All posts by Charmaine Vaughan

Reconnect with the outdoors (and yourself) after having kids

Have you heard – it’s Get Outdoors week, an initiative to encourage New Zealanders to get outdoors safely. Of course we all want to be safe when we get outdoors and there are lots of great resources on the Mountain Safety Council and Water Safety website but do we really need to be encouraged to get outdoors in the first place?

If I think back to my former self, when my kids were younger, then yes I probably did need to be encouraged to get outside. Yes I went for a walk each day around the suburban streets but the thought of packing and taking the kids out ( or getting out and doing something without them ) just all seemed like hard work. Of course, once I rediscovered my love of the outdoors WITH my children I have created so many happy memories adventuring all over New Zealand, from walking Tongariro Crossing to mountain biking the Timber Trail to exploring the South Island for 4 weeks. In fact, I think I rediscovered a part of myself I didn’t even know I had lost and life has seemed so much better for it.

Of course I didn’t wake up one morning and stumble across an adventure, I had to have the desire to make it happen, and then plan to get out there while still maintaining the desire. Now I could try to convince you that getting outdoors is going to be amazing but its more of a feeling, an amazing feeling….do you remember it?

So now you have the desire to get outdoors, what does it take to plan to get outdoors?

  • Little did I know it but having a partner who enjoys getting outdoors as much you do certainly helps. My husband is great at researching and logistics and then I make it happen. Of course this isn’t essential but it certainly helps. And it might be that your partner has lost their outdoors mojo too so maybe you need to be the chief organiser until your partner rediscovers the joy of the outdoors too….trust me its going to be worth it.

  • Start small and focus on what’s achievable for you. Yes you are going to see people on social media doing multi-day hikes with babies, and running ultra marathons with stops to breast feed their baby but if that all seems too much for you ( and it does to me ) then focus on something that is achievable for you and your family. And maybe multi-day hikes used to be you but its not right now and that’s OK too.
  • Now you have a few ideas, run them passed the family ( if the kids are old enough to have an opinion ) to get them on board, then get the date(s) in your diary.
  • Read up on it and be prepared. Taking children outdoors does have more of an element of risk. There are some great resources on the Mountain Safety Council website including what to take on a day hike.
  • Pack the night before. There is no denying there is more to pack when kids are involved so getting prepared the night before makes getting out the door so much more achievable and enjoyable. I like lists, I also like reusing the same list with additions and modifications as we learn from our experience.
  • Lets return to the reason we are planning this adventure….to have FUN!!!! Know your childs limits and modify the outing to suit their limits and make the adventure fun for everyone. Of course lots of encouragement along the way is going to be key to everyone having fun,
  • Also know when to push your child, and this mostly applies to getting them out the door. I can’t believe the number of times ( um, yes every time ) my children don’t want to come out on an adventure and yet within 10 minutes of being out they are having THE best time. 
  • Now my children are a bit older ( 10 and 14 ) I let them decide if they want to walk in jandals ( and yes if it’s a long trail then I might insist on shoes ) but if getting them out the door in jandals to do a walk or shorts instead of bike pants for a ride is easier ( and doesn’t put them at risk ) then that’s OK with me.

  • Just like adults, children have different interests and things they enjoy about the outdoors. My son loves any walk with running water nearby and my daughter loves bird watching. Its great to see the outdoors from a different perspective and a win-win if we do an adventure that ticks both of these boxes. Hopefully you will find something in nature that sparks your childs interest.
  • I have learnt this next tip from experience…before heading out check the trail is open, the ferry is running and the weather forecast hasn’t changed overnight.

So whats your first family adventure going to be, or maybe its not your first but there is something you want to do but have been putting it off. There really isn’t a better time than now.

Places to find more inspiration to get outdoors:

  • If you are looking for some inspirational mamas then the Outdoorsy Mamas is a ‘NZ based’ online group of Mums sharing their adventures and what they have learned along the way. And if you are looking for some adventure buddies then its a great place to meet like-minded mums too.
  • Rather than get FOMO from social media I find it a great source of inspiration for my next adventure.
  • The Department of Conservation have a searchable site of walks and great lists of short walks, family friendly walks, one day hikes and ‘great’ walks and gear lists for each type of walk and tips for having a safe trip.
  • Local councils also have some great resources like the Auckland Council Akl paths that has searchable functionality for the type of path and location you want.
  • Trail forks has a great database of all of New Zealands mountain bike parks.
  • For multi-day mountain biking trails check out NZ cycle trails.

