When she joined the New Plymouth Tramping Club a few year ago, Karen found herself one of the youngest members at about age 50.  She had great respect for the huge amounts of local knowledge and experience the senior club members had, but was a little worried that without new members to pass it on to, all that knowledge was in danger of being lost. Although written histories and records do form a valuable means of recording and passing down knowledge, there is something special and important about passing that knowledge directly to those that follow.

And so it was that Karen had the idea to try to encourage a new generation of trampers and outdoors people to the learn skills and local knowledge from tramping club members.

At first there was a bit of resistance within the club, but when Karen posed the question “when did you begin tramping?” they began to see her point of view.  Most of the members began when they were in their early teenage years, many eventually met husbands and wives through tramping and have since introduced their own children.  To Karen it was just the next logical step; to encourage and facilitate other people’s children and grandchildren into the joys of tramping.  It did take some convincing though, 3 years in fact. It was a testament to her determination that she got onto the club committee and worked tirelessly to set up the program. She eventually convinced the club that without new members the club’s future was in jeopardy, and that the club members had so much great information to share with the next generation. Karen said it helped that the club president had a grand daughter who wanted to go tramping! So began the “Take a Kid Tramping” program, run by the New Plymouth Tramping Club.

Once Karen got TAKT up and running, it rapidly became a success. Club members really enjoyed passing on the stories and lore of the bush to the young ones and they’d be giving Karen lots of suggestions for great ‘kid friendly’ trips to do. Lots of club members would bring their grandchildren along on TAKT trips when they came to visit, and it eventually got so popular that Karen had to place a limit of the number of club member helpers on trips.

Rain? no worries for the kids

Karen launched the program by advertising around town. She put posters up in the library, local outdoor and sports shops, put events in the council “whats on” event calendar, and took out a few community advertisements in the local paper. She managed to convince the paper to interview her on the program, which seemed to really help locals become aware of the opportunity.

Her tactic was to appeal to the parents directly, as a fun and inexpensive way to spend quality time with their children. Talking to the parents, there were many who had tramped when they were younger, and now wanted to get back into it again with the kids. Except now they felt a little unfit, or perhaps not as confident with their own outdoor skills, or lacked the gear for the little ones. Take a Kid Tramping removed those barriers, and helped get those folks into the hills when they might not have been able to otherwise.

With Taranaki/Mt Egmont as such an obvious feature behind New Plymouth, there were also many locals who wanted to explore on the mountain, but didn’t have the know-how to do it safely.  With kids in tow, it kept things achievable for the parents (in terms of fitness and trip ambitions) so the TAKT program has helped introduce a number of new adult trampers to the community.

Ensuring that everyone had the right gear was a big concern at the start. She found that there were lots of families who wanted to give it a go, but many who couldn’t afford to buy all the right gear up front. She appealed to her fellow club members for the loan of tramping equipment and there were lots of trips to the local op-shop. Donations from trip participants helped to buy gear, as did a grant from the Taranaki Savings Bank. The program had about 25 pairs of boots at last count!

The very first “Take a Kid Tramping” trip was a reasonably short, historic walk close to town. 60 people turned up, even though it was raining! Karen had a big garage at her place, which was close to the center of town. This became the meeting point for all the trips; the leaders would meet the group then issue all manner of tramping gear to make sure everyone was appropriately equipped. Having a consistent, central location to meet and sort gear worked really well for the program.

Families didn’t have to become NPTC members to come along on a few trips. Karen found that the keen ones who became regulars were quite keen to join the club. Trips were organised free of charge, apart from a donation from passengers to drivers for transport costs.

(Mostly) smiling faces in Egmont National Park

On the trips, the tactic that seemed to work was having the kids up the front with the trip leader, energetically ‘exploring’ and making friends, whilst the slightly less energetic parents chatted down the back. As expected, many friendships were formed in that new community and the regulars soon became New Plymouth Tramping Club members.  Often, the slowest members of the trips were the parents. The kids seemed to really respond to this; rather than mum or dad always helping the kids, here were opportunities for the kids to help mum or dad (with encouragement or carrying something heavy).  

It is important for the TAKT trips to have a purpose or a destination. Kids don’t seem to want to walk ‘just for the joy of it’ but if you walk to a waterfall, or a hut, or to go explore a rock pool or find an old plane wreck, the kids seem to be much more engaged. Equally important is the learning and fun aspect of trips. Opportunities are made to give lessons on bushcraft, with links to old stories about lost trampers. Marshmellows are roasted, the number of bridges counted, rocks skimmed on pools; anything to make the experience into a game. Evenings in the hut or tent are filled with stories about tramping overseas, or in far flung corners of NZ, inspiring excitement in the kids for all the future opportunities to explore and use the skills learned for new adventures. The kids seem to love learning through stories and activities, and the adults seem to love telling the stories!  TAKT trips quickly gained a good reputation in the club as plenty of fun; the trips became so popular with club members that Karen had to put a limit on the number helpers!

