So, there are seven travellers hiking a little-known trail in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park in New Zealand’s South Island. They’re trading stories and laughs, accompanied by a couple of Kiwi guides who are sharing Maori legends and pointing out the local flora as they steadily make their way up the Mueller Ridge. Today’s hike is a tough slog; a real sweat-maker. But this little band of adventure travellers have been hiking, biking and kayaking the most iconic parts of the South Island over the last twelve days on our Rimu trip and have become a tight group. Most will need that camaraderie to complete this last hike. It’s a challenge, but one that they are taking on together. They’ll be encouraged by the other members of the group, and rewarded by the improving views as they trek upwards. A couple of hours into the hike, they reach Sealy Tarns to marvel at these little lakes carved out by ice.
|Hiking up the Mueller Track.|
This is a great place for the group to take in the view as they pause for a bite to eat. The fitter hikers will continue up to the ridgeline above and be rewarded with even more stunning views high above the Mueller and Hooker Glaciers and Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, directly opposite and looming high over its surroundings. Stopping to enjoy the view from the top, the group feels a collective wave of euphoria and huddle together for a group shot to capture the sweaty grins all around.
Now, if you’re an avid hiker or runner, you may have experienced that feeling before. It’s commonly known as the ‘runner’s high’ – a sense of euphoria that comes during and after exercise. Somewhat surprisingly, it was only quite recently that the cause for this upbeat mood was really known. Since the 1970s, it had been suspected that this positive mood swing was a result of endorphins, but the only endorphins that had been measured by scientists were in the blood stream and not in the brain where athletes were reporting they were feeling the ‘high’. Then around 2008, a group of German scientists at the University of Bonn finally put the hypothesis to the test.
The scientists selected a bunch of runners, asked them to exercise for two hours, and with the aid of a PET scanner and some chemicals that reveal endorphins in the brain, the scientists were able to measure a deluge of endorphins in the prefrontal and limbic bits of their brains. These are the same bits of your brain that produce a blast of euphoria when you hear a special piece of music, or when you’re falling in love.
|Let those endorphins flow!|
So, already you have another excellent reason to pop your running shoes or hiking boots on and head outdoors. But before you do, just for a moment let’s think back to our group of hikers on the Mueller Track. Those guys are amplifying and prolonging the effects of their exercise-induced endorphin rush with the joy and excitement of exploring a new country with a couple of funny, charming Kiwi guides and a small group of like-minded travellers. Not only will they be buzzing on the track, but afterwards the group will head back to the shearers’ quarters on the high-country sheep farm where they’re staying to savour a cold drink, some nibbles and more laughs until the sun sets and the smell of a sumptuous home-cooked roast dinner tempts them back indoors. This magical combination of sweat, camaraderie, pampering and personal achievement in a stunning natural landscape is what I like to think of as the ‘Active High’ – 100% natural high that could just be addictive. Now we just gotta figure out a way to cart a PET scanner up the tracks so we can prove just how much better it is than just hiking on your own!
|Our group of seven travellers and two guides in front of Aoraki/Mt Cook.|
“Traveling with Active New Zealand has spoiled me for all future trips. I will compare any vacation I may take in the future with this one and I cannot believe that anything will compare with the incredible scenery and exhilarating physical activity, in the setting of not having to drive, cook, or worry about anything. I ate well, slept well, and had so much fun with new friends. Nothing could be as Sweet As New Zealand.” Ruth Lucci, April 16, 2012 Rimu trip.