Even with the impending arrival of our first baby hiking was never off the cards. Rather than googling lightweight, compact prams I was researching baby carrying hike packs. Luckily for me, with a seven and four year old, hiking has become deeply embedded in my family’s repertoire. And I’m not talking Bear Grylls style, just simply being surrounded by trees rather than the suburban sprawl.
Family hiking isn’t about the distance covered or the pace. It’s about connection; connecting with ourselves, each other and the broader world around us. We don’t rush our hikes but allow time for therapeutic outdoor free play. The bush awakens and rejuvenates our minds and engages all the senses at the same time. Playing in nature my children are free to explore and free to jump and shout. We let them scramble up river banks (watching the vegetation of course). They collect fallen giant fern leaves and climb trees. They get bumps, bruises, scrapped knees and very dirty.
On one of our recent hikes the kids’ most memorable moment was trying to traverse down a very steep, muddy embankment where we all fell over. The four of us walked the rest of the 3km hike with muddy bums, a hilarious sight for anyone coming up behind us!
Here are some of the simple strategies we have implemented to ensure successful hiking over the past seven years:
This is my number one tip – get waterproof shoes or boots. Once kids have cold, wet feet it puts a huge dampener on the hike and they are unlikely to want to go on! Our kids also have light-weight waterproof jackets and pants so we can continue regardless of any changes in the weather.
It’s not about the distance covered
We walk at ‘kiddie pace’ to encourage ‘kiddie enjoyment’. Hiking doesn’t have to be about getting from point A to point B quickly. Going slowly allows my four year old to pick up all the yellow leaves she can hold in her little hands, and allows my seven year old son to find the best climbing trees.
Give the kids responsibility
From 2 years old our children have carried a backpack. To begin with they simply carried an apple and then as they got older this increased to carrying their drink bottles, more food and their waterproof jackets. Tip: we have also added whistles to each backpack in case we become separated. This in itself is a learning opportunity – do not blow the whistle if you are not lost!
Make a halfway moment
When you are halfway through your hike make a big deal out of it! For us, this is done with food! We generally carry a Trangia and tiny 200g propane fuel canister to cook up some noodles for the kids, followed by hot chocolate. The kids find a safe, flat surface to use the stove and remove all leaves close by, help pour in the water and connect the Trangia together. They love this responsibility, but love the hot noodles even more!
We take muesli bars or popcorn, fruit and always a block of chocolate divided between the backpacks. Chocolate is energy dense, which means it is high in calories for a small portion size. A little can keep you going for a long time if you become lost (my parents used this with me when hiking as a kid; if you don’t get lost you can eat the chocolate in the car on the way home!).
Let the kids decide where you go; ‘Will it be a river walk or the mountain walk?’ Plan the hike together, and discuss what you might see in advance to help build excitement. Our eldest is often assigned to map reading and our younger child is called the ‘marker lookout person’. She watches for the trial markers along the track).
Choose an interest-led destination
If you are new to kiddie hiking think about starting off with a walk in an area your children will naturally be interested in.
Mix it up and listen
Our hikes range from 500m walks to a waterfall, to 5km hikes complete with rock scrambling, right up to 8kms hikes through valleys and along mountain ridges. Listen to what the kids say they enjoy the most or what interests them and focus on this for the next hike.
Leave no trace
This is a big one for me and while it’s not specifically kid related, it’s never too early to teach them about the leave no trace principle and to show they how to minimize their impact on the outdoors by taking all rubbish with you.
Hiking with kids can be incredibly rewarding. It’s a great way to view the world through their eyes. Give it go! You might just find your new family hobby!
Five ‘Kiddie Hikes’ not-too-far hikes from Melbourne!
Olinda Falls, Mount Dandenong:
This is a great kiddie hike to start with if you feel a little nervous about how the kids will go. It is only 500m to the base of the falls from the carpark, the track is wide and there are numerous things for the kids to discover by the edge of the track before having a picnic back up near the carpark (distance: 500 metres).
Pound Bend, Warrandyte State Park:
This is an easy riverside bushwalking track complete with plenty of kookaburras and kangaroos to see at dusk (distance: various).
Maroondah Dam, Healesville:
Once the kids have stood at the bottom of the 41 metre high dam wall and heard their loud echo, walking across the top of the dam wall will unearth a eucalyptus forest which gently winds through the reservoir (the kids can learn about Melbourne’s water supply). The walk loops back to the carpark via a great playground, which would be a great well-earned treat (distance: 3 km).
Hanging Rock, Newham:
If your kids love volcanos, then a hike up this 105 metre summit is great (it was formed by an upheaval of lava millions of years ago). There is a small amount of gentle rock scrambling which kids tend to love (distance: 2km).
Redwood Forest, East Warburton:
Many people have heard (or seen photos) of this beautiful California Redwood plantation, however most visitors only wander around the plantation. If you wandering down through the plantation, at the bottom of the hill you will find yourself surrounded by giant ferns and next to the quiet Cement Creek walking track (distance: various, 1-3km).
Three great tracks to introduce the kids to hiking in Sydney!
Burrawang walk at Kurnell:
This easy loop walk starts at Kurnell Visitor Centre, approx 14km drive northeast from Cronulla where parking and coffee are available. Captain Cook’s first landing place can be found here – along with a rich and illuminating history of the meeting of European and Aboriginal culture. All kids and kids at heart will love spotting jets taking off and landing from Mascot and the enormous ships entering Botany Bay, watching from the safety of the Kamay Botany Bay National Park shoreline. Read: views, native animals and epic whale watching May through November! 1.2km loop | 15 – 45min
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park:
The Aboriginal Heritage Walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is a must do! Nothing will recalibrate your spirit like a daytrip to this stunning park – it holds a plethora of treasures; both natural and cultural. Add extra time for beaching, picnicking, and reflecting; a sure sign that you’ve connected with the sacred history and often devastating stories of this place.
5km | 3-3.5 hours approx.
Manly scenic walkway
Beginning at Mosman’s Spit Bridge, this classic Sydney coastal walk shows you some of the most picturesque parts of Middle and North Harbours. Follow the shoreline to Fisher Bay, Sandy Bay and Clontarf Beach then enter the Sydney Harbour National Park at Castle Rock. Make your way around Dobroyd Head and don’t miss the Aboriginal rock engravings at Grotto Point or the amazing views from Arabanoo lookout. Pass by or take a dip at Reef Beach or Forty Baskets on your way to Manly. Fancy an ice cream at the Manly Corso after all that effort? Go on, you deserve it.
10km one-way | 4hours approx.
Remember to check NSW park alerts for COVID-19 updates and more information before visiting any park.
Written by Kellie Floyd, a self-proclaimed outdoorsy mama who works as a marketing and communications consultant, under her brand illumify Communications.
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