When Bethany was very young, we took her on a few overnight hikes, but time & winter got away on us faster than we’d intended! And it wasn’t until Bethany was 12 months old that we did her first real multi-day hike outside of the womb. So we decided to look for something we could do over Labour Weekend.
A bit of looking at the DOC maps, and we decided that the St James Walkway fit the bill!
Long days yes, but no big hills, and nothing extreme like what we were used to! So perfect for the baby!
My mother in law was also staying with us from overseas, so we decided to invite her out to experience a bit of a backcountry NZ tramping experience too. And that gave us the added bonus of another adult to split the carrying load with!
Now, we already knew from all our overnight & day trips that Bethany LOVES the carrier. So long days weren’t an issue – and we are pretty fast walkers, so as long as we went fast while Bethany is awake & happy or sleeping, we could then take lots of big breaks when she needed a feed etc. And still cover up to around 9 hours DOC time walking a day.
So we decided to split the days up as follows:
Day 1: Lewis Pass – Ada Pass Hut ~ 10 KM
Day 2: Ada Pass Hut – Anne Hut ~ 23.5 KM
Day 3: Anne Hut – Magdalen Hut ~26 KM
Day 4: Magdalen Hut – Boyle Village ~12 KM
Making for a total of about 68KM in 4 days. And we still had some flexibility with staying at other huts on the way if the weather turned sour, or if Bethany wasn’t in the best mood!
The organising list was pretty similiar to what we were used to:
Food, shelter, clothing.
We dehydrated our own food, as we normally do, just packing a bit extra as I would be breastfeeding, and Bethany would eat a bit too. For lunches we took dehydrated food, and rehydrated it in the thermos with a bit of boiling water while we walked, to save us needing to pull the gas cooker out at lunch.
For snacks, we had some apples, & capsicum for Bethany, and same plus regular snacks for ourselves. Oh, and we had about half a kilo of prunes. The snack of champions. And Bethany’s favourite snack. We literally had to hide the packet from her, and she would start digging through every time she caught a slight glimpse!
We were planning on staying in DOC huts all the way round, but we did take a two man tent, and camping mats with us – just incase the huts were full, we didn’t want to be sleeping outside with a baby & no shelter!
The main problem though is the weight of the tent. At 3kg, it’s not exactly very light to carry when you’re already carrying an extra human, and all the extra humans gear!! I do have my eyes set on a lovely cuban fiber tent – under 1kg!! One day!!
Merino for the baby – and lots of it. All the clothing we took for Bethany was either merino, polyporp, or fleece – plus the waterproof layers. Bethany’s carrier has a wonderful rain shelter, so when it rained, she was toastier in there than all of us, despite her not doing any walking!!
Nappies requires a whole blog post on its own! But when people asked – what nappies did you use – the answer was mainly – NONE! We did take a couple of cloth nappies for each day, as I wasn’t sure how she would do, but B ended up in the same nappy from when we left Christchurch, till when we got back to Christchurch. Instead, we lugged around her potty – which actually weighs less than a couple nappies.
We use cloth nappies at home, and because of the “Leave only footprints, take only photos” principle, we knew if we did take disposables, we would have to take them home to dispose of anyway. But with cloth we could rinse them & dry over our packs while we walked if need be, and then re-use them. So the decision was easy.
We made sure to take plenty of sunscreen though, but I did make the mistake of forgetting the insect repellent – ARGH!!! But the sunscreen was great! Every time we stopped, Bethany wanted to run around – and the sunscreen meant that we didn’t have to worry about the gorgeous little naked bottom of hers getting burnt while she was having nappy free running about time in the grass!
The walk itself went great! We made use of the shuttle service through the Boyle Village Outdoor Centre, and they dropped us of in Lewis Pass, and took our car back to the Boyle Village ready for us to pick up in a few days time.
Bethany loves being in the carrier! We pointed out all the different types of trees, plants, leaves, birds, and everything we could see to her – but she was usually quicker than us at spotting them!
Whenever she was thirsty, she would start wriggling as she spotted me drinking, and I’d pass the hydration bladder nozzle back to her – she still didn’t know how to drink out of a sippy cup, but a hydration pack is no problem!!
