The author's children at the Waihohonu Hut sign.

How to go tramping with young children

Ever wondered if you can go tramping with little ones? The answer is yes! Meg Drive shares one of her tramping adventures and gives tips on where to start if you want to take your family on a tramping trip.

The Waihohonu Hut is a great example of false advertising. It was billed as a hut. On the website, in the pamphlets, on the map, H-U-T is clearly spelled out. But with all the lavish amenities, a more appropriate name would be Waihohonu Palace, P-A-L-A-C-E. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Jack and I had been planning a winter subalpine tramping adventure, actively monitoring the weekend weather forecast for the past year. At long last, the empty spaces on our calendar collided with a bluebird day. Sadie and Dan (four and seven years old) were excited to gather their snow gear instead of rain gear and we all wondered whether we might find snow on the track, secretly hoping a better question was, how much snow will we find?

Though we knew the track to be fairly flat and wide, the kids had never before gone tramping in their snow boots, and we didn’t know how much snow or mud there might be on the track to slow us down, so we chose the shortest route into the Waihohonu Hut. From the Desert Road entrance of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, it is only 5.6 kilometres and less than 200 metres elevation gain to the Waihohonu Hut. From the carpark, we faced Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu to the West, with the snow-kissed Kaimanawa Range behind us to the East.

Within our first few metres from the car, we encountered slippery, sticky mud, the kind that tries to pull your boots off with each step. The mud persisted through much of the tramp and soon we also began to encounter unique frost. Undisturbed, this frost looked like a layer of freshly fallen snow, but as Dan quickly found out, after the top layer is gently removed (by kicking it, if you’re seven), a wall of tiny icicles was revealed. We called this fascinating frost The Erupting Mini Matchstick Ice of Ruapehu.

The author and her family and the “Erupting Mini Matchstick Ice of Ruapehu”.

The Erupting Mini Matchstick Ice of Ruapehu proved to be all the motivation that Dan needed to get to the hut. The rest of us were aptly inspired by unobstructed views of the giant peaks of Tongariro National Park gleaming white in contrast to the brilliant blue sky. Other highlights included forays through beech forest, inventing grand names for unfamiliar plants and mosses, and passing along the Waihohonu Stream. Sadie’s favourite part was foraging for the M&Ms scattered along the patches of snow closer to the hut.

Three hours and one minute after leaving the carpark, we were at the glorious hut-palace. The windows were double glazed, the walls were insulated, and there was a massive stack of dry firewood waiting to be lit in the stove in the cavernous kitchen-lounge area. The picture windows afforded us twilight views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe over dinner. Then, at dawn, both mountains were painted pastel pink by the sun. The solar panels on the roof meant that we had light even after the sun set just before 5:30pm, extending our evening of board games and affording us the unprecedented luxury of brushing our teeth without our headlamps strapped to our foreheads.

Despite the outside temperatures reaching -15C overnight, we were toasty warm inside. Jack braved the frigid temperatures and set up a makeshift tripod to take photographs of the spectacular night sky. The amenities offered during the Great Walk Season are even more extravagant, but we won’t complain when, on top of it all, we had the normally packed place to ourselves.

The next day, we found the ground had changed from sticky mud to a semi-solid dirt unlike any we had walked before. We wondered if there was something special about the way the mixture of pumice, sand, scoria, and ash interacted with the water as it changed from liquid to solid overnight to make such a unique texture. The return trip was punctuated by the sound combination of “crack-squeal!” as Sadie and Dan couldn’t resist testing the strength of every patch of ice that was now stretched across yesterday’s puddles.

We walked the 5.6 kilometres from 1120 metres back to 980 metres in three hours and one minute, oddly the same amount of time it had taken us to reach the hut. This time we took a long lunch at the Waihohonu Stream bridge, soaking up the sun, feeling blessed to be breathing in the mountain air wearing just our base layers, and already fondly remembering the night we were the royal family of the Waihohonu Palace.

The author’s children at the Waihohonu Hut sign.

Inspired to take your family tramping? Here are five ways to get started:

1. Go for a walk. The more often the better, but at least once a week, get outside and make it a fun mission. You can walk around the neighbourhood, plan a route to a nearby playground, or head into the bush for a short tramp.

2. Get the kids involved in the planning. Give a couple of choices for possible destinations and let the children decide. Once they get the idea, encourage them to brainstorm about where they might like to go or what they might to see. Would they like to to find a walk where they can spot the tuis, see the new lambs, or get to the top of the hill?

3. Do their favourite walks over and over. Walking feels easier with increased familiarity and the kids will relax into the rhythm. They also grow a sense of pride over their knowledge of the track and confidence that they can do it.

4. Share the load. Have your children carry something or be in charge of something. If your kids are able to walk themselves, they should be carrying a small bag with water inside. If they’re so little that they’ll be carried for most of the walk, give them a job, such as telling everyone to have a drink of water when you get to the top or reminding mum that she put the car keys in the front pocket of the child carrier.

5. Be light-hearted as you make memories. Take pictures, bring a special treat to eat, sing a song, be silent and let your child guide the conversation. Make lots of space to let the memories develop and your children’s sense of mastery grow.

Meg Drive loves to share her passion for tramping adventures with friends, family, and especially children. Meg grew up in Canada before moving to New Zealand, where she makes her home with her partner and two children. She writes about becoming Kiwi, exploring the New Zealand wilderness and the wilds of modern family life on Facebook and her website MegDrive.com.

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