The New Zealand bush is wild, and the bush on the Pyke Route is no exception; it has some incredibly unfriendly plants growing unhindered. To start with there are the familiar forest friends like waist-high thistles and huge clumps of stinging nettles, but these are benign compared to the real challenges.
The first bush bastard – there's no other word – is Hook Grass, an innocent-looking little grass with brown seeds stored in clumps at the end of the stalks. That's not a problem, but Hook Grass has a clever little method of spreading its seeds; each seed has a little hook on it which attaches itself to any hairy beast that brushes past it, enabling the seeds to stick to the animal and fall off at a later date, thus spreading themselves around. This is mighty clever, but human leg hairs just aren't as hardcore as deer hairs, and Hook Grass turns from a normal weed into a painful way of depilating your legs. Imagine walking through fields of grass that pulls your leg hairs out constantly, and you can imagine how much I hate Hook Grass; next time I either shave my legs, or I invest in gaiters.
The next bush bastard is Bush Lawyer. I don't know how it got its name, but Bush Lawyer rips you up and draws plenty of blood, which could be a clue. After the walk I was covered in Bush Lawyer scars that looked like claw gouges, and every one of them hurt like hell when it happened. Bush Lawyer looks lovely, like a small-leafed ivy, and it climbs in much the same way – everywhere, in other words. The only problem is that Bush Lawyer is covered in extremely sharp thorns that all point one way, away from the end of the stem. This means that if some Lawyer is hanging down and you walk into it, it lodges its thorns in your skin and as you walk away it rips into you like a plough ripping into a field. By the time you notice it, it's too late, as it's never just one strand; it comes with friends that will be stuck on your pack, in your clothes and everywhere else. Turning around or struggling makes it worse; the only solution is to slowly remove each bit, wincing as you go, and trying to avoid sudden movements. Having two people helps, if only because the first person can warn the other person not to follow. Bush Lawyer is the ultimate bush bastard.
Then there's the unnamed grass with big thick blades that act like paper. By this I don't mean you can write on it, add a stamp and send a pretty postcard home; I mean the blades cut you like paper. You're walking along, and suddenly you find that blood is pouring down between your fingers, having suffered a slash across three fingers. It might not hurt yet, but it will do in about a minute. And it'll hurt for about three days, like buggery, because the blades are smothered in a mild poison that irritates like hell.
On top of all these friendly little plants are the usual challenges of hacking through forests, like creeper that hangs across your path, catching your pack, stringing itself round your neck, and tripping you up. Or the countless fallen trees with slippery moss smothering the trunks that turn out to be rotten as you put your foot right through the bark. Or the sharp sticks everywhere that you can't see because there's so much foliage between you and the ground, but which spike your legs, causing plenty of gashes and cuts. Or even the ubiquitous bushes that don't scratch as such, but slowly grind down your skin until it's red raw and incredibly sore.
Never underestimate the wild bush; it hurts. But we keep coming back...