Back to the Wild  Part I: Old Ghost Road with an 11 week old & a 4 year old

85km – 5 days – 4 nights – a 4 year old – and an 11 week old?! Sonia Barrish and partner take on family tramping like pros. They embark on a multi-day tramp with their new baby and toddler in tow, sharing many practical tips they learned along the way.

85km – 5 days – 4 nights – a 4 year old – and an 11 week old!

We were looking at what would be a good multi-day tramp with our new bubba, and our research led us to decide on The Old Ghost Road. NZ’s longest continuous single track!

We needed something that was pretty well graded and maintained because I’d have the baby on the front, so rough terrain wasn’t really an option. The 4 year old also needed to be able to walk it pretty easily. The Old Ghost Road is a walking & cycling trail, so that meant it would be better graded than some for the mountain bikers.

It was also preferable that we don’t need to carry too much gear – given that we wanted to have the option of carrying the 4 year old for safety reasons in case we needed to get out of bad weather quickly, or if there was a dodgy part of trail. The huts en-route have cookers, and all cutlery, pots & crockery supplied! So all we needed extra was pretty much clothing, sleeping bags, safety gear, and nappies.

We also weren’t sure how the baby would do in a hut (we booked the trail when I was around 20 weeks pregnant) and The Old Ghost Road has ‘summer sleepouts’ which are pretty much mini huts next to the main hut, which would enable us to have a more private space to walk the baby up & down all night if need be, and not risk waking anyone up.

End of February was when we booked for, as the weather is generally pretty settled then, and the baby we were thinking would be 3 months old by then so not too tiny, and I’d hopefully be more recovered from birth! (He ended up a bit overdue so was a little younger though).

The plan was to camp at Lyell campground the night before we started walking, so that we could head straight off in the morning, as the trailhead is right at the campground. We paid Hike’n’Bike to relocate our car for us to the Seddonville trail end. With carseats to worry about, it was easier – and cheaper – than getting a shuttle at the end. It also meant we didn’t have to rush on the last day to be in time back for a shuttle.

For the end, we booked a bach in Mokihinui – the bach had a washing machine & tumble dryer too, which would enable us to get all cleaned up before we headed home. Very handy when you end up coming home with about 3-4 loads after a trip!

When the extended weather forecast first came out however, I was ready to pull the pin. Rain, rain, and more rain. That wouldn’t be fun for any of us! Luckily as I kept an eye out over the next days, it got better every day, till the day before we left when it was forecast to be almost entirely clear, with the odd light patch of rain on days 2 & 3.

With the forecast getting better we started getting things ready to pack. I tried Bethany’s hiking boots on her – but I couldn’t even squeeze half her foot in – GREAT! I tried her rain pants on, and they came halfway up her shin! I had a feeling she’d grown since the baby was born, but I didn’t think quite that much!

There wasn’t enough time to go shopping before the trip, so the rain pants would have to do, and we took a different pair of leather boots that although they weren’t super waterproof, they would do, as she predominantly wears the hiking sandals anyway.

Lesson: Don’t try the hiking clothes & shoes on only a couple days before the trip because children grow too fast!

The day to leave finally came, and as usual, we left about 2 hours after the time we had planned to leave. Took some cooked dinner to eat on the road, as the kids would need breaks, and we headed off.

Got to Lyell around 9.30pm, and hubby set the tent up while I sorted the kids (who had both fallen asleep but were now awake).

We had an ok night, but Jordan (the 11 week old) really wasn’t a fan of the tent on this night. It was the first night he had done on the tramping mat (rather than the larger car-camping mat) and he was not keen! He wasn’t noisy, but definitely stirred much more than usual, so my sleep wasn’t great.

Lesson: Try to have as comfortable of a night before heading out! And get there early if possible!

In the morning, it was great not needing to pile the kids anywhere, and just being able to start walking as soon as the car was packed & breakfast was cooked & eaten. Eggs on toast were just what we needed to get powering! We left the car key in the drop-box to be relocated, and all was sorted to go. 8.55AM. Not too shabby considering we weren’t rushing too much and hadn’t set alarms.

The carrier we had chosen for the trip was the stretchy wrap. Being unable to sit upright yet, Jordan was too young to go on the back. We had the choice then of the SSC, the woven wrap, or the stretchy. All are unfortunately cotton, or some blend of cotton, which is not ideal. Someone needs to make a breathable woollen stretchy wrap!

The SSC would take the longest to dry out if it got wet – and given I was going to be having a full-size pack on the back, the back clip would be a pain to undo without taking the back off.

