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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Ally Gimbel | When Kiwis Fly

Yes you heard me correctly. A tramper. As in someone who ventures in and around the bush, always keepin' it dirty. It's cool. Everybody does it.

Alright, perhaps I should be more specific and discontinue all the numerous sexual innuendos associated with this popular Kiwi pastime before my grandma (who is currently reading this column) has a heart attack. When I say "tramping," I am actually referring to hiking, and all things associated with exploring the outdoors. This includes trudging through the "bush," an apt, yet snicker-worthy nickname for nature in general.

Since New Zealand's most prominent appeal is its stunning scenery and pristine natural park reserves (if I may re-emphasize the fact that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed entirely in New Zealand's beautiful bush, as no Kiwi will let you forget), I just couldn't study abroad here and not tramp.

Come on now, they have mountains here. Like, more mountains than I can even count. Trust me: There is nothing in the entire world more amusing and amazing to someone who grew up in the flat state of Illinois than elevation. Nothing. If there are peaks to summit, I want in. Especially if that peak was also walked on by the glorious feet of Viggo Mortensen.

But hotties and hobbits aside, the New Zealand experience is not complete unless you break in a pair of sturdy hiking boots. I recently began my transformation into Kiwihood by joining the Victoria University Tramping Club (VUTC), an organization of students who share two interests: bushwhacking and drinking.

What I first learned is that it's a rare occasion when the VUTC engages in either of these activities independently of each other.

The first tramp of the semester was meant to be a social one, where all the veterans and newbies could relax and get to know each other while also hiking the breathtaking Rimutaka hills just outside Wellington. We were told the weekend would involve a two-hour walk to a nearby hut followed by a delicious home-cooked feast and copious amounts of boozing and schmoozing.

The second thing I learned: Never trust a Kiwi tramper. Who could blame me for thinking that "easy, social hike" meant "easy, social hike?" Turns out, when a Kiwi grades a hike as "easy/moderate," that generally means you have to have the fitness level of a triathlete to complete it.

What the club members failed to mention was that our relaxing walk was more like a six-hour, epic journey up and down the side of a mountain, complete with rain, hail and numerous slips. I'm not saying I didn't love every sweaty, painstaking minute of that hike, I just felt deceived by the (purportedly) most trustworthy folk on Earth.

But after finally making it to the hut, I checked all resentment at the door (as well as my soaked and muddied boots) in exchange for a hearty meal of scroggin (trail mix) and scrumpy (high alcohol-content apple cider in a plastic bottle -- trampers' drink of choice). Dry clothes and good company gave me a chance to reflect on all the great things about tramping in New Zealand.

As one fellow tramper pointed out to me, grueling hikes are like going through child labor. You suffer through muscle ache and exhaustive uphill climbs that feel like they will never end, because when you finally reach the top, you are left cradling the most uncontainable sense of euphoric joy. It's this feeling of accomplishment along with the striking landscape (or maybe it's the alcohol) that makes all the pain and misery disappear from memory, and all that you are left with is a desire to tramp more.

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