10 tips for family hiking in New Zealand

29 Nov 2017

Even little legs can get high into the hills

Girls hiking on Routeburn Track, Fiordland at Key Summit

Planning a family holiday that features hiking in New Zealand? Here are the ins and outs and most important things you need to know about hiking in New Zealand with the kids (take it from us - we have 4 kids and live in the "walking capital of the world"!).

If you love hiking, you’re probably keen to get your kids out there and show them the great outdoors. Well, good news! New Zealand is a fantastic place to do this. It’s got walks to suit all ages and abilities, and most of them are easily accessible. Then, there is the added bonus of no wild animals in our bush – they are perfectly safe (although you will still need to deal with annoying sand flies and some not-so-pleasant-looking insect varieties!). Lastly, it is beautiful beyond words – easy to make the kids understand why you love hiking so much!

But, hiking with kids is not as easy as picking up your backpack and heading where fancy takes you. With a little planning and the right approach, you and the kids will enjoy hiking as much as you ever have.

1. Choose your walk carefully

Make it in adventure for everyone in the family by involving the kids in planning and choosing the trail they’d like to hike. Tell the kids about the various trails and let them choose what they would like to see – the beach, the bush, the rustic hut, a waterfall or all of it!

Favour flatter and shorter hiking routes. Something with interesting features like lakes, bridges, swimming holes or rivers is always a winner with the little ones.

2. Plan the timing and season

Hiking in New Zealand is fun, but not so much when it is raining and you have kids to worry about. Make sure you check the weather and plan your walk accordingly. Keep in mind that in summer and autumn, you’ll probably enjoy clouds and a bit of drizzle. Always keep the rain gear and some warmer clothes handy - the weather and temperature can change quickly.

3. Avoid holiday weekends

The popular trails are generally quite busy and if you’re planning an overnight trip, the DOC huts can get full very quickly.

4. The preparation is very important

Pack as you would for a hike with extras for kids – a lot of it! Kids don’t have reserves like adults, so extra snacks are always helpful. The New Zealand sun can get quite hot and dehydration sets in quicker than you’d expect; keep their fluids up. When it comes to clothing, keep in mind New Zealand’s changeable weather – especially when you are outdoors. Dressing up in layers and keeping plenty of spares is advisable. If you’re hiking in New Zealand in summer, you’d undoubtedly hit a water body – keep the togs (swim gear!) handy. High on the prep list should be first aid items, including insect repellent and sunscreen.  

5. Teach them about outdoor safety

The New Zealand outdoors can be quite remote. Teach your kids about safety – staying with the group, being careful close to water, sticking to the path, etc.  One of the first lessons we learnt as children in the outdoors in NZ is that if you become separated from the group or loose your way, STOP and wait to be found - you can get much more lost by trying to find your way back.

Looking for tiny native alpine plants on the Kepler Heli Hike

Turn it into an educational trip by teaching your children all about New Zealand's native plants

6. Educate yourself about the flora and fauna

Nature is a place for exploration. Take this opportunity to explain nature to your children. Yes, this means brushing up on the flora and fauna you’re likely to find on the trail (luckily, DOC website does a great job of explaining these!). Many trails in New Zealand have a long history and a deep connection to the land; tell your kids about these stories of the land and its people. It’s a creative way to encourage learning.

7. Make it fun

Make shapes with leaves, splash in the puddles and think up imaginary games involving forest goblins, hobbits and elves (of any place, New Zealand fits the setting best for such mythical creatures!).  Counting birds, looking inside trap tunnels, touching the moss, ferns leaves and water.

8. Don’t be a speed slave

Take it slow, soak in the nature. Besides little feet can only cope with so much.

9. Keep them fed and hydrated

When they do start getting grumpy, and they probably will, stop and have a snack. Make strategic scenic spots often so hunger and fatigue doesn’t set in together (recipe for disaster!).

10. Leave no trace

Teach kids the value of protecting our natural environment so it’s there for future generations to enjoy. It’s a legacy we must all preserve. 

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