GO NZ: How to travel to strengthen your mental health

To say this year has been a tough year is like stating the grass is green. There’s no denying the emotional ups and downs we have all faced as we forge a new life in a world battered by Covid-19.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), with a theme of reimagining wellbeing. How have we had to adapt in 2020 to stay on top of our wellbeing? Mental health and wellbeing is a taonga, a treasure, and helps us to live fulfilling lives.

For many of us, an important part of our mental health journey is being able to travel. It might be short-distance travel, such as a trip to the park or the beach to get out in nature, visiting family or friends, a holiday further afield to see something new or to experience something different from our everyday lives.

This year, in particular, we’ve had to reimagine what travel looks like. Some of us have been separated from families and isolated in our communities. At times we’ve been stuck inside our houses unable to explore our beautiful beaches, mountains and natural landscape like we usually would. We can’t travel overseas for conferences, events or trips that rejuvenate us as they might have in the past.

This week’s MHAW theme is based on Te Whare Tapa Whā, which is a Māori framework that considers wellbeing as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls and a foundation, which are all interlinked. Each day of this coming week is inspired by one of these five aspects of Te Whare Tapa Whā.

As we continue to reimagine travel, we can be more thoughtful in what travel does for us, consider more meaningful experiences, and how they can help strengthen our hauora/wellbeing.

Mountain biking in nature is an ideal way to refuel the body. Photo / 123RF
Mountain biking in nature is an ideal way to refuel the body. Photo / 123RF

Rāhina/Monday: Taha whānau

Recharge with others: Whiria te muka tangata

This is all about connecting with family, whānau and your wider community.

Given how stressful the year has been, there’s a good chance it’s put a strain on some of your family relationships too. A trip together gives you the chance to reconnect and relax in a different setting outside the home.

Holiday Parks are an ideal option to get the whānau together, especially over summer, and there’s usually at least one in every key tourist destination across the country. You can camp in a tent, park up in a campervan or hire cabins for accommodation, depending on what suits you. There’s a wonderful communal feel as you mix and mingle with other guests, cook and dine together and socialise to allow families to reconnect – and there are always other children around for the kids to make some new friends on holiday.

Taupō and Christchurch are two examples of great family travel destinations because of the number of activities and sites to see. In Taupō, you can visit the Huka Prawn Park, go jet boating, trout fishing, karting and play minigolf as well as having a soak in the thermal hot pools.

In Christchurch, bookworms will love the Tūranga library, and active kids will find plenty to do at the enormous Margaret Mahy Playground and Christchurch Adventure Park, or a more relaxing time can be had at He Puna Taimoana, the new hot pools complex by the sea at New Brighton.

Rātū/Tuesday: Taha wairua

Rediscover everyday wonder: Whāia ngā mīharotanga o ia rā

Taha wairua is about our spiritual wellbeing and personal beliefs. Have you ever visited a place that had a profound impact on you? Maybe it’s a place of cultural significance, a place that holds important memories, or a location your ancestors grew up in.

To travel to connect with your spiritual wellbeing, think about the places that mean something to you, or have significant cultural meaning.

Cape Reinga/Spirits Bay in Northland is a place that is sacred to Māori, who believe it’s the place where the spirits of the dead depart this world for the afterlife. It marks the tip of the North Island and is a beautiful, isolated bay at the end of the Aupōuri Peninsula.

Another aspect of this theme is giving back to the communities you visit. Search for companies and experiences that try to impact the environment positively. If you plan to travel around the Queenstown/Wānaka Lakes region, you might want to consider Kiwi Welcome, which is a six-month membership that gives you discounts in the region, but 100 per cent of the profits go back into the local community, so tourism helps give back to communities and the environment.

Rāapa/Wednesday: Whenua

Return to nature: Hono ki te taiao

Connection to our land is a crucial part of our wellbeing. That’s why getting out in nature – be it a favourite beach, a forest, a lake or mountain – can really help ground us and help us feel connected to the earth. We’re fortunate that Aotearoa is known for its beautiful landscape and nature settings, so it’s not hard to find a walking track or wide-open space to breathe in the fresh air. Hiking tracks are a great way to connect with nature, but they don’t have to be strenuous and there are countless tracks, short and long, all over New Zealand.

Or head out on a road trip and enjoy scenic parts of the country such as the remote parts of the Eastern Bay of Plenty to see its endless coastlines, sunshine and ancient forests. In the South Island take a drive through the Mackenzie District to see the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki, or further south in Waitaki to view the impressive pinnacles at the Clay Cliffs in Omarama.

Rāpare/Thursday: Taha tinana

Refuel your body: Whakapakaritia tō tinana

Taha tinana is about looking after your physical health, so this theme is about planning an active holiday. If you like walking and running, why not set a goal to complete a 10km, half marathon or even a full marathon somewhere outside of your city of residence.

Or perhaps you prefer to be on two wheels than two feet. The Queen Charlotte Track in Marlborough is ideal for mountain biking experiences. Local charter boats can carry you and your bikes up to the start of a track or pick you up along the way once you’ve finished riding for the day. If you want to work the upper body, add some kayaking into the journey too.

Rāmere/Friday: Taha hinengaro

Refresh your mind: Whāngaia tō hinengaro

Tourism New Zealand’s motto to Kiwis to encourage travel is to get out and do something new. And there’s a reason why we should – it helps refresh our minds. What are the experiences you can create for yourself that help refresh and rejuvenate your mind? Maybe it’s listening to your favourite song or podcast while walking along the beach. Or it could be the simple act of travelling to see one of your friends for a coffee. Perhaps refreshing your mind means doing something to boost the adrenaline like an adventure activity such as ziplining through a Rotorua forest or skydiving over Taupō.

In the context of the workplace, why keep your meetings confined to the indoors? Plan your next workplace hui for somewhere outside at a park or a beach and see whether the creativity and team productivity sees a significant boost as the result of refreshing the mind with something new.

For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew

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