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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:

Just how great is the Great Lake trail

I have previously ridden the W2K Headland loop section of the Great Lake trail with my husband and kids and really enjoyed it so was looking forward to heading back with a group of friends ( minus the kids ) to do the whole trail.

The Great Lake trail is just out of Taupo and is made up of 3 rides that go from ‘K’ place names to ‘W’ place names. I was hoping that after I had ridden the trail the names would stick in my head but they don’t. For details on the trails you can check out NZ Cycle Trails description however we rode it based on Ted from Tread Routes suggestion to ride Whangamata Rd to Kinlock ( W2K – 20km ) and then Kinloch to Whakaipo Bay ( K2W – 23km ) on the first day and then Waihaha Bridge to Waihora Stream on the second day (W2W – 30km).

More details on the NZ Cycle trail website.

Great Lake trail, Taupo

Of course, being near Taupo, there are also lots of options for places to stay but as I started researching I realised our group configuration of 3 couples and 3 singles was going to make finding a suitable bed for everyone a little more difficult. So I was delighted that one place I found happened to be right on the lake in Kinloch with a suitable bed for everyone in our group. We found basing ourselves in Kinloch did make for some easy logistics and a great lunch spot on day one…but more on that later.

 

 

Day one dawned a little grey and overcast but not raining and given how wet the last few weekends had been we were happy with that. Ted from Tread Routes was super helpful with tips on the best logistics so 3 of our crew drove cars over to Whakaipo Bay, our end point for the day, while the rest of us waited and did crosswords. Ted then picked the drivers of the cars up and came back to Kinloch to collect the rest of us, and we were off to the trail.

For some reason I was so into my crossword and expecting a long drive to the start of the ride I took my crossword with me – coz that’s what everyone takes on a mountain bike ride right? Anyhow it wasn’t a long drive to the start and there was far too much pre ride bantering for crosswords.

Unfortunately, we did drive into light rain but that didn’t dampen our spirits as we jumped out of the van for the very informative trail briefing from Ted.

Great Lake trail, Taupo

The trail starts off on a slight downhill gradient which was a pleasant way to start and while it is rated as a grade 3, I would say its on the easier side of 3. The trail meandered through a wetland area and before I knew it we had done 10kms and were at Kawakawa Bay. From here we could see the headland we were riding up next and it did look a little steep. Thankfully the trail meandered up the side of the mountain and while it was a steady climb it wasn’t too difficult. From here it felt like it was all downhill into Kinloch, I’m sure it probably wasn’t but that was the impression I got.  We were back in Kinloch for lunch by 11.30 after setting off about 9.30am. Now I would like to say I planned our accommodation around a good lunch stop but it didn’t dawn on me till the night before that as we were riding right passed the place we were staying in, about lunch time, we didn’t need to ride with our lunch ( there is also a café and a general store in Kinloch that does takeaways right by the trail ) Of course the one problem with stopping in at the house was leaving it again. Lucky one of my friends was focused on getting back on the trail and finishing before the rain that was forecast for later that afternoon came so we were back on the trail by 12.30. One of our friends also decided that 20km the first day was enough for her so she stayed behind to do the important job of keeping the fire burning.

Great Lake trail, Taupo

The next part of the trail was familiar territory as thats the leg I mentioned we had ridden the year before with the kids. It’s a steady up hill climb and once again I am amazed by what our kids can ride. Although this was familiar territory it was completely different conditions to when we had ridden in July the previous year. Its been a very wet autumn and the trail reflected this with lots of mud and decaying slippery leaves on the track which made for some interesting cornering and some skidding downhills. There is nothing like knowing there is rain forecast to keep you focused on getting to the end though and we got back to the car at Whakaipo Bay just as the rain started. Thankfully we had someone at home keeping the fire burning so we were back toasting ourselves with a well-deserved drink in front of the fire in no time.

Great Lake trail, Taupo

Lucky for us day two dawned bright and sunny. Ted from Tread Routes arrived at 8am and we were off again with a slightly longer drive to the start, but first a detour to the local café for coffee. After another informative trail briefing we were off alongside the Waihaha River on a trail cut into the cliff – quite a way to start the day. A lookout spot along the way gave us views over massive ravines running through the country side, quite unlike anything I have seen in New Zealand before. As we left the river behind we rode into stunning native bush and very slippery trails that I just wasn’t enjoying as much as the day before.  Had I lost my mud mojo?, had too much coffee?, was I talking too much to concentrate?….finally figured out that my husband had thoughtfully pumped my tyres up a little, so after letting out some air I was whizzing through the mud again with a lot better grip. This part of the trail had some big headlands to pass over and there were a few steady uphills but with uphills comes great downhills. The views are amazing and at one point we had one of the biggest views over Lake Taupo I have ever seen. It certainly made me realise why the trail is called the Great Lake trail.

