a book review: nature and well-being in Aotearoa NEW ZEALAND.


Lockdown fatigue is real right now. Many people are struggling to cope with the uncertainty of Covid-19. That’s why Catherine Knight’s book ‘Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand – Exploring the connection’ published last year is so topical.

Knight grew up with little contact with nature; that’s why she supports the return of places in our neighbourhoods that all kiwis can freely access. She asks us to reconsider the way we live by spending less time commuting to work and instead living and playing nearby. We need to create more natural spaces in cities, towns, and backyards and make it easier for everyone to spend time in nature.

History and scientific thought on nature and well-being

I love that Knight researched the historical and scientific experience of nature and well-being. From the Greek philosophy in the 6th century BC to the European monasteries in the 13th century, where gardens were used not just for food but also for recreation to aid the recovery of the sick. While the Iron Chancellor of the German empire between 1871-1890 was told by his physician to put his arms around a tree for up to half an hour as an antidote to severe fatigue.

While the growth of scientific and popular interest in the relationships between health and nature was also explored, numerous studies have found that contact with nature positively affects mood, cognitive function, and recovery from stress. From forest bathing in Japan, known as ‘forest or nature therapy’, to moving to greener urban areas along with the duration and frequency of exposure to nature are just some of the scientific research covered and more are mentioned in the book.

Studies of behaviours

The book has drawn data from various studies on the latest scientific research on how children’s behaviours have changed over twenty years and the consequences -an increase in obesity, along with illnesses in children and adults. There is strong evidence supporting that getting amongst nature is beneficial to health and well-being, which is also touched on in the studies.

The place of nature in Aotearoa New Zealand cultural history

There is a chapter on our cultural history and how Maori and European settlement affected the natural world, including birdlife, forests, wetlands, and rivers. Knight also compares with other countries like Germany, Norway, and Japan, who associate strongly with the forest as part of their cultural identity.   

Finding a sense of place and connection in nature

Knight also devotes a large part of the book to telling personal stories of people she interviewed seeking better lives. One of those interviews is Rachael Phillips, who grew up in Gisborne on a quarter-acre section in a wilderness of fruit trees. Rachael remembers family bushwalks in the Waioeka Gorge (between Gisborne and Opotiki) and visits to the National Arboretum of NZ Eastwoodhill and Grays Bush Scenic Reserve. Rachael’s story is very personal, and her own experience behind the restoration of a kahikatea block on their farm in Otorohanga. The memories of the kahikatea forest in Grays Bush and her father’s passion led her to find some healing in her own project. 

Grays Bush Scenic Reserve: This reserve is renowned for kahikatea and puriri trees that grow together some are 400-500 years old. I feel small. Kahikatea, named ‘white pine’ by European colonists, are majestic trees and NZ’s tallest native trees at 55 metres. It is estimated that only 2 percent of original kahikatea forest remains nationwide.
Grays Bush Scenic Reserve: This reserve is renowned for kahikatea and puriri trees that grow together some are 400-500 years old. I feel small. Kahikatea, named ‘white pine’ by European colonists, are majestic trees and NZ’s tallest native trees at 55 metres. It is estimated that only 2 percent of original kahikatea forest remains nationwide.

Embracing nature in our everyday lives.

We still have a way to go as a nation, with many kiwis still spending little time in nature due to demographics, time, and even cultural factors. Knight ponders the question, ‘what are some of the ways we can ensure nature is in every kiwi’s life?’ This is already happening with initiatives around the country that are community-led to restore nature along streams, rivers, and in forest and wetland remnants and estuaries. Despite this happening, these are often separated from the places where we live and work.   

Recommendation

I recommend this book as an excellent read and resource suitable for anyone interested in knowing more about nature and well-being from a kiwi perspective. It gives food for thought and moves us to take action to create more natural spaces in the cities and towns in which most of us live.

Images equally support the information throughout, providing a visual record of nature experiences and people enjoying it. Knight is also the author of ‘Environmental History of the Manawatu’, ‘Ravaged Beauty’ and subsequent books ‘New Zealand Rivers’ and “Beyond Manapouri”.

If you enjoyed this book review, share it with a friend!

Catherine’s book is available from:

Nationwide Book Distributors

Needing help to write a blog?
Get in touch with Sandra sandragroves@firstchapter.co.nz to book a free discovery call.

Hug a tree – it really makes you feel better!

On my wedding day, I remember TOUCHING a tree; it made me happy.

I wondered, why touching or hugging a tree is good for me?  I decided to do some research.

According to Wikipedia: “hugging a tree increases levels of the hormone oxytocin which is responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding. When hugging a tree, the hormones serotonin and dopamine make you feel happier.”

There is increasing evidence that trees are also good for our mental health according to an article in the “Conversation” in 2012. 

It seems that trees and green spaces offer multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental well-being. Trees not only improve our psychological health, but they also contribute to keeping our bodies healthy. Combatting air pollution, trees absorb air-borne pollutants. Not only absorbing harmful chemicals, but trees also release beneficial ones. Chemicals released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, were found to boost the immune system.

