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

Torrential downpours, breastfeeding breaks, and promises of pizza … all part of the adventure for this family of four trekking the Old Ghost Road. In Part II of their five day mission, they meet fellow trampers and improvise in the midst of temper tantrums and changing weather conditions — creating a family memory that has their daughter already asking to go back!

The rain started quite heavily overnight. Every time I woke up, (well, Jordan woke me up), I could hear it belting down. But by morning it wasn’t too bad. Relatively light, just very clouded in, and constant.

We woke up with alarms at 6.45am.

After breakfast & coffee (Did I mention there were coffee plungers in every hut?!), I quickly finished packing the bag, and popped Jordan into a nappy with an extra thick booster added. I didn’t want to have to stop as often for changes, and in the wet weather it wasn’t worth unnecessarily pulling him out of his warm spot in the carrier to catch every pee.

We raincoated up. By this point I’d figured that the best breastfeeding-friendly tramping clothes was wearing only my sports bra under the carrier. The carrier then makes it look half like a t shirt anyway, and it enables the baby to be right up against my skin. Skin-to-skin is the best way to regulate baby’s temperature anyway. (Though baby wasn’t naked, he was wearing a single merino long sleeve bodysuit, and merino footed pants, with merino socks. But the single merino layer between our chests seemed perfect for regulating his temperature right in both hot & cold).

I then popped my raincoat over the both of us. I’d purposely brought a raincoat a size up so that I could zip a baby up inside. He had his merino hat on, and ideally I would have had a waterproof bonnet for over the top, but we ended up making do with a fruit bag tied round like a do-rag. I just kept an eye that it stayed high enough off his eyes and rest of his face.

Bethany was wearing merino & polyprop underneath the rain layers… or so I thought.

Jordan was awake an hour in the morning, and then slept around 2 hours in the carrier if not woken up, and then after another 1 hour awake was sleeping another 1-2 hours in the carrier, followed by a more awake afternoon / evening period. So, we tried to keep getting ready to under an hour so that he would just be ready to sleep when we started walking.

Sure enough, after about 5 minutes walking, he was out to it.

Me and Bethany held hands walking down the steep hill. We sang songs, talked about the markers, talked about how many more we had to go past, talked about what we were seeing, talked about whether we would be at the hut before daddy, and just acted silly together. We managed to make it halfway up to the skyline ridge by the time hubby caught up to us. Bethany then ran for a bit so that daddy wouldn’t catch her!

The rain wasn’t too heavy, and it wasn’t cold, but it was consistent rain, and a bit windy once we got up on the ridge. We didn’t want to hang out there too long with 2 little children, so Bethany got carried over most of it. She loved the steps though! But boy they were steep – we took those very slowly with a baby on the front!

Once we were down, it wasn’t windy anymore, but it was still raining. Bethany was starting to get a little grizzly, so we gave her some lollies & decided we would stop soon, but keep going till Jordan woke up.

We were a little over halfway for the day when a group coming the other way stopped to talk to us, and that’s when Jordan woke up too, so we set up shelter there.

The shelter took about 2 mins to set up, and underneath we were perfectly dry. With warm weather, hubby gave Jordan some skin-to-merino because that seemed like a better idea to keep an eye on his temperature than leaving him on a mat, while I sorted Bethany out. Jordan had been completely dry underneath my raincoat, bar a little bit of sweat off me. Bethany on the other hand it turns out had not listened when we were getting ready in the morning, and taken her polyprops off, so underneath her raincoat only had a merino t-shirt. She was quite soaked through on the tummy & her pants, so we changed all her clothes under the shelter. The shoes were still wet, but there’s nothing like a dry pair of socks. Fully dry, she was super happy again. We had a big break there to re-gain some energy, rest the feet, eat some snacks, change the nappy, and all that. Jordan cooed at us all, and Bethany had fun cooing back at him!

Once Jordan was almost ready for a sleep again, we started walking. With hubby once again staying behind to pack down the shelter meanwhile.

Wow what a difference the dry break & clothes made for Bethany’s energy! She was off!

She did still need to be carried one more time before the hut, but she also knew we were almost there, and she was keen to go play with the other ladies at the hut who she’d definitely adopted as family by this point! Then she told us that one of the other ladies had said she could have one of her gummy worms if she walked the whole way to the hut. (Ah, so that’s where that energy came from haha!!)

The baby slept peacefully most of the way, but did get grizzly a few times half-waking up. We also changed his hat – we were glad we’d taken multiple as that was the only item of his clothing that got a little wet.

About 1km before the hut, we got overtaken by two of the ladies also heading towards the hut – I’d sat down to have a break & wait for hubby who was taking photos now that it had cleared up a bit. And what did Bethany do – but race off wanting to walk with the ladies! They said it was ok though, so off she went, while I waited for hubby with Jordan.

Signposted time was 3-4 hours, and it ended up taking us 5.5 hours, with us arriving at the hut just before 2pm.

We then had a late lunch at the hut along with everyone else. Got the fire going to dry everything out, and had a restful afternoon chatting and hanging out. We took a few wonders around, Bethany played cards with the ladies, and Jordan got a bit restless, so we took him to the sleepout for a bit. He decided it would only be catnapping for 15 mins max the rest of the afternoon, but that didn’t stop him from still cooing at everyone between!

Bethany by this point was giving goodnight cuddles before bed to everyone in the hut – it was super adorable! We did hope to have her asleep in bed earlier than we did, but she somehow had an insane amount of energy.

6.30am alarms woke us up. Jordan had already been up and half dreamily staring at me, so I’d been half awake for a wee bit too. I then quickly got dressed, packed out the bag and by that point Bethany woke up too, so we started getting her ready too. It was still a bit damp, but not raining. We still put the wet weather gear on, with me checking that Bethany did put ALL her layers on underneath.

I then got breakfast ready with Bethany while hubby looked after Jordan who was happily kicking around on the mattress while hubby packed his things up.

Not too shabbily, we were on the road by 8am. With hubby once again staying behind to finish packing his own things up, do the dishes, and clean up after.

We had warned Bethany that it would be a long day, and I think that may possible be why she had a pretty slow start to the morning. There was definitely a bit of tantruming going on, and she sulked for no apparent reason while walking very slowly. But we came across the first swingbridge, and “ME FIRST I WANT TO GO OVER IT!!!!!” and she was off. Then there were a few geocaches which also made her want to run up ahead and find them.

By this point it was beginning to look like the forecast may have been wrong! The skies were fully opening up & clearing – it was set to be a good day for sure!

We got to partway up The Boneyard when we had our first bigger break. A nappy change for Jordan, and layers off for me & Bethany. We then spotted hubby coming across the valley, and he was soon caught up to us. And what beautiful skies above!

We’d now been overtaken by everyone by this point though, and knew we needed to keep going if we wanted to make it to the hut in time – so we encouraged Bethany that if she walked fast, we would make it to Goat Creek in time to have lunch with everyone else – given that’s where everyone else was stopping for lunch too. That motivation got her over Solemn Saddle.

We were making decent pace – when Bethany was walking by herself, we were averaging around 2km per hour, including breaks. When we were carrying her, we could walk at a pace of 10 – 15 minutes per km, so she did get carried a few times when it was looking like we needed to pick up some pace.

In total it was a 25km day, signposted as 6-8.5hrs – so leaving at 8am, we expected we would be at the hut by 7.30pm or so. Which was fine given we had plenty of hearty snacks to drag dinner out, the weather looked good, and it would be light till almost 9 anyway. Bethany would be tired, but at least we could get her straight into bed we thought. Jordan on the other hand wouldn’t mind, as the carrier, cuddled up to mummy is his happy place anyway.

Once we got to Goat Creek Hut, there was a river crossing just before on the side trail. It was shallow enough for Bethany to cross, but she didn’t want wet feet, so we carried her over.

It was 1.30pm when we arrived at the hut – and we had in fact missed everyone. But we had arrived before 2pm which had been my aim, so that was great. We had our hot lunch inside, and rested for a bit on the beds.

We were about ready to go, when out of nowhere a massive downpour hit. That’s what I get for confidently re-applying sunscreen!

So we decided to wait out the worst of it – it didn’t look like it could continue this bad for too long.

Once we were all wet weather geared up again, and the rain had settled, but was still going, we decided we would power along to the next hut – Mokihinui Forks Hut – which was just over 8km away. We could have another break there, and then it was only another 3km to Specimen Point Hut where our beds awaited us. And the trail was pretty flat from here on.

Bethany then got carried almost 4 of the 8km to Mokihinui Forks both due to the rain, and to gain some ground. We did have a boob break on the way, but the rain was light enough to not need to worry about the tarp shelter.

It was 5pm once we arrived at Mokihinui Forks. I decided we should whip out this hot chocolate – after all, this type of situation was why we carried a thermos of boiled water every day! It would give us all a bit of an energy boost for the last little bit of trail. And while we were out of the weather, we decided to rest for a bit too so that we could walk the next bit with no breaks hopefully.

That was seriously the best and most deserved hot chocolate I’ve had in my whole life.

Jordan had a happy kick around on the mattresses, and almost learnt to roll over! Bethany was happy playing with the pack of cards that was at the hut.

When 6pm rolled around, we decided we should head off – it was raining a little worse again, but we’d managed so far keeping Jordan fully dry under my raincoat, and Bethany wasn’t really too wet, and was pretty happy after that hot chocolate, and keen to meet up with everyone else at the hut. Had we had cookers, we probably would have just stayed at that hut, but we did need to cook dinner, and knew the others would be worried if we didn’t show up!

We’d been walking for about half an hour when one of the guys from the group also doing the route showed up – turns out they had been getting worried! We were happy and warm enough, slowly making our way, but Bethany didn’t turn down the offer of getting carried the last wee bit to the hut, and I was quite happy to have the tramping pack carried too. So we quickly raced the last wee bit to get to the hut faster, arriving a few minutes before 7pm. 11 hours total including breaks.

The fire was already cranking, and the kettle was already on – thanks guys!

It was a bit sad that this was going to be our last night on the track with this awesome group of people we’d gotten to know!

We managed to dry everything that had gotten wet – which surprisingly wasn’t much – and have a good feed.

In total Bethany walked around 16-17km on that day, so we thought she would be shattered – but no! 10.30pm she still hadn’t fallen asleep despite us trying everything! “Have you not walked long enough today?” I asked. “NOPE” she giggled!

The view though – looking over the river from the deck – I just couldn’t get over how stunning it was!!

The last day we didn’t plan on rushing too much – the last forecast we had had showed some light drizzle, but we didn’t want to be too late out either, so we still set alarms and got me & the kids ready so hubby could stay back to tidy again.

We also decided we would stop for pizza at the Rough & Tumble, as all this talk of good pizza at the huts had really got my mouth watering. (No idea why I always crave pizza after tramping!)

And we told Bethany, which was a great idea, as the pizza was a fantastic motivator to keep walking.

It was 8.28am as we left.

No rain, but damp. Jordan fell asleep as I was getting my boots on (Which one of the ladies kindly tied for me while I rocked him to sleep) and Bethany powered on!

Some stunning scenery with massive drop offs, and lots of bridges. I was glad she still tramps holding my hand 90% of the time, and boy was I holding on to that hand tightly! Though most of the drop offs were fenced which helped calm the mum nerves. But wow those cliffs and rock overhangs.

We’d done a couple of k’s when the rain did start, but luckily had our wet weather gear on already. Just needed to zip it up.

We’d been walking just over 4km (which had taken us 1.5 hours) when we came across some guys on motorbikes off to do maintenance & check traps. They said that the weather wasn’t due to get any better – eek!

Hubby caught up with us not long after, and I was keen to keep walking then to get out of the weather quickly while Jordan was still asleep. So he picked Bethany up to carry her giving her a break, but allowing us to keep moving. We kept switching between her walking & being carried, till Jordan woke up at pretty much exactly the halfway point.

Here we set up the tarp shelter between the trees, and decided to change Bethany into dry clothes, as her pants had gotten quite wet on account of the rain pants being too short, and somehow her tops were pretty damp too. Jordan was still fully dry though and happy. Just in need of a feed. We’d been walking for just over 2.5 hours by this point. So she ate her lunch sitting on dads raincoat with her feet wrapped in a quick dry towel to keep them warm. We decided to have a slightly longer break, just because the rain was a bit colder today, and we didn’t want to have to keep stopping, or risk getting Jordan wet. Plus, other than her merino onesie, that was the last of Bethany’s dry clothes that we’d just changed her into.

We were almost finished with our lunch, when BAM the rain really hit. Like massive torrential downpour hit. Ok. We were waiting this one out – at least for now.

Once the lunch was finished, it was decision time – what’s the best option? The rain is super heavy – but obviously not due to get much better. We’re still just over 8km away from the road end. But there is a Lodge there which will be warm and it’s relatively flat. But if we go out, we will likely get drenched quickly… hmm… we also don’t want Bethany to get too cold. And if we start walking, stopping again may not be the best idea, because if she’s gotten wet, the stop will be too cold. Jordan will be fine if he’s wrapped up in my raincoat – and the wrap was still 99% dry – but he will probably need to get taken out again for another feed or nappy change if we don’t walk fast enough. But, if we waited till he was almost asleep, I could get another 2 hour sleep out of him. If Bethany started walking, she could keep going for up to about 3 hours before needing a break if it was mixed with being carried. At 8km, we were probably about 2.5 hours away with no stops. Hubby can carry Bethany for about 1-2km at a time if the track isn’t too bad, but could probably do more if need be.

So we decided that as soon as the rain subsided for a bit, me & the kids would be off while hubby packed up the shelter. Once he caught up to us, he carried Bethany, and we powered through. We did the next 5km or so in under an hour, and then the rain subsided some more. So we took a more relaxed approach for the next wee bit and had a couple of breaks. We weren’t far iif it did start raining again. Jordan was still dry, and comfortable up against my skin. I’d swapped his hat out, and he was warm. Bethany was slightly damp, but she was getting so excited that we were getting close to pizza. The sun even came out for a wee bit!

About 400m short of the end, she had a massive tantrum – I CAN’T DO IT!! We gave a few words of encouragement, and then very soon we could smell the fire coming from the Rough & Tumble Lodge. “Can you smell it?” I asked. “Yes mummy! That’s pizza! Keep smelling it otherwise the smell will go away!!”

And then she ran once she spotted the end! There was even someone there to give her a massive cheer when we came out. She was stoked! And Jordan woke up just as we finished walking.

Signposted time was 4-6 hours, and we powered through in 5.5 including our almost 1hr long break under the shelter!

Once inside at the Rough & Tumble we got her changed into dry clothes – and Jordan was no longer in the carrier which was a bit damp so we swapped him in to some thicker wool. Perfect timing, as just after we got changed, the rain came down again.

Bethany had her pizza, a hot chocolate, and had a play with the people who we’d been en-route with. So proud of herself.

And after we’d all eaten, relaxed, we were off to our bach for the night.

I definitely wouldn’t have done this walk with the kids this young with less experience. But we were well equipped to handle the crazy weather. Knew what to do to keep warm, and Bethany had enough tramping experience under her belt too to know how things work. Because 4 year old tantrums can be intense!

Because we’d also tramped long distances with Bethany as a baby, it meant we had some idea of how things would go over 5 days with Jordan, how to keep him happy & how to keep him warm.

Next time however I definitely won’t be taking disposables for overnight. It seemed like a good option based on how glorified they are for absorbency, but we found them more of a hassle. Not to mention the fact you can’t ‘dry them out’ so have to carry the wet weight out. Hopefully soon we will be able to lift Jordan up for pees at night too, reducing night time nappy need, however he’s a better sleeper than his sister (doesn’t take much!) so it’s currently not worth the lost sleep. We’ve found Minimi nappies with the XL hemp inserts to last even him all night overnight now.

With our daytime nappies I ended up with only 2 inners spare – due to the amount of rain we had come through, which stopped anything drying too much the last 3 days. Because the shells dry faster, most remained clean, and we kept cycling throughthe same 4 shells.

In a way, Bethany was actually more work on the trail than Jordan. He just slept and boobed, and got fussy sometimes, but was generally not too worried about where he was getting boob or who was holding him and would happily sleep when carried. Bethany on the other hand threw the odd tantrum (4 year olds have big feelings!) and acted like her ears were painted on sometimes (like any other child). But the return was a lot greater too. She keeps talking about things she saw, and the joy on her face throughout was priceless! She’s already asking when we can go back again!

CHECK OUT PART I 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.

Wilderlife