We stopped and had a potty try every hour or two. And normally she went – or held it in for the next stop! We would then have a quick feed & play & run, and then get back up & going again. Sometimes when she was ready to go, she would even walk up to the carrier & say “Up?”
Day one and two were great! The weather was on our side! We made good time to Christopher Hut on day two, but were a bit late to Anne Hut, as we had a couple big stop and play breaks with B.
On arrival at Anne Hut though, it was packed! But you gotta love the kiwi sprit – one group that had stayed the night with us at Ada Pass the night before had saved us bottom bunks! And they had told everyone that it was for “the very well behaved baby” that was coming!
On day three though, it started absolutely BUCKETING down! I stepped a little funny, but thought nothing of it, and continued. We walked as fast as we could, trying to make it out without getting too much more wet. When we took breaks, they were usually in sheltered bits of bush so that we stayed dry.
And there was B just sitting up in the carrier, still pointing out the world passing her by, and all nice and toasty in her warm soft shell pants, fleece jersey, and all her winter woolies underneath, plus the tramping carrier water cover that kept all the cold out!
That evening, as we got to Magdalen Hut, a 6 bunk hut, we counted 5 people already there… good thing we brought that tent!!! So hubby pitched the tent, while I looked after B inside the hut & made dinner. But far out that ankle was now killing me! The adrenaline had worn off, and the pain was starting to really come through. Every step was quite painful!
We had a wonderful sleep in the tent. Bethany slept well in the tent, and in the morning, we got up to luckily a less sore ankle. Sweet. It was only a few hours out, we could quickly make it out, and get some lunch on the way home.
But once we started walking, anything that involved going uphill even just slightly hurt a lot. We eventually re-arranged bags so that I didn’t have to have any load on. Hubby carried B on his back & the lightest pack on his front. That didn’t really help much! I still was struggling to hobble along!
We’d been going for a few hours from the hut now, and it was starting to rain. Every now & then I’d get asked – “Are you sure you don’t want to push the button yet?” by someone in the group – referring to the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) we were carrying.
B was still happy as, but I wasn’t!! I learnt that we hadn’t even covered a quarter of the route to the carpark! And after much internal debate of whether it was justifiable, I pipped up & said “OK. Let’s push the button.” So we walked a little further to a clearing, where we set up camp, and re-read the instructions on the PLB, and hubby pushed it… it felt quite scary actually pushing it!!
So we hid out in the rain, me, hubby, baby, Mum in law, and a guy & his grandson that had decided to stay back & help us when they saw me hobbling along the path!
B was still happy, having cuddles, eating food – which we decided it was time to eat now, and having boob.
I on the other hand had already been getting quite cold while walking, as my shoes were drenched, and I couldn’t walk very fast. I did have the emergency blanket around me, but I was FREEZING! And starting to shiver.
And after only an hour, we heard the sound of a helicopter approaching! And this is why we carry a PLB! B got quite the fright from the sound of the helicopter landing. While I was now that cold I couldn’t speak! Not anything that made sense anyway!
So B got her first helicopter ride at 12 months old to Christchurch Hospital from the St James Walkway. Well, that’s an adventure to tell her about when she’s older!
The diagnosis? An injured achilles, and hypothermia. With a 31 degree body temp at its lowest!
According to the helicopter pilots we did everything right. We were organised, and that’s what they’re there for – to do the rest when something like this happens. I’m just glad that the something happened to me, and not Bethany!! But in terms of risk – she was so cozy nothing was likely to happen to her anyway!
We actually brought the PLB while I was pregnant – my thinking had been – what if we go on a hike – and end up having a baby in the bush!! But I wouldn’t go out without it now. Especially not if you are carrying or walking with a baby or child!
Well, luckily the ankle did heal up quickly – so many more walks to go on!
The main lesson I realised though was that into the colder weather, B would need some ‘hut pants’. Something she could wear outside the hut when there is wind, but that is moisture wicking & would still allow her to pee in the grass if she needed! Saving us nappies & pant drying! Stay tuned for our next adventure where we have the pants!
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.