Great Lake trail

At our last viewpoint and lunch spot as we looked across the lake we could see out boat coming across the lake from Kinloch – perfect timing. We whizzed down the last hill and were at Kotukutuku Stream after stopping to admire the waterfalls and amazing structures that have been built down through a ravine to bring riders down to the lake edge.

Great Lake trail, Taupo

After a 30 minute boat trip we were back in Kinloch where we were dropped off at the Marina which quite conveniently has lots of hoses to wash bikes and was a 2 minute ride from the house we were staying at.

All in all we loved this ride, it’s a good grade, can be ridden in many different ways to suit ability, has stunning native bush and some spectacular views of Lake Taupo – we are already planning to go back and ride it all with the kids, maybe over 3 days.

Tips:

  • The track is 2 way and a multi-use track so we did wonder how busy it would be in summer.
  • We rode in slippery conditions in late autumn but have previously ridden in the middle of winter when it was cold but the trail was drier so I guess you need to be prepared for anything.
  • The trail can be ridden in many different ways; have a chat to Ted from Tread Routes about the logistics that work best for you.
  • Basing yourself in Kinloch does make for some convenient logistics.

Other NZ Cycle trails we have ridden;

Why you should walk/hike/tramp the Abel Tasman coastal track

I have experienced Abel Tasman National Park by kayak many years ago and as a day trip in more recent times with the kids but never hiked the trail so was excited to get to experience it with a school trip. Ok I will be honest there was a little trepidation about hiking 60km over 4 nights staying in Department of Conservation huts which are to say the least quite basic, with 12 children aged 11-13 but mostly I was excited.

Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park located at the top of the South Island. There are actually two tracks; coastal and inland, through the national park which I didn’t know until I looked up Abel Tasman when I was writing this blog so suffice to say the coastal track is the most popular. And that’s not just in my opinion Wikipedia says that too.

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

So chances are if you decide to walk/tramp/hike ( depending in where you come from as to how you describe getting along a trail on two feet) in the Abel Tasman National Park you will be on the coastal trail and I promise you wont be disappointed. This trail is so popular that the huts are booked 6 months in advance so planning your route, as always, is a good place to start. Be aware that Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you may want to plan that in to your bookings.



Book your huts on the Department of Conservation website.

Our group stayed at Anchorage the first night, then Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi. The walks in between these huts were very achievable, in fact as we were up early to catch the low tide crossing from Anchorage to bark bay and shaved 3km off our walk we actually had an afternoon relaxing at Bark Bay .

Anchorage
Anchorage

The accommodation on the trail is either in a tent that you have carried in along with everything else you need or a hut with shared sleeping rooms, a toilet and the cooking equipment that you have carried in so yes its quite a lot of gear that you are carrying.

So you have your accommodation booked, what now? Well in my case I started training, some people like to just wing it but I like to train to insure I get maximum enjoyment from the experience. So my daughter and I started walking short ( 5-6km ) distances with a 5-6 kg weighted backpack and slowly increased the distance to 10-12 kms with a 10-12kg backpack ( don’t feel that the distance needs to match your backpack weight just get out there and train )

So now you have your accommodation booked and you have done your training what’s next? Get out there and enjoy it. Before you go will read about Cleopatra’s pool and the beautiful golden sand beaches but I wasn’t prepared for the complete delight when the day trippers leave and you are one of about 30 people in the bay and then the next morning you get to watch the sun rise over a bay in almost complete solitude. At that point carrying all of your gear on your back to walk in to the wilderness makes perfect sense and I was pleased that it was a 4 day hike so I could experience that delight over and over.

Sunrise at Bark Bay, Abel Tasman
Sunrise at Bark Bay, Abel Tasman

The other thing I love about Abel Tasman is that there are so many different ways to experience it; by kayak which I highly recommend also, by foot, as day trippers in a bay or tramping between bays via water taxi or a combination. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to kayak on this trip as the waters around Abel Tasman are home to seals and dolphins.

In fact at one of my lunch time swims I thought I saw seals out on the headland but wasn’t sure as from a distance they do look like rocks, so imagine my surprise when soon after I got out a couple of seals turned up to give us a show.

