These boots are made for walking

By Danielle Wright

From tramping tricks to child-friendly tracks, Danielle Wright goes on a family adventure

The Tarawera trail in Rotorua.
The Tarawera trail in Rotorua.

When you're sick of walking around the block or park with your kids, take them on a family tramping adventure and watch them come alive.

Here's our round-up of where to go and what to take, as well as advice from seasoned family trampers.

Eileen Newsome of Toi Toi Trekkers Tramping Club started tramping when she was 32.

Since then she has been for family tramps in places such as all the regional parks, city parks, the Waitakeres and even the Montana trail.

Her children are now fully grown and she has taken her grandchildren along the same tracks since they were 5.

Some of her recommendations include Auckland's West Coast beach walks, Karangahake Gorge and the Waitawheta track in the Bay of Plenty, which has a replica logging bogie showing how kauri logs were moved down the valley in the old days.

She advises families to start the kids on easy trails without big hills so they'll still have the energy to get back to the car -- you don't want to put them off with too far a walk.

"They can carry a snack, a raincoat and wear good sneakers," says Eileen.

"Let them explore rather than focusing on where you're headed -- make time for the kids to poke in mud puddles and look for worms.

"If you don't get to the destination, don't worry -- it will still be there in 20 years."

She says families should do their homework, think about where they're going and consider the weather. "It might be snowing or windy or icy but it's always beautiful and there are always people to share it with," Eileen says. "Our children are still friends with the kids they met at tramping club. It's been a really good family time."

What to take

Before you buy all the gear, you can test if tramping is for you by hiring a combination family tramping pack, available from Jackie Wilkinson at Adventure Capital.

Jackie says safety is the biggest thing for families to consider before tramping and urges people not to go off the beaten track or take their family outside their comfort zone.

"There's a huge track network in the Waitakeres and most people stick to traditional walks, but lots of people do go missing," Wilkinson says.

"It's not necessarily life-threatening but it can be very scary, especially for the kids."

She encourages families to be prepared in case someone trips and twists an ankle, making it difficult to get out of the bush easily.

Must-haves include a map, compass, a first-aid kit, appropriate gear and plenty of food and fluids.

She also urges people to let someone know where they are going before setting off.

Another tip is to line your day pack with a heavy-duty plastic rubbish sack and to wear quick-drying or thermal fabric. Bring along a whistle -- just don't leave it around the house afterwards because it's a horrible way to be woken up by your 5-year-old.

Headlamps are always popular for kids.

Take an extra pair of socks. No jandals, jeans or crocs.

Where to go tramping

One of the hardest things about tramping to start with is just where to go.

It would be almost impossible to do all the tramps available and Jackie advises people to select a track suitable to their needs.

"Many Aucklanders aren't even aware of the Hunuas," says Wilkinson, "but there are kakapo breeding out there and if you're lucky you'll get to hear them sing, which is a pretty amazing experience."

"For families with very young children, we highly recommend Tawharanui.

"It's a really easy walk and you get a good mix of beach, bush and native birds.

"It's quite surprising to have such a small piece of bush and hear so many birds.

"Pick up an activity map at the park entrance for the kids."

If you're considering the multi-track Hilary Trail or Waitakere walks, Wilkinson advises stopping at the Arataki Visitors Centre first to buy a cheap map.

You can also ask their advice on what track they recommend that day -- they know the conditions best.

Join a club

Once you've decided tramping is something your whole family enjoys, consider joining a tramping club.

There's safety in numbers, you'll get to explore regions you hadn't thought of, and you and your children will make lifelong friends along the way. One of the most family friendly clubs around is the Alpine Sports Club, which also has a hut for members in the Waitakeres and two ski lodges in Ruapehu.

There are organised events and bushcraft weekends, as well as a programme for very young trampers known as Small Feet on Big Hills, for children aged 10 and under.

"I joined a club when I moved to Auckland," says Sue Fitzpatrick, who has belonged to the club for 50 years.

"My husband and children all belong. It becomes like a family."