Read more from our adventures:

Saving you time and money on transporting bikes

We’ve spent a bit of money on transporting our bikes over the years so to save you the money I thought I would take you on our bike rack journey and rate each one.

When we went from 2 bikes to 4, 2 of the 4 were kids bikes and fitted on to our existing bike rack which was just a two prong tow bar one. We got away with that for quite a few years, it took a while to strap them all on and the bikes were pretty jammed on so there was lots of making sure they didn’t rub together and we also couldn’t get into the boot of the car when we had the bike rack on.

 

When the kids upgraded to adult sized bikes we purchased a 4 bike two prong one. After a while wrangling 4 adult size bikes on to the two prong tow bar bike rack and wondering about the weight dangling off the bike rack and tow bar, we moved on to the channel bike rack. This seemed like a game changer as it was so much easier to put the bikes on; they all had their own channel so no chance of bikes rubbing together and quicker to strap on but we still couldn’t get in to the boot of the car.

Along with not being able to get into the boot we also couldn’t tow our camper when we had the bike rack on the tow bar.

Cue the next change in transporting our bikes – yes, we finally bit the bullet and spent the money on roof racks to transport the bikes. My husband got some roof racks off Trademe but it did still cost more than the other two bike racks combined. The ease of putting the bikes on the car and being able to get into the boot is a game changer. It’s a little tricky getting them up on top of the car but once up its very quick to secure them. Not to mention we can now tow our camper and take our bikes away too.

Given our time over we would bite the bullet and go straight for the roof racks.

As its my husband who puts the bikes on the car most of the time I have also asked for his input on the grading system used below.

  Two prong Channel On the roof
Ease of putting bikes on Fairly quick but need to arrange bikes so no rubbing. Fairly quick but need to arrange bikes so no rubbing. Fast. Strength and balance required to lift bikes onto roof.
Cost $$ $$$ $$$$
Can open boot No No  Yes
Can use tow bar No No Yes
I ( Charmaine ) can load bikes on rack by myself No No Probably not

Another thing to consider is going up and down steep driveways when the racks that go on the tow bar can get in the way.

There is also the Thule Bike rack that is two ball mounted and swings out of the way giving you the ease of putting bikes on at easily accessible height and access to the boot but not that ability to tow anything.

the perfect holiday spot

After our Far North holiday the previous year we were very keen to explore more of Northland so based ourselves at Pataua at the Treasure Island campground. Pataua is divided by an estuary that only has a pedestrian access footbridge between them so when you are driving there make sure you know if you are going to Pataua North or South.

 

Pataua is a stunning spot with great surf beaches and a fun estuary. The kids had a great time at the campground but we found it a little noisy after dark but I guess that’s what you get at the peak period.

Pataua

When we weren’t enjoying the beaches at Pataua we were exploring the nearby area. Just down the road from Pataua is one of New Zealand’s best short walks as rated by the Department of Conservation; Mt Mania. It might be short but it’s pretty much a vertical track with lots of steps – its worth it though for spectacular views out over Whangarei harbour. Allow a bit of time at the top as there are lots of views to be had and rocky outcrops to explore.

Mt Manaia, Whangarei, Northland
Mt Manaia, Whangarei, Northland

On the way back around the harbour we spotted a wee jetty in Taurikura Bay, created by a lava flow, so of course we had to get out and have a look. Quite amazing what nature can create.

Taurikura natural jetty, Whangarei Harbour

Then after a day spent relaxing at the campground we set off for Tutukaka over quite a windy back road to spend the day at the Poor Knights marine reserve. I had heard rave reviews about the trip out to the Poor Knights with Dive Tutukaka LINK but when I looked into it before we headed away I wasn’t sure my husband would be so keen on the $500 price tag. As it turns out he thought it was a great idea and it was our family Xmas present.

I love boats and being out on the ocean. It was a stunning day for a boat trip along with an informative commentary from the captain. Once we arrived at the marine reserve it was all go with all snorkels, wetsuits, flippers, kayaks and paddle boards provided.

My kids have never snorkelled before but they took to it like the little fish they are. What a delight it is to swim with so many fish ( I can just never figure out how the fish know it’s a reserve and safe to hang out there ). The water was crystal clear and the visibility was amazing. Once we had snorkelled, paddle boarded and kayaked to our hearts content it was back on board for some lunch and hot soup. Even on a sunny day those crystal clear waters can be chilly after a while.