On previous trips to Abel Tasman we have also seen dolphins so if you get the chance do jump in a kayak. The water taxi operators have various options of walking and kayaking and I even meet a group of people who were doing the track in a variety of ways; some walking, some kayaking and carrying the gear in the kayaks and then they would meet up at the hut each night.

Because water taxis do service the trail you will find quite a lot of day trippers at some of the beaches and walking the trail so in terms of solitude you definitely wont be the only person on the track. However, the water taxis do make the trail more achievable for people to do parts of the trail or a combination and can even shuttle in food and drop it further along the trail for you. Do talk to them about his before you book as the water taxis only go so far along the trail so again you need to get your logistics sorted.

All in all walking/tramping/hiking the Abel Tasman with my daughter’s school outdoor adventure club was one of the best adventures I have ever had and I cant wait to take my family back to experience the delights of truly experiencing the beauty and solitude of Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Top tips

Just to clarify the low tide crossings, there are several spots where you can do a low or high tide option with the low tide option saving you a few kms but if its high tide you just walk the high tide route. This is NOT the case at Awaroa – there is only one way across and the inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you want to know the tide before you book.

Department of Conservation who manage the trails and huts don’t guarantee the water is drinkable at the huts but it was when we were there.

Anchorage has lights in the kitchen/dining area and phone chargers. Two of the other huts we stayed in had lights in the kitchen/dining areas.

There are no shops along the way so make sure you take everything with you.

There is a café/restaurant at Awaroa but its a steep hill out of there so you might want to consider how much you want that flat white.

And if you decide a multi-day walk isnt for you then check out our day adventure into Abel Tasman National Park as a family.

More of our adventures in the area;

Tasman district.

Takaka adventures.

 

Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail

The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail is one of the last of the 22 NZ cycle trails to be opened so when we got the chance to ride it right through in one day (without the kids) we jumped at it.…well, actually we cycled for 87km.

The trail ride was part of our summer holiday (including 12 days of camping) so the logistics, packing and planning for the kids to be looked after by my in-laws wore me out so much I was wondering whether I could do the whole ride in one day. However after we arrived at the Horeke Hotel in the early afternoon and relaxed on the deck, had a delicious meal and a great nights sleep I was ready to go.

 

Before I talk about the trail the Horeke area is worth a mention. Horeke is at the tip of the Hokianga Harbour and just a 45 minute drive from Paihia. Its New Zealand’s oldest town and boasted the second oldest pub – does that mean New Zealand had a pub before it had a town? Jonny from Paihia mountain bike and shuttles drove us over and we talked about all things mountain biking. He is also very knowledgeable on the area so it was a very interesting drive.

We arrived at Horeke about 4pm. The Horeke Hotel wont be the flashest hotel you ever stay in but it could be the coolest. Its also home to an abundance of local history in the living form of the owners storytelling and old painting collection. There is even an original local Treaty signed just after the Treaty of Waitangi.

The trail officially starts at the Māngungu Mission so we decided to check it out. Its only a 3km ride down a gravel road and a very picturesque wee spot with views over the Hokianga Harbour.

And 3km down another side road is the Wairere Boulders. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit but I hear its well worth the trip to see the stunning rock formations and wander around the boulders.

So after exploring the area near Horeke we returned to the pub to enjoy the views from the expansive deck. The menu for dinner looked simple, steak or fish option, maybe a little too simple I thought but it turns out the hotelier is a whizz in the kitchen and we had the most delicious dinner as the sun set over the Hokianga. The steak and fish were great and the accompanying vegetable dishes and thrice cooked fries were amazing.

The hotel has 3 rooms, two downstairs (one with harbour views) and one upstairs with 2 double and 2 single beds and the best views. Luckily a friend of ours has stayed here before and recommended the upstairs room so we had stunning views and loads of space.

After a good nights sleep we were up early to start the trail. And this is when I wish I had known to chat to the hotelier about the history of the area the night before. Once he gets started with the maori and early settler history and NZ history too its way to amazing and interesting to leave, so our ride start may have been a little delayed but our knowledge of local history was greatly enhanced.

So we set off about 8.30am along the road and across the board walk. I always find it hard when I start off on a long ride to pace myself and this was no different especially as it was just my husband and I riding so no group shenanigans to distract me.

Thankfully after about 5km I overcame my mental block about the distance and got distracted by my surroundings which were very picturesque and varied as we cycled along streams, through native bush and through countryside.

The first half of the ride is mostly gradual climbing but it is well graded and not too tough. There is only one quite steep hill climbing out of the valley up to Okaihau and I ended up pushing my bike. We made Okaihau for a perfectly timed morning tea as the owner was about to shut up shop for a catering job. The towns on this trail are few and far between (as they are on most of the New Zealand cycle trails) so make sure you bring your own supplies or plan ahead to make sure cafes are open when you get there.

