell in love with it.

The minute you get out there and see all this natural beauty, it calms you down and releases endorphins

Soon after, I started looking for bushwalking clubs. I began slowly to accommodate my full-time work commitments. But I found walking gave me such a great life balance, and I now walk as much as I can. Working as a psychologist, and having my home become my workplace over the past couple of years has emphasised the importance of getting out into the fresh air and environment.

Incredibly, I discovered this approach is recognised formally in psychology, as Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which uses the natural environment to heal. This has been my exact experience, getting into nature when I lost my husband, and again in seeking rejuvenation from work.

It makes sense, as you’ve got all these stresses during the week. The minute you get out there and see all this natural beauty, it calms you down and releases endorphins. It’s an amazing experience that clears your head and renews you.

You can hear and smell and see vividly – it feels like you’re in the most amazing place in the world

When I’m on a walk, my senses are heightened. I love talking and connecting socially. But sometimes the group stretches out ahead and behind me and I’m alone in the forest. I know I’m safe with people nearby, but I love that sensation of being totally alone. You can hear and smell and see vividly – it feels like you’re in the most amazing place in the world.

The people you meet and the stories you share create beautiful memories. One guy in our group fought in Vietnam and has an army background. He takes us on these “mongrel walks”—that’s what he calls them. One day we got slightly lost in torrential rain. We got soaked. I had an hour drive back home, and I thought “I’m just going to strip off and drive home in my underwear”. The group got back to the car park and there was a couple walking around in their underwear—they had the same idea after getting caught in the rain. We all laughed about that. It was a lot of fun.

There are clubs that are younger and those that focus on family walks, or trail running. All walks are graded, so you can decide the level of difficulty that suits you. Apps are popular among younger walkers, but you can learn a lot about navigation from the older generation, who know the terrain inside-out.

Meeting people and getting to know their stories over time is one of the best parts of walking together. With each walk, you get another chapter of the story.

Denise’s advice for bushwalking beginners:

  • Explore websites and contact local bushwalking groups. Most will chat with you to make sure you find the right fit. Try for a list of clubs.
  • Start with basic equipment: backpack, water, food, sun protection, and grippy shoes. You can build up from there. Denise always has a compact first aid kit on hand, and her walking poles.
  • Clubs have reasonable membership fees—up to $50 a year, which covers insurance in case you need medical assistance. You can join clubs as a guest for free and test them out before joining.

To find a local walking trail or one outside of your neighbourhood, head to Places and search the interactive map. Take yourself on an adventure and find a new place to explore.


Last updated: September 26, 2023 at: 11:35 pm

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