The woven wraps are not as easy to pre-tie, while the stretchy can be pre-tied, and left on all day, with baby just taken in and out. So that was the choice.

At home, we use cloth nappies full-time from birth, and that’s the same as what we did with Bethany. However Jordan is quite the hungry boy, and a heavy wetter, so the plan was to take disposables for overnight. On the odd occasion he has wet through his cloth nappies overnight, even with changes, and I didn’t want to risk a wet sleeping bag, or unnecessary wet clothing.

Turns out, this was not such a great idea. First night at the campground, and he SOAKED through the disposable… perhaps these are not as great as cloth! He then wet through another 2 nights, but by the next night I’d figured out how to best get the disposable to sit on him so that he didn’t wet right through.

Lesson: Don’t change your nappy rhythm up for hiking / camping. Stick with what works for you. Or if you’re going to change things up, then make sure you’ve practiced it first.

During the day, we used cloth the same as at home, with some Elimination Communication thrown in to reduce the number of nappies we needed.

We use Green Beginnings branded nappies for the day time, and these worked super well with tramping. They have a nylon shell, which you pair with their trifold inner. Because the inner is right up against the skin, rather than in a pocket, there is no need to change the outer unless they’ve done a poo. This meant much less to carry. We took 8 nappy shells, and about 16 inners. 4 disposables for the 4 nights on the track, plus an extra 8 disposables, just in case we ran out of cloth.

Once a nappy was used, if it was just pee, we gave it a rinse, and I used large safety pins, and Bento Ninja stainless steel pegs to clip them on the outside of the pack to dry. (Cheaper stainless steel pegs didn’t seem strong enough to ensure the nappies didn’t get lost on the way) If it was poo, we popped it in a wet bag to wash at the hut. I took a piece of our Solid Castile Soap for washing, but you could also just give it a water wash to save the poo stinking up straight away. At the hut, we hung them up inside our own hut, or outside on the bushes. Out of respect for other hut users (Who may not realise that the nappies were clean, just drying) we didn’t bring the wet ones inside to dry in the main hut.

Our process meant that once a nappy was dry, we could re-use it. It also meant that we weren’t carrying as much weight by letting them dry out – the disposables were pretty heavy in comparison by the end!

Tip: Take a collapsible bucket for washing the poo-ey nappies in at the hut. This bucket also works great for Elimination Communication – for getting baby to pee / poop into, and then empty into the long drop/ toilet.

We walked at Bethany’s pace most of the time. She did love seeing all the ‘old things’ on the trail (mining relics). We had leisurely stops every couple of kilometres.

She didn’t carry a pack, even though she has for overnight trips before, but we didn’t want to slow her down too much given the distances. She did however have a small bum bag that I sewed up for her, with her own wee bag of nuts, raisins, cranberries & a couple of pieces of dark chocolate inside.

I always pack out our snacks into separate ziplock bags for each person for each day. This way, we can all see how much we’ve got left for the day, and there’s no arguments over who had more than their share. Mine & hubbies packs also always have some form of lollies in them too.

For Bethany I keep a bag of lollies for her, as I don’t quite trust her with them. The chocolate she’s got to teach her that if she eats it all at the start, that’s it for the day, but the lollies I keep to give her when she does look like she’s needing a bit of a boost.

The ziplock bags then get washed & re-used till they’re too far gone.

Lunch on the first day was homemade savoury muffins. They were full of all the veggies that had been in the veggie drawer & the garden the day before we left, so super healthy & nutritious. But also a great way to use up what was left in the fridge before we left. Capsicums, onions, spinach, tomatoes, carrot, mushrooms & cheese.

We also broke the walk up by finding all the geocaches along the way. Bethany quite loves this, and it’s quite nice to say ‘the next geocache is 700m away’ rather than that the hut is still 15km away!

Jordan was relatively happy sleeping most of the way. He’s still generally only awake for 1-2 hours at a time, so when he woke up, we would stop ASAP, and take him out of the carrier, and out of his nappy. 100% of the time we did this, he would pee straight after waking, so we would hold him out to avoid needing to use the nappy. This is what people used to do back in the day before disposables were an option! If there was poos, they would get buried off trail – as is recommended adults do if need be, but I think he only pooped out of the nappy once. Then he would have a feed, and we would have some cuddles, a break, and sometimes he would have a kick around.

His change mat was just an old terry cloth flat, which we took 2 of, but by the end of the trip, we had sacrificed a quick-dry towel as a change mat instead. The quick dry towel dried much faster, and could handle a bit of damp on it. But we did pop a dry bag underneath it on the wet days. On the sunny days, a bed of moss was a perfect changing area! The ‘change mat’ then got tied to the outside of my pack to keep on hand, and to keep it dry. When it rained it got popped inside the bag, near the top.

