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January 2014 Issue
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Taking kids means taking longer

The author, with her daughter Mackenzie, proves age is no barrier to tough trips. Photo: David Norton

Undertaking family trips of more than a weekend is often said to be too tough for children. But with good planning and time on hand, even the most difficult multi-day trip can be accomplished by the youngsters

A few years ago, just before we embarked on a 14 day family tramp, my sister asked how I knew my kids could do it.

It was an important question. With our children aged just 10 and 12 at the time, the longest trip we had previously done as a family was six days, and on that occasion we were traversing a mix of easy, moderate and more difficult terrain.

After having done a lot of easy tramping with them, we were starting to feel impatient to venture ‘off the beaten track’ and visit places that might not usually be considered ‘child-friendly’.

Were our kids ready for this, or should we be leaving them behind and going with our own friends? Well-meaning friends offered to look after our kids so David and I could go alone, unhindered by the limitations of tramping with our children.

We preferred to tramp as a family though, and declined the offers of childcare, reassuring my sister the kids would be okay, and confidently setting off on another family trip. I was confident for one reason: we knew something all the doubters didn’t. With the right planning, even trips described as moderate or hard can be turned into easy family adventures. It wasn’t a question of whether our kids were ready for harder trips; it was a question of what we were prepared to do to make tougher trips easier for them.

There are many reasons why a trip could be rated as moderate or hard. It might involve untracked travel, high or steep passes, thick bush-bashing or difficult navigation, but we have found that our kids can be helped through all of these challenges by allowing plenty of time. We have been known to take four days to do what would usually be a weekend trip and have turned a three day trip into a leisurely six days. Sometimes a guide book may describe a trip as ‘hard’ because of the hours involved in walking each day, so if we doubled the number of days we took, all of a sudden the trip became a lot more manageable for our children. Because we’ve always had time on our hands, we have been able to carry our kids’ packs at strategic times, walk slowly up a slippery river, ferry their packs up the last 100m of a steep climb, walk for only half days, and take rest days even when the sun is shining.

While time is crucial to the success of harder trips, for kids to enjoy them, a light pack is also necessary. On harder trips David and I carry as much as we possibly can, and then some, to keep the kids’ packs as light as possible. It’s hard work and we don’t always like it, but if it means we can undertake these types of trips with our children, then we are prepared to do it. We never skimp on good food either. Varied and interesting snacks are more important on harder trips than on easier ones. Many a difficult climb or tricky traverse has been accomplished with the help of abundant treats for the kids.

Over the years of tramping as a family, we’ve turned various trips described as hard into easy, fun, and safe family tramps. One memorable trip in glorious weather involved a walk up the Boyle River and a traverse back along the Libretto Range in the Lewis Pass area when our kids were eight and 10. We had short days, lots of swimming in alpine tarns, a bad-weather alternative, we carried the kids’ packs around the exposed sections and we took mostly dehydrated meals to keep our pack weight manageable. The trip ended up being extremely easy and was enjoyable and satisfying for all of us.

As for our 14 day tramp? Well, it rained a lot and we sat out a storm in our tents for three days on the tops, but it didn’t matter because we had plenty of time available.

The kids carried light loads and reaching the food-dump on day eight was a real highlight. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was an easy trip – long trips with too much rain never are – but David and I did  everything we possibly could to make the hard bits easier for the kids and they coped admirably.

All these years later, despite the bad weather, they still regard it as one of their best tramps and we are all glad they weren’t left behind.