My daddy says that he pushed this tree over…

NPTC does run a handful of trips aimed at new members in general. However, a key aspect of the TAKT program was running trips specifically for kids (and their parents), rather than trying to encourage kids along on existing club trips. This way, the trip could be pitched appropriately for the ages involved, and the expectations of the club member helpers were clear. It isn’t a daycare service; kids must always be accompanied by a parent or trusted adult.

The local mentors from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program got behind TAKT. A mentoring scheme for young people, it involves an adult (‘big’) committing to a few hours a week to hang out with their ‘little’.  TAKT provided a an excellent, low cost activity and the young people, often from tough backgrounds, seemed to flourish on the tramps. The first ‘little brother’ on the tramp was just 8 years old. Apparently he was tough to manage at first, but 5 years later, he has been on every tramp the program has offered (1 per month). He is now part of the “youth tramping group” at NPTC who go on their own trips without direct adult supervision. Other ‘littles’ come on tramps even when their ‘bigs’ can’t make it; the mentors arrange for one of the NPTC leaders to take responsibility for the child for the trip.

Making it fun – hut yoga with the kids

There are lots of hidden, unofficial tracks in the region, and TAKT trips often visit these locations, so the kids know about them and the local knowledge is preserved. The ‘bigs’ help keep a diary for the ‘littles’ on the activities they do. Karen liked the idea of trying to facilitate personal tramping log books for each kid, with rewards at milestones (like 10 tramps, or first overnighter etc). NPTC does offer special certificates for summiting Taranaki/Mt Egmont, and there’s already websites for hut bagging. Why not encourage the kids to keep records of trips and successes?

Trips vary in length, from simple day trips, to overnighters and even a big trip over 6 days! Karen is an accountant by profession, so has set up a number of spreadsheets which automatically calculate menus and food quantities. Families are instructed to bring specific contributions to the meals (like 3kg of porridge) which makes it much easier for each family to prepare, and creates lots of fun and collaboration when it comes to mealtimes!  Parents also love the overnight trips; just a bit of preparation, then a full weekend of quality time as a family, absent from screens, with exercise, camaraderie and beautiful scenery all combined.

Karen says that there remains a healthy lack of fear of the ‘health and safety’ boogey man. Although she and the club take safety seriously, most parents are “just relieved to get away from society, let kids be kids”. As well as ensuring everyone has the right gear before leaving the gear shed, a pre-trip briefing for parents and kids, plus experienced leaders keeps things sensible. Tramping parents “want kids to fall over a little, get muddy and wet and learn about the real world”.  To that end, trips do aim to push the boundaries a little bit sometimes. When shelter is not too far away, they have had the kids out in gales and the kids just love it; a true adventure to tell their school mates about on monday.

Pushing the boundaries incrementally and emphasising bushcraft training has paid dividends for Karen. On one trip, she managed to fall and dislocate her elbow. The kids knew just what to do to help her and keep themselves warm and happy. Additionally they had a front row seat to a real rescue scenario, a very valuable addition to their tramping experience.

Time for a helicopter

Karen was more interested in ‘quality over quantity’ when it came to participation, and it has worked out to be a core group of 30 or so kids who come on a trip every few months, which makes about 8-10 kids (plus parents) on a normal trip. Although they had some babies in backpacks, the majority of the kids were in the 5-12 year old bracket. The program didn’t attract many teenagers, but some of the younger ones became regulars and have now grown into a small group of teenage trampers who are off on their own trips facilitated by NPTC.

Tents are always brought on overnight trips; on one trip to a local hut, over 50 people arrived though the course of the day. It was a great lesson in bush culture; always making room for newcomers at a hut. The kids ended up all squishing in a couple of bunk beds, whilst the tents were lent to others to sleep outside. The kids thought it was great fun!

Young backcountry cooks share out the instant spuds

Karen’s intention was to get the program up and running, then she hoped that the parents of the children would be in a position to take it over and she could step back. But in reality, she found that the parents didn’t have the time or energy for the organisation process. With Karen doing the organising, parents and kids just had to turn up at the right place and time, and they knew that it was all sorted. This was a huge plus for busy families; they could still get out into the hills with the support of the local tramping club.

The program has been well established through Karen’s determination. Now that she has moved from New Plymouth, the club continues to run a regular TAKT program, with trips organised at quarterly planning sessions, a list of volunteer leaders and a steady reputation among the community. Initially, the NPTC aimed to run 2 day tramps and one overnight for TAKT per quarter, but recently this has grown to 6 day trips and two overnighters. Since the program began, there have been over 60 TAKT trips, with between 9 and 30 kids. With that kind of participation, the future for the NPTC and tramping in Taranaki is looking bright.

Karen received a ‘volunteer of the year award’ from the New Plymouth Mayor for her efforts with the TAKT program.

Check out the Take a Kid Tramping page on the New Plymouth Tramping Club website.  All photos are from the NPTC Facebook page

The Outdoor Community blog tells the stories of great kiwi clubs, groups and individuals who are doing great things for their outdoor communities. We aim to extract the gems of collective wisdom from these stories and other unpublished interviews and share them through the Outdoor Community resource here on Wilderlife.  There’s more info in the official trips section of the resource.

If you want to contribute more wisdom, advice or to be interviewed for this project, please get in touch