'Blind mice' enjoy sense of outdoors

The ability to walk in the forests and along the beaches of New Zealand is a given for most people but for a few, it’s an exciting new sensory experience.

On the third Wednesday of each month, trampers and walkers on the many scenic tracks in the South Otago district may bump into a group of friendly, happy go lucky people working their way along the same trail.

Getting past the excited chatter as the group ply their way along the track, one might notice that most are walking very close together.

Nothing untoward, it’s just that they are members of the South Otago Community Committee for the Blind Low Vision New Zealand, or as they like to be known as – the blind mice.

“We have been walking as a group since 2016 and we are a very social group of blind and low vision people who just want to get out and walk the trails and tracks of South Otago,” said the group’s organiser Doug Keen of Milton.

“Along the way, we always have a few laughs and it is nothing for us all to walk up to 16 kilometres a day on some trails,” he said.

Over the years the group have walked sections of the Gold cycle Trail in Central Otago, completed overnight tramping trips, and walked on just about every marked trail in the South Otago district.

“Distance isn’t a problem, but we do have to change from the marked trails to the back roads and forest roads around Milton when winter arrives because most of the trails become very slippery, making it too hard for us to walk on safely,” Mr Keen said.

The blind and low vision walkers in the group have sight guides leading them along.

“Their job is very important,” said Susy Dinkelaar, “They tell us constantly about what is coming up ahead, branches, tree roots, soft ground, sand or mud so you don’t walk into things, plus they tell us about the views around us.”

“It gives us all something to do, we love walking, I found it very refreshing to be able to get out and walk each day.”

She experiences the outdoors through her other senses, “We hear a lot of sounds as we walk along,

Les Freeman, of Balclutha, said working as a sight guide was very rewarding.

“It’s a nice social outing for everyone, we are there to guide them along safely, we have to be very aware of potholes, puddles and spot all the things in our way as we walk along.”

Maree Dodds from Kaitangata said she loves getting out and walking.

“I have slight vision, but my ears come in quite handy as I walk solo along tracks, I’m self-propelled so all I do is grab my stick and walk,” she said.

Leeanne Melvin, of Balclutha, uses all her senses to discover what is around her as she walks.

“I listen to nature and to my guide who explains the scenery and what is happening around me,” she said.

The group are looking forward to the opening of the new Gold Trail cycleway extensions currently under construction near Milton through the Manuka Gorge.

“We can’t wait to walk it, as it will be an adventure,” Mr Keen said.


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