Image of the July 2016 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
July 2016 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild Families

The first step is the hardest

Oh, the games you can play when you reach the hut Photo: Ricky French

Treat tramping as a game and you’ll have no trouble getting young children to join you on your weekend ‘holiday’ to a hut

It’s often said that every journey begins with a single step, and this becomes a particularly meaningful saying when your journey is literally a seemingly unending series of steps. Yes, tramping can sometimes be brutally unsubtle. But before parking the car and advancing that first wobbly step from the road end, you must make the decision to leave the house. That is truly the first step.

I’ve always assumed that I never needed any motivation to get into the outdoors and go tramping. From where I stand now, on top of a mountain of experience, the view back to childhood tramping looks clear enough, but in reality it’s more than a little misty. ‘Oh, I’ve just always loved tramping’, has usually been my automatic response to someone who asks why I tramp. But did I really? The answer, if I think hard, is no.

The first time I got asked – actually, let me rephrase that, got told – that I was going tramping, I wondered what I had done wrong to suffer this cruel and unusual punishment. My main worry: that I’d be bored out of my eight-year-old wits. In fairness, I had every right to be worried. We were doing the Matemateaonga Track, an easy but monotonous bush plod, or so you might expect for an eight-year-old. Also, I was the only kid on the tramp. Also, I missed out on going to Aman’s birthday party. But despite leaving my pocket knife in a hut, I loved it. Maybe it had something to do with the jet boat ride down the Whanganui River at the end.

The point I’m getting at is that the hardest part of getting kids (or their parents) tramping, is taking that first step. My son is now the age I was when I was dragged along on that first tramp, but he’s already been well-indoctrinated into the ways of the plod. For some reason, I assume that other families will be lining up to go tramping. So it always surprises me the amount of trouble we have trying to convince other kids to come along with us. It’s embarrassing to admit, but we’re often forced to fly overseas to go tramping, just so our son will have kids his own age to share the experience with.

I’ve seen parents invent hurdles to discourage their kids from tramping (are you sure you want to walk for four hours?), and I’ve seen kids feign exhaustion on a five-minute bush walk because they’ve already convinced themselves it’s going to be boredom central.

We sometimes wonder if we’ll be forced to take out an ad in the classifieds: Outdoors-loving family seeks like-minded family for long, cold walks through mud. No experience necessary.

As with many things in life, perception often clouds reality. We think that herding kids into a wild and unfamiliar environment is asking for trouble. We doubt their temperament and don’t give them enough credit for possessing that magical childhood ability of being able to play their way out of boredom.

Young or old, however you look at it, tramping is a game. We do it for fun and I think one area where we fall down metaphorically in the outdoors is in treating tramping like a solemn duty rather than a game. Perhaps we can improve how we market the product, so it doesn’t sound like a tour of duty. As with any advertising campaign, a catchy slogan is needed. Instead of saying, ‘Do you want to come tramping?’ we could say, ‘Do you want to come for a holiday in a hut?’ You might get a sideways glance at first, but once you mention all the games you can play in a hut, the deal suddenly becomes a lot sweeter. Cricket (simply attach a plastic cricket bat to your pack in lieu of an ice axe), table tennis, a fort building competition using mattresses, treasure hunt, writing and performing a play, exploring the hut surrounds for evidence of a murder (an inventive but slightly worrying game played on one memorable occasion at Makino Hut in the Kawekas), and one of our favourites, building and racing boats down the stream. The list is as endless as your imagination. And if your imagination fails, there’s always cards.

The challenge, of course, remains in trying to make a game out of a wet, uphill slog. But whatever it takes; bribery, trickery, pleading, dire threats of I’m not sure what, it’s every tramper’s duty to channel your inner Jehovah’s Witness and convert the unbelievers to get them out of the house.

The promise of the holiday at the hut might just be enough motivation for them to take that first step.