A good tip Sue gave me for when my daughter asks for a "whole of walk cuddle" at the beginning of a tramp, is to say: "See that big tree, I will carry you to there and then you walk to the next big tree. Then, I will carry you to the next big tree ... " and so it goes.

She says bringing a friend along also helps with motivation, as do little food treats every hour.

The club also puts on a family summer camp in a different location each year, with about 150 people attending.

They run everything from easy walks to hard tramps, biking to kayaking.

It's also a chance for parents to go off on tramps and take turns with the babysitting.

"Tramping really opens up family communication," Sue says.

"It's easier to talk when you're walking and easier to walk when you're talking."

Keep children amused by helping them identify flora and fauna they see on the trail.

Things for kids to do in the bush

• Make a nature scrapbook. Bring pens and a notebook and get the kids to draw their surroundings and write down observations. It keeps them busy on a rest-stop.

• Race sticks under bridges or bring playdough for the kids to imprint bark, leaves and twigs to see what patterns are created.

• Start a treasure hunt for items you want the kids to find, such as a native bird, a kauri tree, a waterfall. Or just print pictures of the things you want them to find and they can tick them off the list as they walk around.

Walks in and around Auckland, on the mainland and offshore

Here are some places close to home to start the family tramping:

In the south, try Puhinui Reserve with its views across marshlands and the Manukau Harbour, as well as farmland including cattle and sheep. Or choose from the botanical, geological or historical walks at the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.

Closer to town, take the Oakley Creek Walkway from Phyllis or Cradock Street to Great North Rd. The walkway is dedicated to mountaineer and tramper Beverley Joy Price, who campaigned for the creek area to be turned into reserve (she was killed in the Mount Erebus plane crash). There are established bridges, a stone wall and a waterfall along the way.

Out west on the Te Atatu Peninsula, try the Harbourview-Orangahina to Chapman Strand walk and enjoy stunning views from the Gloria Ave/Te Atatu Rd car park and trails through coastal wetland environments.

In the north, try the bush walk down into gully forest and back out again at Albany Scenic Reserve. There's a large kauri tree alongside the track that's estimated to be 700 years old. Search "Upper Harbour Walking Guide" on aucklandcouncil.govt.nz for more track ideas.

Other local ideas:

Visit doc.govt.nz and search "Auckland Day Walks Brochure", which has walks including the Mount William Walkway; Goat Island Walkway; and the Miranda Walks, two short walks on the Firth of Thames, with a stop at the Miranda Shorebird Centre beforehand.

Waiheke Island is home to the Waiheke Walking Festival, November 15-23, and for good reason: there are plenty of native bush and clifftop tracks to choose from and lots of children's events. Also search "Waiheke Island Individual Walks" on aucklandcouncil.govt.nz for ideas such as the "Funky Fungi Fun Walk" or the "Cross Island Walkway" from Onetangi to Rocky Bay.

Further afield:

On Tititiri Matangi, kids can become DoC Kiwi Rangers. Grab a booklet at the visitors centre with information about the hidden secrets and corners of this treasure island and how you can help protect it.

The Tiri ferry leaves from Downtown and travels via Gulf Harbour.Tauranga's Waiorongomai Valley has some nice tracks for younger kids and teens with rail tracks and the historic site of the Piako Country Tramway, New Zealand's oldest tramway.

Mt Pirongia Forest Park near Hamilton also has options for both younger and older children with the Kaniwhaniwha walking tracks suited to little ones and longer tramping tracks for teens. The Kaniwhaniwha Caves are near the start of the Bell Track - remember your torch.

Take the road less travelled in Rotorua and head away from the popular Redwoods. Some ideas include a short 5.5km Blue Lake Track that takes you full circle around the lake with two-thirds through native bush or the Hamurana Springs Track to see the deepest natural fresh water spring in the country (pack your togs). There's also Hongi's Track through rimu, tawa, pukatea and rewarewa forest to where the Ngapuhi warrior Hongi transferred war canoes between the two lakes. In the Ureweras, the Whirinaki Waterfalls Track follows the Whirinaki river through ancient podocarp broadleaf forest.

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