Then we upped anchor and the captain drove the very large boat into the world’s biggest sea cave and around the island giving us stunning views along with a very interesting commentary.

And then it was time to head for home which ended up being fun in itself as the sea had got up and we were treated to waves splashing over the bow. It was only after I was fully drenched that I noticed everyone else had moved inside.

Poor Knights Perfect Day

My son rates this as one of the best days of his life which could be partly because the crew gave him so much one on one attention but mostly because we are truly blessed to live in such a stunning country.

Overall, the stay in Pataua was a great mix of relaxing and adventuring.

Other things we have done in Northland.

Cycling the Twin Coast trail with and without kids

Mountain biking at Waitangi mountain bike park.

Seeing two oceans meet

seeing two oceans meet

We’ve been going to Paihia for years to visit my in-laws but hadn’t really spent much time exploring the Far North so we decided to venture further North over the Xmas break. We based ourselves at Whatawhiwhi on the Karekare Pennisula in the full service campground. There is a Department of Conservation campground further out the Peninsula at Matai Bay but you cant book ahead which makes planning a stay a little difficult.

Matai Bay, Nortlhand

I always find it hard once I am settled in to a campground and the kids are happily playing to get in the car and drive, especially when the drive to Cape Reinga was 2 hours. Oh well, its not often you get to see two seas meet head on and Cape Reinga is a magical spot to visit so we dragged the kids away from their campground friends and headed North. It was a relatively easy drive and we were lucky we set out early to get there before the crowds who arrive in buses that depart from Paihia. Thankfully we got to enjoy the magic of the upper most point of New Zealand in relative tranquillity but could not believe how many people were arriving as we were leaving.

Cape Reinga, Northland
Cape Reinga, Northland

We spent a good amount of time soaking up the atmosphere and reading the information boards. There are some walks in both directions on the coast but we had more places to explore on the way home so no time for walking on this visit.

From the Cape we drove to the Te Paki sand dunes. Bring your own boogie board or hire one there and be prepared for a wee walk across the hot sand dunes and then an almighty climb up a steep dune to get a good ride. I’m not so good with heights so I must admit it was with some trepidation that I pushed myself over the edge but there is nothing like watching your kids do something to make you brave. It was a bit hot for too much physical exertion, so we only had a few runs before we headed back for a picnic by the stream where the kids probably had more fun playing in the cool water.

Te Paki sand dunes

Again by the time we came to leave the place was crawling but I guess that’s what you get when you holiday at peak time.

From Te Paki we drove to Rarawa, a beach on the east coast and then because you don’t often get to visit both coasts in one day we drive to Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast.

 

Exploring Northland beaches

After a long day spent driving around the far reaches of the North Island we spent the next day relaxing in the campground and visited the stunning Matai Bay for a swim. It was so beautiful that we returned the next day to explore further and do some walks on either side of the bay. 

Matai Bay, Nortlhand
Matai Bay, Nortlhand

Northland is spoilt for choice for beautiful beaches so be sure to leave time to explore and I think the lesson to be learned is if you want to experience Cape Reinga without the hoards get there early.

Our experience of riding 10 of the NZ Cycle trails

My husband and I have mountain biked for over 20 years and we have spent a lot of time riding sheep tracks because there just werent any purpose built trails. So it was with much delight we heard that  as part of a government initiative a lot of money was being pumped into cycle trails so New Zealanders and visitors to NZ are now spoilt for choice.

 

There are now 22 cycle trails across the North and South Island. We have nearly ridden all of the trails in the the North Island:

Twin Coast trail – the whole way without kids and  Opua to Kawawkawa with kids

Riding over the Taumarere bridge on the twin Coast Trail, near Kawakawa, Northland

Hauraki Rail trail – Karangahake Gorge section with kids

Timber trail – with kids and without

Part of the Waikato River trail – Arapuni to Little Waipa and Atiamuri to Mangakino with kids

Great Lake trail – Headland loop on the Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch with kids and all of the trail without kids

Mountain to Sea – Old Coach Rd and Bridge to Nowhere sections

Hawkes Bay trail – Otatara Pa to the Puketapu loop

Motu trail

Part of the Queenstown trails with kids

Old Ghost Rd

Old Ghost Rd, South Island

More information on all of the NZ Cycle trails.

https://www.aa.co.nz/travel/rental-vehicles-and-transport/nz-cycle-trail-guide/