Photo: Giselle Reid

[Editor: This column first published in Jul/Aug BayBuzz mag.]

In your mind imagine yourself beach side. Feel the warm sand between your toes. The smell of the ocean. The sound of waves crashing. The taste of salt water on your tongue. Sun beating down as the ocean breeze caresses your skin. 

Coast. Ocean. Mountain. River. Lake. Waterfall. Wetland. Forest. Garden. Where is your happy place in nature? Put a hand on your heart and with a smile connect to that place. The sights, smells, feel, sounds and taste. Marinade in the memory and then notice what happens within your internal landscape.

Humans have been hardwired to respond to nature since time immemorial. Even the memory of it. Not only for survival, but for a deeper sustenance. Places of prayer perch atop mountains. Ancient cultures truly revered the earth as their mother. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates said, “Nature itself is the best physician.” There is no denying the healing power of nature, but how important and effective is this in our fast-paced modern world? 

Over the past few decades scientists have recognised some of the complex effects of nature on humans. World research shows that people who live closer to and spend consistent time in green spaces live longer with fewer health complaints. 

Authors of Your Brain on Nature, physician Eva Selhub MD and naturopath Alan Logan researched the far-reaching benefits of natural environments on human wellbeing. They also explored modern day IT overload, stress and constant distractions plus their direct and insidious influence on young and old human brains. Their conclusion? The ultimate yet simple solution that time spent in nature is an antidote. A strategy for improving cognitive functioning, mental health and physical wellbeing. 

More than ever the great outdoors is calling. Luckily Hawke’s Bay offers ample bounty. 

The region boasts over 350kms of varied shoreline and beaches, from the diverse Māhia Peninsula in the north to mystical Te Paerahi (Porangahau Beach) in the south. It has eight main river catchments from north to south – Wairoa, Mohaka, Esk, Tūtaekurī, Ngaruroro, Tukituki, Maraetotara/Waimārama and Pōrangahau. There are 347 named mountains with Kaweka as the highest at 1724m. Of the ten listed waterfalls, the 58 metre Shine Falls is said to be the most spectacular. Lake Waikaremoana is the largest of the eight council-monitored lakes at 54 sq km and is surrounded by the largest tract of native rainforest in NZ, Te Urewera. 

Not to mention the 200kms of bike trails, wetlands and the plethora of reserves, parks, open spaces … and then there is your own back yard. 

One of the most accessible and most visited jewels in the crown of the region is its most summited peak, Te Mata, and the diverse, history-rich Te Mata Park that encompasses it. With nearly 1 million visitors a year, what makes it such a magnet for locals and visitors alike? 

Ask a forestry scientist and they might mention the essential oils and the invisible chemicals (phytoncides) that trees emit. Therapies which have been found to reduce stress hormones and improve immunity. They could tell you that the most beneficial forests for healing are the virgin native forests. They might talk of the network of roots that enable the trees to communicate with each other. Or the increase of available oxygen ready to be breathed in to dance inside you. The vitamin D from the sun delivered directly through your blood stream to your cells bringing more energy. And help balance melatonin levels that encourage better sleep. 

If you talked to a NASA scientist, they might mention the innate pull of the frequency of the Earth: this atmospheric heartbeat known as the Schumann Resonance which fluctuates at around 8 hertz. Being in this frequency has been shown to boost mood, lower blood pressure, lessen cardiovascular risks, and ease pain and inflammation.

Well known neuroscientist, lecturer and author Dr. Joe Dispenza shares his findings. “In clinical studies, we have seen that 2 hours of nature sounds a day significantly reduces stress hormones up to 800% and activates 500 to 600 DNA segments recognised as responsible for healing and repairing the body.” A large-scale University of Exeter study in 2019 suggested that spending at least two hours a week in nature was the crucial threshold for promoting optimal health and wellbeing. 

The truth is that this is beyond science and indeed beyond words. In nature and human synergy, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Te Mata Park Trust Board member, Bruno Chambers sums it up, “There are so many drawcards and everyone gets something different – 360-degree views, expansive spaces, it’s aesthetically pleasing … there are so many parts that are so special. Everyone has their own favourite place or walk. It has a unique meaning to everybody.”

The same could be said for the very many magical places in nature that we have in this stunning region. Each of us will have our favourite places to connect with nature. But the question is: Are you spending time there often enough for them to positively impact your wellbeing?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea. Drink the wild air”. Your wellbeing mission, if you choose to accept it, is to head outside and take your friends and family with you. 

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