Lesson: A quick dry towel makes a great change mat. If need be, pop a plastic bag, or dry bag underneath if the ground is wet.

When taking Jordan out to pee while walking, we often didn’t actually need to change the nappy, as it would still be dry! Babies don’t really like peeing in the carrier – so sometimes when they arch their backs in the carrier and seem fussed to get out, it actually means there’s a pee coming!

We did try to combine when Bethany needed a break with when Jordan did. Often, he would wake up as we were taking him out of the carrier, but we tried to delay this by telling Bethany we would keep going for another 10 minutes or whatever, and then have a BIG break, otherwise it would only be a short one. If we walked at her pace, she was pretty happy walking for over an hour at a time.

A lovely surprise on this walk was the kilometre markers. Every km there was a marker stating how many km we were up to. This was absolutely perfect for walking with a pre-schooler! She got excited every time she spotted one and would run up to it. We would ask her to read them, and then work out together how many more markers there were etc. Eventually we also figured out she understood ‘the next km marker’ much better than the airy fairy ‘5 minutes’. And it motivated her more that she had to get there, as I think she knew 5 minutes would pass regardless of whether or not she walked in that time!

Lesson: Talk about distances in terms of ‘next marker’, ‘in 5 trap boxes time’, ‘2 more corners’ rather than minutes.

Bethany is quite used to tramping with us, and being out full days, so that wasn’t too bad, and she was looking forward to seeing the hut, but hubby did still carry her for bits. The first days walk was 18km, and she walked 13km+ of those. When hubby carried her, it was up on the shoulders between the pack and the back of his head.

Tip: If carrying a child like this, 3 year olds legs are still quite short, so it works well to strap them to the pack to still give you free hands for hiking poles, or for balancing. If they’re older their legs hang down better to support themselves. If you loosen any straps that hold the top of the pack close to your neck, it’ll give them a better ‘seat’ to sit in, and distribute the weight better into your hips via the pack.

After walking uphill for most of the day, we got to the Lyell Saddle Hut at 4pm – just over 8 hours (the signposted time is 4-6 hours).

Once at the hut, I couldn’t get over how much Bethany was running around! No one would guess she’d just walked almost ¾ of the way up! And she had already begun making friends with all the people at the hut.

Jordan was also making friends with all the people at the hut – meeting some hut nanas, and melting all their hearts by cooing at them! There was no shortage of people to cuddle him while I cooked dinner & ate too.

We make our own dehydrated food, as then I can make packs the right size for us. I find we need about 250gm per main meal for the whole family. I also took dessert for each night except for the long day, as Bethany loves getting dessert at the hut. (Let’s face it, hiking is half about the food right?) For the long day I just took some hot chocolate as I knew we probably wouldn’t have time to make dessert.

Bethany loved watching all the wekas at the hut, and playing ‘tag’ with them. A goat even made an appearance! She climbed up the steps to where they were building a new helicopter pad & looked out at the view. The hut even had a shower! (BYO boiled water) But we didn’t feel the need to use it – though was good to know in case of poo explosion!

Soon it was bedtime, and both kids were asleep around 8.30pm. I have no idea how Bethany even managed to stay awake that long, but I think there was too much excitement at the hut.

At 11pm, who wakes up having an absolute tantrum though – not the baby, but the 4 year old! She’s never really done that before, but I think it was to do with the fact that her brother got the spot in bed next to me, and she wanted it. She pinched him and woke him up during her tantrum, and wow it only lasted about 5 minutes but that definitely felt like the longest 5 mins of my life. She was so loud, and we tried everything to quieten her down! Eventually she settled sleeping on one of my arms with the baby on the other one – ouch not a great sleep for me, but the two of them slept fine the rest of the night. Jordan woke up to feed during the night, but would stir, I’d pop him on the boob, and he would go straight back to sleep without too much of a peep. (The next morning we found out Bethany had woken up the guy in the tenting spot next to us, but luckily those in the sleepout closest to ours slept through).

The best clothing for sleeping in I found was just a breastfeeding singlet that I could pop open easily, with a nappy inner stuffed in as a breastpad. On the colder nights I put a merino long sleeve overtop, but kept the shirt part rolled up above my boobs to enable easy feeds without getting tangled in clothing.

