How we like to camp

Our family loves camping and has many happy memories spent in campgrounds all around New Zealand. We recently started looking at upgrading our camper trailer and it got me to thinking that the camper trailer ( if you aren’t familiar with the term it’s the featured image for this post ) is probably the easiest and possibly cheapest ways to get into camping.

My husband and I both spent out childhoods camping with our families. My husband spent the summers in a borrowed canvas tent ( borrowed from the local scouts where my father-in-law was Scout leader ) with no floor and wasn’t very waterproof.  I on the other hand spent the winters ( yes the winters, we kayaked and there was more water in the river in winter ) in a camper trailer or VW combi van with the kids ( and one of those kids was me ) in a tent. My husband and I both camped in Department of Conservation campgrounds as children, where the biggest luxury is a long drop toilet.

Unfortunately I didn’t initially embrace camping as an adult as I thought I had an allergy to the grass and camping was quite annoying as my feet would end up lumpy and painful. Turns out that my feet are very sensitive to the sun and my feet issues were resolved with some spray on sunscreen so thankfully we could happily buy our first tent and embrace camping as adults.

We had many happy years in our tiny dome tent that we couldn’t stand up in, and packing everything in to the car at night as there was no room in the tent to store it. After a fabulous road trip around the Taranaki region, we decided to upgrade to a tent that we could stand up in with a vestibule. I am not really sure what a vestibule is but I do love the sound of the word. Of course with our bigger tent we had more space for things so bought a wee table and camping pantry.

No sooner had we taken the tent for its maiden journey than we discovered we were having our first child …hmm might need to add a room onto that tent. When we were a family of three we enjoyed many camping weekends away. And at this point I might lose my adventure mumma street cred when I say that two kids made me less so inclined to pack up the tent and head away camping. Not to mention we would have needed camping bunks to fit into our tent.

And so I have to hand it to my awesome bunch of friends who got us back into camping when our kids were a little older.

And time for another tent ( yes that’s our third tent )….a 3 room one this time. Very luxurious. And with all that space we bought another table and a comfier airbed.

And yes at this point we had such a big tent and so much stuff to put in the tent ( I might camp but I don’t like to lower my standards ) that we had to hire a trailer to get everything in. Packing was quite an undertaking and we found we weren’t going away camping as much we would have liked.

Enter the camper trailer…beds, bedding, table, seating, cooker, plates, gin glasses  ( enough for the whole campground if you are like me ) all packed up and ready to go. We love our camper, its so much easier to pack ( all we need to pack is clothes and food ), easy to set up, robust canvas that has never leaked in the rain, doesn’t get blown around in the wind and the canvas is so dark that the kids even sleep in when we are camping.

We recently spent 3 weeks travelling around the South Island in our camper trailer and thoroughly enjoyed it.

When I look at all the camping gear we have bought over the years I think the best place to start would have been a camper trailer.

Top tip:

If you want ease of packing and setting up look into getting a camper trailer. You can spend $30,000 on a new flash one but we got ours second hand for $2,500 which we estimate would have been about the same amount as the camping equipment we have bought over the years. The time saving on packing is priceless and because its easier to pack we go camping a lot more and even go away for one night, which we wouldn’t have done with the tent.

Tongariro Crossing with kids

It was hard to know what was keeping me awake the most the night before the Tongariro Crossing with the kids; my concern over whether we were prepared enough or the fact I was sleeping in a tiny room with 3 over excited children ( my two and our 14 year old homestay ). I’m not great at sleep at the best of times ( you can follow my journey on that in future blogs ) so after quite a few hours of tossing and turning I was awake before the alarm.


As I like to be as prepared as possible we had made the sandwiches and snacks the night before. So all that was left to do was convince the children that it was cold outside and yes they should put on that extra layer, fit in as much breakfast as possible and finishing packing enough food, water, warm clothes, sun hats for 3 children and 2 adults for a 20km hike (I still wish we had taken our luggage scales to see how heavy our packs were)

Out the door to catch the bus and yes children it really is cold outside. Nothing like the nervous energy of 30 people at 7.30 in the morning in the confined space of the bus and then I realised we had the youngest children on the bus by a good 5 years with my son of 7…hmm I really hope we did enough training.


