Our family is always up for a challenge, so instead of a single night, our first tramp as a family of four was two nights and three days in the Ruahine Ranges, staying at Sunrise Hut and Waipawa Forks Hut.

The dew was glistening in the early morning light as we set off, wondering how our backs and hips would cope.  I was carrying six-month-old Emma in our baby carrier, along with nappies for her, a change of clothes for both of us and the compulsory bedtime stories.  Two-year-old Liam carried a small daypack with his clothes and, at his request, the chocolate and muesli bars.  My husband was weighed down with everything else, which included three sleeping bags, food and cooking equipment, in addition to his own clothes and a few small toys to occupy the kids once we reached the hut.

The whole family out on a recent trip to Packhorse Hut. Photo/Rebecca Gray collection.

By the time we reached the park boundary, we were in our stride.  Then, at the track junction to Triplex Hut Liam declared he’d had enough and needed to be carried.  We set him the task of finding the track markers, or ‘orange triangles’ and soon we were winning again at Family Tramping.

Then the track started going uphill.  It was wide and easy to follow.  But going uphill.  As we plodded along, we were passed by one group, then another, then another.  Liam excitedly told the passing adults how they were on an adventure to stay in a hut that night while as parents we nervously deducted a spare bed for each person filing past.

We continued to slowly plod uphill.  There were lots of rest stops along the way, lots of encouragement and lots of chocolate.

One of the many joys of walking with young children is their wide-eyed excitement in even the most mundane of discoveries, for example, a half rotten stick that is just the right size for a sword.  The slower pace also gave us a chance to really see what was around us rather than focusing solely on the destination and, as we didn’t travel fast enough to break a sweat, we could wear most of our warm clothes rather than carrying them.

Nearing the top, even chocolate wasn’t enough of an incentive for our two-year-old.  As a compromise, I carried him on my front (balancing the weight of Emma on my back) for about 100 meters, then he walked a similar distance, then I carried him, then he walked . . . We have found children don’t know what they aren’t capable of; provided we don’t try walking to a destination more than 2-3 (adult) hours, in a day, then we can convince them that they can do it, possibly with a little bit of carrying along the way.

Little ones are capable of more than you sometimes think; on a different tramp to Dillions Homestead. Photo/Rebecca Gray collection.

Finally, we arrived, exhausted, at the hut, five hours after we started and twice as long as it took everyone else.

The hut was full, and we were very thankful that the groups passing us on the way up were considerate enough to save the bottom bunks for us.  One of the things I love about back country huts is the camaraderie and that afternoon was no different.  We swapped stories with the other families, gaining some insight into what may be in-store for us in the future as well as reliving our favourite memories from past tramps.  I’m looking forward to the day when our children can bandy around their own trip ideas and enthusiastically plan where we’re heading.  I’m also looking forward to once again having a pack that gets lighter rather than heavier as the trip progresses.

There was still plenty of daylight left for exploring the surrounds of the hut.  As soon as we were back out the door, our two-year-old, who was suddenly full of energy again, racing up the hill behind a group of teenage boys he’d taken a liking to.  The rest of the family dragged behind.  Back in the hut, we read the few stories we brought with us, then read them again.  Liam found his cars and proceeded to drive them round the whole hut, including up to the top bunks, much to the amusement of the teenagers who had claimed the bunks for the night.  Emma’s favourite toy was our pot grip.  Who know a pot grip could be so fascinating!

The whole family joined in making dinner – each chopping a few vegies to add to a packet rice risotto.  The final product was quickly demolished by the four of us; something simple and pre-tested at home that we know everyone will enjoy.

Laim and the cairn he discovered, Waimakarirri Valley. Photo/Rebecca Gray collection.

As soon as it started to get dark, we cleaned teeth outside, got the kids into nappies and pyjamas and read our stories again – thinking next time we’d have to choose the stories we really loved reading rather than those the kids loved listening to.  Liam had his own mattress between us, but Emma slept next to me, in her merino sleep sack and wrapped in my down jacket as night took over from day and the hut cooled.  Once they were finally asleep, we adults stayed up just long enough to finish a bag of cashew nuts before seeking our sleeping bags ourselves, lulled to sleep by the conversations around us.  Parenting is tiring work and dark huts are always a good excuse to catch up on sleep.

The next day we waited for the early birds to pack up and leave on their ‘real’ adventures before a leisurely breakfast followed by all-hands-on deck to tidy the hut.  The kids love being part of the morning hut cleaning ritual, especially when they control the broom!

We had expected the walk downhill to be much easier than our first day, but there seemed to be just as much grizzling.  By the time we reached the track junction to Waipawa Forks we were considering abandoning the trip altogether.  After splurging on our whole days ration of muesli bars and chocolate, we decided to carry on and, as it turned out, that was a good decision.

Suddenly the grizzling stopped.  The track to Waipawa Forks was markedly different from the Sunrise Hut track – it’s much rougher, narrow, and follows lines made by nature rather than a bulldozer.  Instead of complaining, Liam was focused on climbing over tree roots, stepping down steps that reached up to his middle and finding even the most elusive of track markers.

Liam on a mission. Photo/Rebecca Gray collection

We arrived at Waipawa Forks Hut in time for a late lunch before sitting outside in the sun, pretending to relax.  Then down by the stream, the kids engaged with the entertainment provided by nature. Liam was happily throwing stones into the running water while Emma sat on the bank examining the pebbles within her reach.

Our second nights dinner was dehydrated mince nachos – always a winner with our family and the children like to “help” with the dehydrating at home.  The chips end up a little smaller than before they’re squashed into a pack but are still satisfying.

Again we didn’t last up much longer than the kids.  Waipawa Forks Hut had two sleeping rooms with a dark living space in between, so that night we had a room to ourselves and a wonderful night’s sleep.

The walk out the next day was rather uneventful and aside from us preventing them from chasing the sheep as we reached the carpark, the children were happy.  We headed home, via the ice cream shop, planning future endeavours.

Since our first outing we’ve had one more child and many more adventures.  I thought I was skilled at “packing light” before children, but with two and then three pre-schoolers, every item is carefully considered, and weight culled wherever possible.  Light weight sleeping bags were a winning purchase and our just-in-case tent has been substituted with an emergency tarpaulin and light fly – we are now fair-weather trampers.  The DLSR camera stays home along with the latest novel I’m reading because to be honest, I didn’t get a chance to read more than one chapter anyway.

This article is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.