After eleven years and 523 guided walks with 1579 participants, the popular educational leisurely walk series Bush Walk & Talk is marking the end of an era.
Margi Keys, a passionate New Zealand native flora and fauna enthusiast, who started the guided walks on the North Shore in February 2004, is leaving Glenfield to live in Whanganui.
Margi reflects fondly on how the programme originally developed under the auspices of Northcote College Community Education. “The first walk was to be part of a three-walk programme called Off the Beaten Track. It was aimed at migrants who had a non-English-speaking background.”
“Meanwhile, long-term local residents asked the director of community education Liz Godfrey for a bush walk programme for them, and by the third term Bush Walk & Talk was launched. Glenfield College Community Education came on board, and then Rangitoto and Long Bay. Series of walks were held every term until the demise of community education at the end of 2009.”
Margi’s mission, as a teacher and enthusiastic amateur botanist, has been to provide a unique educational experience to increase awareness about the North Shore bush, plus ecological and environmental issues.
The outdoor education programme was more than a walk in the park. It was aimed at adventurous adults interested in learning how to identify some of NZ’s native flora and fauna, and who wanted to explore some of North Shore’s beautiful bush reserves with a guide. The pace was easy. The emphasis was on appreciation, discovery and using all the senses. Participants learned to identify many plant species, in juvenile and mature form.
“Bush Walk & Talk was my passion. I just wanted people to appreciate the bush right here in our backyard.
“It gave us all a reason to get up early in the weekends. Many of us were soothed by our two-hour bush fix. Sometimes we walked mid-week, and in summer on Monday evenings. We had so much fun while we were discovering what was in the bush. And I often found my inner child while showing people around. It’s neat to surprise people and make them smile.”
The abundance of bush reserves on the North Shore, many of them cared for by volunteers and not-for-profit restoration groups, gives us the opportunity to escape into the bush for some much-needed reflection and revitalisation. Margi Keys has no doubts that we’d all be a lot better for the experience on a regular basis.
“Nature is a delightful, and sometimes enchanted, introduction to mysterious beauty – something that helps plant an idea that the world is still OK even though there is much to be worried about, locally, nationally and globally. There is no doubt that being in nature helps maintain our wellbeing. Nature has the power to increase our work-life balance, self-confidence and understanding. If more people did this more often, imagine what a better society we would have.”
Margi moved to the river city of Whanganui at the end of June 2015. She is hopeful that other bush-walking enthusiasts might take the reins and lead walks in her place. Kaipatiki Project Environment Centre has been promoting the programme since 2010. They introduced themes including waterfalls, giants of the forest, kauri, food foraging and coastal walks. Manager Hamish Hopkinson is proud of the association with this unique programme, and the organisation is keen to hear from anyone interested in leading bush walks to continue Margi’s legacy.
“Bush Walk & Talk brings strangers together to explore the bush and learn about it at a leisurely pace, with confidence, and in good company. Margi’s enthusiasm and passion for NZ native plants is infectious, and she has a sparkle about her that makes each trip memorable. Even though her boots have trodden these paths for over a decade, on each occasion she manages to create a sense of wonder and surprise for people who might be experiencing our awesome North Shore reserves for the first time. We sincerely wish her all the best and hope we can continue the walks in her footsteps”.