After a safety briefing from the driver (was he looking at the parents of the 7 year old ) and a team photo of our group ( 11 adults and 7 children ) we set off. I always find it hard to pace myself when I first set off on a big event and was a little worried my children had the same problem when they set off at what can really only be described as an excited jog.

One of our friends later said when he heard we were going to do the walk with our kids he thought we were mad, in fact he thought we were crazy doing it with kids, but quickly changed his mind when my son ran passed him on the uphill.

The Crossing starts off over a boardwalk for a few kilometres and is a nice warm up to the climb up the hill. The first time we did the Crossing about 15 years ago going up the hill involved clambering up boulders but has now been upgraded to steeps and a winding up hill track and stunning views of Mt Ngauruhoe. There was a definite chocolate break at the top of that hill.

From there we crossed the crater which is kind like being on the moon. We walked in October and there was still snow on the mountains and some of the lower laying spots. Kids young and old had snow balls fight adding a few extra kilometres to the walk zig zaggin backwards and forwards to pick up more snow.

From there it was a climb up out of the crater including the bit where you hold on to a chain as you shimmy along an icy ledge and realise your 7 year old went through this bit by himself.

Time for a quick lunch break. No-one wants to linger too long for fear of not wanting to move again.

And then its time for the fun bit, down the scree hill to the Emerald Lakes. At this point I am pleased I was lucky enough to borrow a friends hiking boots that stopped the gravel getting in. Gee I do love scree hills – just cant figure out how the scree hill doesnt end up in a mound at the bottom.

Some of our group went around the Emerald Lake where there is thermal activity but I conserved my energy.

And then passed the Blue Lakes and we start down the hill. At first the down hill is a welcome relief but its a lot of downhill, in fact it was all downhill from there.

And so it was that we did the Tongariro Crossing. It’s hard to know if I can describe it as a family outing when I barely saw my son as he raced to keep up with the big kids. Thank goodness for the uphill that slowed my daughter down so I could share most of the experience with her.

On the upside I never heard one complaint from my son which is not to say he didn’t complain it’s just that he was so far ahead of me I never heard him.

Someone suggested I get my children’s thoughts to add to this but for all I think my children are amazing at what they achieved, I have realised that children take it all in their stride (and that stride may be a jog) when the next day as my son got out of bed he asked incredulously ‘why would my legs be sore?’

Nevertheless I am proud of what my family has achieved. Turns out with some commitment to training and lot of belief in your children, they believe in themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love of a shared goal (see first blog) with the children even if they have yet to realise just how amazing their achievement is!

For more on the training we did read Yes you can enjoy exercising with your kids.

Things you might want to know

We started walking about 8.30am and finished about 2.30pm. We walked at a comfortable pace with a 7 and 12 year old and had stops for photos & fuelling although the 7 year old didn’t exactly walk with us .. he ran with other younger members of our group.

My husband and I carried everything for the children, and that was 3 children’s gear as we had a 14 year old home stay. In hindsight I maybe would have had the kids carrying some of the gear.

My kids walked in normal running shoes. I did wear boots that I borrowed off a girlfriend but the trail can be walked in normal running or walking shoes, you might just end up with some rocks in them after the scree hill but you can always empty them out.

The Mountain Safety Council also has some great tips on staying safe on day walks

Yes you can enjoy exercising with your children

From when I was a young girl I have always enjoyed exercising. More often than not it was with a goal shared with someone else, from running Round the Bays as an 11-year-old with my cousin, to training for half marathons with my husband. There’s something about training for a goal and then sharing the achievement with someone else that makes my heart sing with the added bonus of justifying that piece of cake!


When I had children I wasn’t sure how exercise was going to fit into my life but found I could spend many a happy hour pushing children round the neighbourhood in the pushchair. In the last few years though I have been exercising by myself, which I have found a little ironic that I am out keeping fit while my children sit at home on the couch.

My daughter’s cross country earlier in the year provided an incentive to get out running together although she doesn’t share her parents love of running just yet and it was a bit of battle to get around the block.


So when a friend mentioned a group was walking Tongariro Crossing (a wee 20km hike considered by many to be one of the best one day treks in NZ ) with kids, I was super excited about the possibility of sharing that experience with my children.

I try to walk with the kids to or from school a couple of times a week, which is a good walk for a child at about 2km, but wasn’t going to cut it for working up to a 20km goal. So when I picked them up from school I started progressively walking a little further on the way home. We are lucky we have some lovely bush that we can add to our walk so (after a little grumbling at the detour) they are distracted by counting the possum traps.