In the morning, we weren’t too rushed to get out, but didn’t want to be too long. We were up around 7.30, and I made breakfast while Jordan kicked around on one of the beds in the hut. I also made our lunches – what we tend to do is fill a food jar thermos up with boiled water & dehydrated food. This way it’s less bulk & weight to carry than most lunch options, and it’s a hot filling meal in case of a cold day. Each thermos weighs around 300gm, but that ends up worth it if we’re away for 2 nights or more. By the time lunchtime rolls around, the food is fully rehydrated. And it also means that we can have the lunch over multiple stops (Great for fussy toddlers who are starved RIGHT NOW! But then decide they’re full after 2 bites!) We have found our Kmart food jar thermos to be just as good quality as our fancier more expensive ones.

I also decided that we would take a 500mL hot water thermos of boiled water for nappy changes and emergencies (Tea on the road in the cold?). On the sunny days we only half-filled the thermos to save weight, and filled it fully on the bad weather days.

For baby poos on the road, we pour some hot water from the thermos on a cloth wipe, and then wait for a few seconds for it to cool down, then wipe.

Wet wipes are heavy and add a lot of bulk, plus have to be carried out with their water weight too so are not ideal. For less messy poos, I just used regular toilet paper, which we then popped in the wet bag, and dropped off in the nearest toilet. One of the poos I even used a bit of moss on!

Bethany was keen to start walking as soon as she had eaten breakfast. She tried to leave with the first group that headed out! So once we were sorted, I quickly headed out with her & Jordan to make use of that keen-ness, while Menzo stayed back to finish his last bit of packing & sweep the hut out.

We do normally get Bethany to help with sweeping and cleaning in the mornings to teach her hut etiquette, but with this being a longer trip, decided to just roll with it. If she was keen, let’s go!

The second day was also uphill. We were going to be going over the highest point on the whole hike. But Bethany thought it was hilarious that we left before dad (“Daddy can’t catch us! We’re too fast!!”)  so she was a super speedy walker. Other than grabbing the geocaches, we didn’t stop at all till dad caught up, and by that point we had passed 3 markers already!

Jordan slept pretty happily from the moment we left the hut, till the first big break. Most breaks if Jordan was awake were around 30-45 minutes long, by the time we factored in pee, boob, play, nappy, etc. So when he was asleep we tried to keep walking if possible, but we were still taking it pretty leisurely. Hubby did however still carry her a little bit, as we did find that would give her a little boost. He carried her for about 800m at a time, 3 times over the course of the whole day. The remainder of the 12km she walked herself. When carried, she loved just sitting up there listening to the birds. We saw so many piwakawaka & robins on the trip. Plus miromiro, silvereye, tui, and even a kereru!

Didn’t take too much longer than the signposted time, and we were soon on the tops, with absolutely stunning views! There was a shelter just after we popped out of the bushline, so we had lunch there, and a big 1hr break. It was super sunny so the nappies were meanwhile nicely drying tied to the pack.

After re-applying some sunscreen, and with the baby about to fall asleep, me, Jordan & Bethany started walking again while hubby stayed behind to pop the thermoses back in & adjust his pack. Overtaking daddy worked so good for getting Bethany to walk keen & fast!

The views were amazing over this bit, and there were some exciting bridges, but I definitely made sure to hold her hand very tight!

A signposted time of 3-5 hours on this day, and in about 6.5 hours including breaks, we were at Ghost Lake Hut. Where strangely, there was cell phone reception! We haven’t been to many huts where there is reception!

The great thing about having reception however, was that we were able to get an updated detailed weather forecast. And this would be the last point on the trail with any reception before we dropped down into the valleys.

Forecast was not looking good though. We’d had perfectly sunny days till now, but rain was due to start coming in, and the next 3 days were all due to be raining. With it being especially heavy on the long walking day around lunchtime – eeek!! Some nervousness, but we were prepared.

The plan was: the next day is a short one (3-4hrs signposted) we would leave as early as possible, both to practice leaving early on the long day, but also to get to the next hut with enough time to dry everything out above the fireplace. We had a tarp-type lightweight shelter to put over us at lunchtime or during any stops, but if we left early enough, we could hopefully have lunch at the hut. And given that Bethany had done so well when it was the 3 of us walking, hubby would help get the 3 of us out the door, and then get himself sorted & catch up to us to save time in the morning.

CHECK OUT PART II OF ‘BACK TO THE WILD: OLD GHOST ROAD WITH AN 11 WEEK OLD & A 4 YEAR OLD!’

FMC thanks Sonia Barrish for her permission to reproduce this article, first published on her Back to the Wild blog.  Sonia makes and sells a range of home-made ointments, rubs and products such as insect repellent which are non-toxic and baby friendly.  

This resource is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.

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