From Okaihau you more or less follow the old railway line all the way to Kawakawa then Opua across bridges and through a couple of tunnels. The highest point of the ride is just north of Kaikohe then its pretty much all down hill riding to the coast. We arrived in Opua about 4pm and were pleased that Jonny had suggested to ride from the West to East Coast. Going this way you get almost all the climbing out of the way early on. The trail is very well built and not at all technical. It has good surface conditions and the overall gradient is not tough.

Of course, if riding the whole trail in one day sounds a bit much, you can always check out the accommodation along the way.

Top tips

This trail would suit older children or younger children in trailers or tag-a-longs.

There are a lot of barriers on the trail and I have read that if you have panniers you end up lifting your bike a lot. For us it just meant a lot of getting on and off.

Mountain biking with kids – mud, sweat and tears

We were mountain biking with a group of adults who hadn’t ridden with our children for ages and one of them had never even meet our children. The adults and I were catching up to my husband and the kids who had gone on ahead. We started riding up a solid 20 minute uphill trail ( Sidewinder for those of you that know the Redwoods ).

 

We have ridden it with our kids once before and there was a bit of bike pushing but it’s all part of the experience. The guy who didn’t know our kids was saying ‘your kids can’t be on this trail’ and at one point he actually stopped and said I should call my husband to find out where they were because there was no way they were on this trail.  Not sure if he was questioning my navigation skills (which are questionable ) or my children’s fitness levels. So we got to the top of the hill and there were my little mountain bikers with big contented smiles on their faces. ‘I rode all the way’ says my 8 year old – and then I had a big contented smile on my face.

Ok, so I am pretty proud of my kids. They love mountain biking and we love mountain biking with them but it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember the first time we went riding with the kids, they were 5 and 8 years old. I almost didn’t change into my bike riding gear because I thought it was going to be a short ride. Of course we started off on the easy trails and there was a lot of bike pushing and moaning…and not just from the kids. After about 6 km we headed back to the café for a refuel and probably thought that was it but after some cake they were keen to go out again so we ended up riding 16km the first time.

We started going to Rotorua on a more regular basis and took the kids riding about once a month with varying degrees of success and lots of perseverance. We spent a lot of time getting their confidence and fitness up on the kid’s trails. And then gradually the moaning decreased, the enthusiasm increased and we ventured onto harder trails.

And they aren’t just fair weather riders either – one time it was pouring with rain when we set out and didn’t stop the whole time we were out. Not only was it wet, it was cold. When we got back to the carpark after 2 hours ride we were covered in mud, soaked to the bone and freezing cold with the biggest smiles on our faces, kids included. Nothing more bonding and character building than a shared adventure.

So it might not happen overnight and there will probably be a few tears but it’s worth it to share your love of mountain biking or tramping or whatever form your adventuring takes because as the good memories grow the challenges of getting there fades. In fact the challenge of getting there are part of the good memories.

So when our friends thought there was no way my kids would be on the steep uphill trail I knew they would be because we had put in the mud, sweat and tears to get them there.

Top tips

🚲Try and get out on a regular basis. Just like us adults, the more your kids do something the easier it becomes.

🚲 Don’t think that your children need to be great riders before they hit the trails. There are many family friendly trails around the country that are a great place for kids to get their confidence up. Start slow and easy and focus on the fun.

🚲 It’s important to have the right size bike for your child. A small bike doesn’t necessarily mean easier and neither does having the seat lower. As bikes gets bigger so does the wheel size which can make it easier to maneuver over rougher terrain. Having the seat at the right height is key too and enables the child to get better return on the stroke effort. Pop into your local bike shop and have a chat to your expert to ensure you’ve got the set up right.

🚲 Invest in gear that makes the riding more enjoyable for everyone. Obviously a good helmet is key, but also gloves, and cycling shorts are beneficial. Trade Me and local buy/sell pages are great for picking up deals. You could also suggest to friends and relatives that they buy gear as gifts for your kids.

🚲 Think outside the box with helping younger kids up tougher inclines. Inner tubes are great as tow ropes or I have even seen someone using a retractable dog lead to tow a child up a hill!

🚲 Be patient – both on the trail and with your child’s progress. While it might not happen overnight and there may be a few tears and frustrations, your child will get the hang of it. Give loads of encouragement and praise along the way.

Check out my blog on training for Tongariro Crossing with kids.