Then we started making our walks (if you can call a two hour, 10km urban trek a walk) a family affair in20151011_112746_resized_3 the weekends, with my husband joining us. We have had so much fun exploring far and wide and I really enjoyed spending a couple of hours uninterrupted time with my kids holding my hands. While it may be a challenge to get out of the house, they never complain once we get started. It’s amazing how far we can walk and the kids love saying they walked from our house to the city.

I loved sharing the sense of achievement of walking 20km with my children, and eating a piece of cake or two!


Tips for exercising with kids

  • choose fun places for the kids to walk or walk to. We love walking around the local wildlife reserve and watching the birds or walking to the library and catching the bus home.
  • of course a cafe always makes a walk more fun.
  • my kids enjoy tracking their walks/training on an app like Mapmy run or Polarbeat.
  • although I would prefer peace and quiet, thats never going to happen with kids so sometimes we will listen to music.

Old Coach Road Ride and Walk

One of my favourite mountain bike trails, possibly for the very achievable distance of 15km and definitely for the stunning views and old bridge relics, is the Old Coach Rd near Ohakune. The trail is generally downhill starting at Smash Palace corner and ending in Ohakune. It follows the old coach road and railway line in places. It was the last part of the main Trunk railway line, from Auckland to Wellington, to be completed as the terrain was so tough to build a railway line through. There are lots of information boards along the way showing how hard the rail link was to build.

We are lucky enough to have some dear friends, Sue and Raymond, who have a holiday home in Ohakune so when a group of us converged on Ohakune for a catchup, riding the Old Coach Road was an obvious choice for the mad keen mountain bikers in the group.

I was just getting back into mountain biking after a break of about 5 years when I didn’t think I had the energy to fit mountain biking into my mum life ( oh how wrong I was ). Bless Raymond who took it upon himself to stay with me at the back and keep me company even though he rides daily around Wellington so is superfit. Raymond had ridden Old Coach Rd many times ( probably both ways making it a 30km ride ) and he was able to point out things of interest and prepare me for any uphills. The highlights had to be getting out with our friends, actually riding on the Old Coach Rd cobblestones ( although it was quite bone shaking ) and the amazing Hapuawhenua Viaduct. Not for the faint hearted to ride across this, the height and gaps between the planks totally freak me out and I get sweaty just watching others ride across it.

Ohakune is about a 5 hour drive from Auckland so unfortunately we don’t get down there often. And so it was about two years later that we returned for another fun filled weekend away with our friends, our bikes and our children’s bikes. I must admit it was with a little trepidation that I set out with two other mums and 5 kids between us from the start of the trail. Where were the Dads I hear you ask…such were the logistics that they dropped us all off at the start, near Smash Palace, then drove back to the Ohakune end of the trail and rode in to meet us halfway. So yes I had options,  do a longer ride predominantly uphill or ride with the kids and I chose to ride with kids!

It’s funny how a hill can seem bigger when you are riding with kids so there was a bit of pushing of bikes but the Dads were actually surprised at how far we had got when they meet up with us. The kids rode very well and were very excited doing this challenge.  Our youngest was 6 years old at the time and he nailed it. It was a great day out with all the highlights of the first ride without the bone shaking ride down into Ohakune on the cobbles as they had gravel put over them. The track had been upgraded due to increased popularity. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that from a historical point of view but it sure was easier on the body.

The third time we rode Old Coach Road was the following year, we were lucky enough to be close to Ohakune staying in Raetihi doing the Bridge to Nowhere Ride. The Bridge to Nowhere Ride proved more challenging than I thought ( more on that in another blog ) and after having a pretty full on day riding that I wasn’t expecting to wake up the next morning and feel compelled to ride the Old Coach Road next but I guess that’s how much I love the ride. And it didn’t disappoint, the sun was shining and the ride was awesome including the road ride back to Raetihi from Ohakune on the road.

If you are in the mid North Island the Old Coach Road it definitely worth a detour! I will leave the specifics of getting there to the Department of Conservation.

Other places to mountain bike in the area:

When we rode the Bridge to Nowhere

Ride NZ talks about the 42nd Traverse

Other places to mountain bike in NZ:

When we rode Timber trail, part of the Twin Coast trail, Waitangi MTB park

Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors