Back to the Wild  A Wedding Anniversary Tramp With Our Toddler

What better way to celebrate a wedding anniversary than by embarking on a family tramping adventure? On this occasion, a trek over the Kelly Range/Taipo River/Harman Pass tests skilled tramper and mum, Sonia Barrish, as she navigates slips and steep climbs on a four day, 51 kilometre tramp with her partner and 15-month old.

Our wedding anniversary was coming up, and hubby and I were keen to get a good hike in for our anniversary weekend.

I’d been eyeing up a one way trip from near Otira to Carroll Hut, along the Taipo River, and then over Harman Pass and out to Bealey via Carrington Hut. It would take four days and some would be quite long, but I really wanted to get this trip in before B wanted to walk more on her own. Once that happened, we wouldn’t be able do this hike with her for close to a decade! So we decided, why not? Let’s do it!

There was a warning on the DOC website saying that the trail was only for experienced users due to a slip near Scotty’s Cableway a couple years back, which did make me think twice. But as long as B was strapped in safely on my back, I figured we’d be fine. And we could always turn around, if we really needed to!

So we arranged a drop off and pick up, organised accommodation in Bealey, took two days off work, and left in the late afternoon after hubby was done for the day on Thursday. Online it said Carroll Hut was only 1.5 hours; but when we arrived at the carpark, there was a sign saying 3 hours?! Hmm . . . it was already almost 5pm – it better not take 3 hours!! We had fed B on the way in the car, but our dinner would be at the hut.

The photo still doesn’t show how steep it was

We found very quickly that the track up is STEEP. Very, very steep. It almost felt like we were crawling up! And a 25kg pack is TOUGH! But once we got out of the tree line, the views were amazing and it all felt worthwhile. We managed to make it in just over two hours, with just one big stop where we got B out of the carrier.

The views once we got out of the bushline
We can see the hut!

Carroll Hut was perfect. A good condition wee hut, with great views. The first time I’ve ever been at a hut where I could see the highway traffic though! That’s how far you could see. And then in the evening, we even got a spectacular lightning show. I’ll definitely return here just for an overnight trip.

Having a sleep in at the hut

The climb over the Kelly Range was pretty easy and absolutely spectacular. The climb down to Dillon Homestead wasn’t too bad either, although there was a bit of bushbashing required where the tussock and flax were above my head height. I was very glad that B was sleeping through that section if we’d needed a break, there would have been nowhere to stop! If we’d gone with a small child that was walking, they definitely would have gotten lost in a crevice in between the flax bushes!

But then from Dillon Hut, the track was really tough.

There wasn’t just one slip, but lots of slips! B was quite happy sitting up in the carrier. She sung to us and looked around at all the sights. I think birds and trees are her favourite things. But I found it tough. It was really physically exhausting, as the track went up, then down, then up again . . . and very steeply over every single slip. Quite a lot of it was just on loose shingle, which is rough on the body when carrying so much weight. There wasn’t really much of a track and you had to just slide with the loose shingle.

There would be sections of lovely flats walking for about 100m, and then bam another slip. Then the track would take a sharp uphill turn, you’d have to climb uphill around 100m, and then back down onto the flats.

The Kelly Range was spectacular! I wish we’d been better at taking photos then to truly capture the magic of this place.

Scotty’s Cableway had been taken out and replaced with Scotty’s three-wire bridge. And as we were crossing the bridge, B kept saying “Water, water!!” I’m sure if she wasn’t strapped in, she would have jumped right in!

Near Scotty’s three-wire bridge

We had been planning on staying the night at Julia Hut, but we were so knackered and it was already past 7pm when we made it to Mid Taipo, so we decided to just stay there. I think probably one of the hardest bits of going hiking with a baby is that I’m always so ready for bed as soon as we get to the hut. But this time, B thought the party was just getting started as she’d napped in the carrier during the day!

Funny story:  Hubby went out to collect some water while I went to get changed out of my sweaty clothes. It was around 8pm. We’d been tramping around 11 hours to get there. And even from the nearest road end, it would take a full half-day at an adult’s pace. So I wasn’t rushing to finish getting changed and was also playing with B at the same time.

And yup, two men walked in as I was shirtless and braless . . . and hubby was down at the river. That was awkward!

The following day, we left at the crack of dawn to have enough time to make up for not having continued on last night. Making it to Julia Hut was easy, nice and actually flat, though there were many side streams and lots of the time the path itself was a stream!

Then came Harman Pass. It was tough and steep going, but nothing impossible.

Another bridge!

We had big breaks to feed B and give her a run around. The guys who had shared the hut with us were walking the same way, overtaking us when we had a break. But we’re fast walkers and every time we had her in the pack, we would overtake them again! We pretty much played a game of leapfrog all day.

A rest in the shade of a boulder

Having B on my back was similar to just wearing a regular tramping pack, balance wise. But risk wise, very different.

There was only one point where I questioned us taking her on this trail. As we were following the river up to Harman Pass, boulder hopping, there was thick dense bush on one side and a raging river on the other side. Most of the way the path was wide enough that there wasn’t too much that could go wrong.

But at one point, the path thinned and there were just three MASSIVE boulders in a row. I could slide down one, but then it was 2.5m to the top of the other one. There was the added risk of slipping into the river, which wasn’t an option. Also, the bush was far too dense to crawl through even without a pack! I was so stuck as to what to do. But we decided that the bush was the safest option. We didn’t have to cross it; rather, we could hold on to the bushes as we went round the drop nearby. And phew, I relieved when we got to the other side!

At no point did it feel unsafe going round the bush, but it was definitely a moment to slow down and be extra careful with the precious cargo. B even got her first trip on a cableway on this trip, which she was a bit confused by. It was tough to get in, as I couldn’t just ‘throw’ the pack in. But once we were going across, she loved looking at the water.

The view from Carrington

Carrington Hut was beautiful once we got there. It’s such a stunning hut – a good solid lockwood – and in a gorgeous location. I can imagine it would be quite cosy in winter time. It’s another hut definitely worth returning to, although there were a lot of mosquitoes there!

I’d actually forgotten the Baby-Safe Insect Repellent for B on this trip; and unfortunately, she was absolutely covered in bites. Thankfully, I had the Kawakawa Balm with me though. Every time she woke up upset about the itchy bites, I’d pop some on each one and hold her hands for half a minute so she couldn’t scratch them. Then the itch would be gone and she’d be back asleep.

The walk out from Carrington wasn’t too tough. Even with all the stops that we did, it was still pretty easy to make it under the signposted time of six hours. We walked fast when walking and had big breaks to stretch B’s legs in between. Lunch was a long break at Anti Crow Hut, which B had fun sweeping out.

Sticks! Toddler heaven!

When we came out of the trail, it was still 500m to our AirBnB and that felt like the longest 500m of the whole tramp. So close, yet so far! And we were pretty shattered by this point. Boy, it was great when we finally got to take our packs off, as well as when we spotted the extra food and snacks we’d dropped off on the way past!

I don’t think that we could have done this trip any later in B’s life though. The day from Mid Taipo to Carrington took us 13 hours including breaks . . . and that was with B being carried! As soon as she wanted to walk herself, we slowed down a lot. I’d recommend not doing any meaty tramps like this after around 12-15 months, and that’s only if you’ve got heaps of experience to start off with.

The main lesson on this trip was that we need a bigger variety of snacks for B. She ended up eating far too many sultanas and then not wanting to eat her lunch, as she had filled up on sultanas. So if there was something she could nibble on that was a full meal in one, that’s what we really could’ve used!

2022 EDIT: Our snack repertoire is much more improved now.  We’ve started taking rice cakes and homemade oat and seed bars as our top snacks for toddlers who aren’t quite chewing fully yet.

At Carrington Hut

Trip stats:

Day 1: Carpark to Carroll Hut – 2.8km / 2 hours

Day 2: Carroll Hut to Mid Taipo Hut – 16.5km / 11 hours

Day 3: Mid Taipo Hut to Carrington Hut – 16.3km / 13 hours

Day 4: Carrington Hut to Road End – 14.9km + 500m / 5.5 hours

Total: 51 KM

(Kilometres are approximate and will be higher due to the amount of climbing over slips we had to do. Trip was done over 25th – 28th January 2018 when B was 15 months old).

Please note: Do not attempt this or any similar trip unless you are suitably equipped and experienced.

This trip is definitely not suitable for children. We are very experienced and were fine with a baby. However, even we would not attempt this with a toddler walking on their own or a small child. There are several sections where a small child would likely fall through, as well as there wasn’t really a path most of the way. There were also massive drop-offs and the days were super long even for our adult length legs. While the distances may not be great, the slips add a huge amount to the distance and the land is very physically tough and unforgiving. A highly experienced tall eight-year-old may be fine, but they would have to be prepared for the physical demands of the track, especially the section between Dillon Hut and Mid Taipo Hut.

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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