When hugging a person is off-limits, what can we do to feel comfort? Why not try hugging a tree?

Overseas some countries have been finding ways to get positive benefits from trees. To beat the Covid-19 blues, the Icelandic Forestry Service encouraged people to hug trees while social distancing measures prevented them from hugging loved ones. Rangers marked out intervals of two metres within the forest so that visitors could enjoy nature without fear of getting too close to each other. While David Knott in the UK was on a mission to hug 350 trees to raise funds to help save trees in Sequoia Avenue at Benmore Botanic Garden.

While in Aotearoa New Zealand, with our clean green image, we are for the most part getting out into nature. During the pandemic, Jennifer Little missed the feeling of touch, so decided to hug a tree and wrote about it in an article in the Spinoff.

So, I’ll take a moment to notice and enjoy trees. They may be impacting my health more than I think. Something for us all to ponder in these challenging times.

Needing help to write a blog?

Get in touch with Sandra sandragroves@firstchapter.co.nz to book a free 30-minute discovery call.

Rich in heritage and nature: Nelson Tasman

In November I was lucky to get away for a holiday to Nelson Tasman at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.

My top five reasons you should visit Nelson Tasman:

  1. Heritage is remembered at Founders Heritage Park.
  2. The Abel Tasman National Park.
  3. Westport with panoramic views and seal colony.
  4. Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk.
  5. Greymouth with its gold mining and jade-hunting history.

Nelson is a popular base for caving, vineyards, exploring nature and so much more. The city’s heritage dates back to 1841 and is showcased at Founders Heritage Park.

1. Founders Heritage Park

Here we discovered a collection of historic buildings and transportation depicting early settlement in Nelson.

We enjoyed the early history captured here Photo Credit: Sandra Groves.

2. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park was named after the Dutch explorer who is recognised as the first European to discover New Zealand in 1642. It is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and its world-famous coast track.

Although we only got a glimpse of the park there’s plenty to see, do and places to stay.

Tip: Download the Abel Tasman App courtesy of Project Janszoon. It is an excellent guide for your trip.

Just before Takaka, we did an easy short walk through lush native bush to Wainui Falls. Crossing farmland for a short distance then we walked through a forest of nikau palms, rata trees, and ferns. There’s a great suspension bridge on the way.

Wainui Falls Photo Credit: Sandra Groves

We loved the Wainui Falls, so loud you can hear them some distance before you reached them. The falls are the largest and most accessible falls in Golden Bay/Mohua.

Further along at Wainui Bay, we enjoyed the coastal views and walkway. There’s plenty of walking opportunities and awesome beach views that go right around the bay.

3. Westport (via Buller Gorge) to Greymouth

The drive to Westport took about three hours.

Just a note: be prepared for the long drive but don’t be put off as there’s great scenery.

Once in Westport, we went to see the seal colony at Tauranga Bay which offers panoramic views of the cape and rugged coastline. We didn’t see very many seals just a few juveniles as many had returned to the sea after the breeding season.

Just amazing! It’s hard to believe what nature can do.

4. Punakaiki (on the edge of the Paparoa National Park)

Between Greymouth and Westport is the small community of Punakaiki. Here we enjoyed the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk which is a very popular tourist destination at Dolomite Point south of the main village. The rocks poking up from the sea looked like giant pancakes and were quite spectacular.

Tip: The photo opportunities here are amazing, so don’t forget to take your camera!

5. Greymouth

Greymouth is just an hour and a half drive from Westport. A quaint town with a gold mining and a jade-hunting past. A visit to the House Museum and Shantytown Heritage Park is a must.

Shantytown is a re-created gold-rush town with a museum and steam train (although an electric train was in operation at the time we visited) it was still well worth it. We also got to learn the art of gold panning.

Tip: Give the gold panning a go, as all prospectors are guaranteed a small find!

Give gold panning a go, and you will go home with some gold Photo Credit: Sandra Groves

If you’re tossing around ideas for places to visit over the summer, in fact, any time of the year, I highly recommend the Nelson Tasman region be at the top of your list. It’s definitely a place I’m keen to return to at a later date, Happy holidays!

It’s dramatically beautiful, it’s an idyll, it’s a little oasis. Lord Robert Winston

Needing help to write a blog?

Get in touch with Sandra sandragroves@firstchapter.co.nz to book a free 30-minute discovery call.

First Chapter Brand Story

First Chapter is a Content Writing business that’s vision is to communicate unique stories that are visible now and in the future. Tim Livingston designed a logo and brand that is fresh, invigorating and connects with business, community groups, government departments and iwi.

The logo is in a weave pattern like a page curl in a story book. The typography has a cultural feel to appeal to the heritage of this country. The bilingual name for First Chapter is ‘Te Matatipu’ which means first shoot (to begin to sprout) just like a new beginning on your journey to tell a unique story. Brand is far more than a logo and colour scheme, it is the entire package and is mostly about what a business is trying to achieve.

My aim is to work with clients to bring their stories to life, so the next generation benefit.

Nga mihi, Sandra