'Wearing a hijab won't stop you living an adventurous life'

From Nine To Noon, 9:25 am on 25 August 2023

As a teenager in Tāmaki Makaurau, Dua Asim didn't see images of women in the wilderness wearing hijabs so didn't consider outdoor adventures an option for her.

Now, three years after her first camping trip, 125,000+ people follow the 23-year-old's Instagram account @duadiscovers.

"I would have loved to have seen this growing up, I would have loved to have had this representation. So I started doing it for 15-year-old Dua. She would have loved to have seen this," she tells Kathryn Ryan.

Civil engineering student and tramper Dua Asim

Civil engineering student and tramper Dua Asim Photo: @duadiscovers

Dua, now a civil engineering student at the University of Canterbury, says she didnt get to travel much but always wanted to explore New Zealand's beauty.

"My parents definitely wanted us to be raised as free-range children, just like the chickens … we were given an appreciation for the outdoors and nature and animals. So I did have that base foundation."

At school, Dua enjoyed team sports – T-ball, netball "like everyone else did" and cricket "to appease my Pakistani parents" – but it wasn't until the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 that she started thinking about tramping and camping.

"A bunch of the people that I was surrounded by said ' Hey, we should go on a hike when we get out of lockdown. I think it'd be really great for all of us and our mental health' ... I thought 'Well, I've never been on a hike so I'm just gonna go and see what happens.'

"As a broke student, you don't have a lot of funds to go travelling right? You, can't go on these glamorous holidays. So instead, what you can do is you can use your own two feet and walk everywhere. And explore that way. "

Although Dua was nervous about sleeping outside for the first time, also in her hijab, the trip was "phenomenal", she says. She soon planned more adventures and started sharing them with family and friends on social media.

"I'd moved out of my hometown, it's a big scary thing. And I just wanted to share that 'hey, I'm doing all right, like I'm doing these fun adventures, I'm living the life that I said I was gonna go live and I'm making it happen, you know'."

Dua says it felt "therapeutic" to share images of herself wearing a headscarf in the great outdoors – creating the content her teenage self didn't get to see and also inspiring others.  

"It gives me hope that I can do that, just giving hope to people was such a rewarding feeling for me."

Since then, she's built many connections and friendships through tramping and even gets recognised now. Walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track a couple of weeks ago, she had a "great yarn" with an Instagram follower from Colorado.

Although Dua doesn't post in real-time – for safety reasons and also so she can be in the moment – she doesn't shy away from getting real about the emotional challenges of tramping.

"[Once] we were on a hike and there was a tree trunk that had fallen, multiple tree trunks that had fallen on this track. And we were going over and under and all of this stuff... I think it came to the seventh hour of tramping, and I just started bawling my eyes out under this tree. ... I'm not doing everything perfectly and I've made mistakes ... I don't see myself as a role model. So I think I don't feel that pressure. I'm just being open and honest."

Dua has ticked off the majority of South Island walking trails now and says one of her most memorable so far was the walk up to Welcome Flat Hut on the West Coast.

"There's mountains with snow surrounding you. And you're just like 'This is the most amazing experience I've ever had'. Just following the idea of being able to walk up your own two feet. [The tramp is] up this valley to natural hot pools surrounded by mountains. It just felt like such a dream."

Eventually, she hopes to combine her love for travel with civil engineering, traditionally "a very male-dominated degree and profession".

There are also some North Island tramping adventures on the cards.

"A lot of people overseas or maybe even New Zealand think the South Island is the best place to be for adventures and travel. But I think the North Island is very underrated. Just because it doesn't have those towering snowy mountains everywhere doesn't mean it isn't gorgeous in its own way."

Dua Asim was recently nominated for the YWCA's Y25 Award.