This article was originally written for Tiny Big Adventure – an awesome company that we are proud to be ambassadors for.  Go check them out!!

Solitude. It is a big part of what attracts our family to the outdoors. LeanneNanninga-2-1.jpg

Relying, on each other and creating fun memories is more effective without hoards of people.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,My hubby, kids and I recently spent 5 weeks in New Zealand.  It is the land I was born and raised in, and the country our family called home for 12 years.  We have lived in Canada for the last 5 years without a visit back, so our goals were to re-connect with family and friends, and adventure!

We had a plan to hike to the Whakapapaiti backcountry hut in Tongariro National Park.  Our strategic plan was to have it to ourselves! But when we got to the trailhead, we realized that was not going to be the case if the vehicles that were parked there were any indication.  We recognized the logos on the side of the vans – a school that would have unloaded about 20 fourteen year old boys out its doors.  We didn’t really want to share the hut with them!  After a quick change of pan, we threw our tents and thermarest into our packs so we could camp.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

The hike over into the Whakapapaiti valley wasn’t very far – about 3km.  The volcanic nature of the terrain made it difficult to decide where to pitch our tents, but we eventually settled on a spot on a knoll, with a creek down below us, and amazing views over the valley.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,The kids could play to their hearts content,

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,while Dad was on dinner duty and Mum was taking pictures.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

Off in the distance was a series of waterfalls going down through a lava cliff band, that looked reasonable accessible, though a little far as a side excursion for some of our crew.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The next day, we decided that there was plenty to explore close to where we camped for Dad and the kids, and that I would run off-trail to the waterfalls. What a feeling to be all alone, with the spray against my face, knowing that no-one else was going to show up.  No bears (like there is at home in Canada!). No people.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The day was bluebird. Once we had united again as a family we hiked out with Mt Ruapehu beside us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaruhoe were ahead of us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

As people, we often follow the crowds.  We can end up doing what everyone else is doing, especially when visiting another country or area that we aren’t familiar with.  Most often, my family plans trips where we will see few other people, and I wanted to share how we achieve that.

  1. Study a map. Ask a friend. Look online

A lot of our inspiration comes from studying a real paper map. My favourites are Backroads Mapbook’s & Gemtrek Maps (Canada), as well as regular topographical maps.  Teach yourself to read a topo map if you don’t know already – it is an invaluable tool in the backcountry.

Talking to others about their adventures allows me to come up with new trip concepts and I will also use online resources (blogs, trailforks etc) and trail/river guides.  Combining all of the above, we can come up with some pretty cool ideas.

  1. Timing and choice of route is everything

We find that there can be a super popular trail/cave/river or location that EVERYONE goes to. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular one-day walk in New Zealand.  It traverses between two active volcanoes, blackened lava flows, funky-shaped red scoria, deep craters and amazing aquamarine alpine lakes. The area is made more famous by it’s feature in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It deserves every bit of it’s acclaim.  And that means its busy.  There are times of year and times of day when it isn’t.  We choose those instead.  Or we get that topo map out and study it to see if there could be a variation on the route.  Our other trick is to find something nearby that is just as neat and less known. That was our strategy for this hike. We only saw one other couple and just across the valley is the fore mentioned busiest-hike-in-New-Zealand.

  1. Upskill to get off the beaten track

Something that is concerning about people being inspired to adventure through social media or other online avenues is that everyone thinks that they can do ‘epic’. The truth is there is a lot of skill and risk management that goes into staying safe in the outdoors. Make it a goal to always be learning.  I highly recommend taking courses in your area of interest.  Maybe an avalanche course, learn how to canoe properly or participate in a river rescue course.  A wilderness first aid qualification is essential. Both my hubby and I are formally trained in Outdoor leadership and Risk Management (we worked in it for 16 years), but even so, I am regularly taking courses to upskill and learn new things.  Over the last couple of years, I have taken block courses for mountain biking and skiing and I have plans to find a course for backcountry skiing/mountaineering.  Don’t be blissfully ignorant.  You can’t afford to when you have kids!

There you have it…..some idea’s for finding solitude.  Play safe out there, know your limits and leave no trace of your visit!!

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Mt Taranaki (Egmont) stands proud midway down the coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is an extinct volcano and has the classic conical shape that is both dramatic and beautiful.  I summited the mountain when I was a teenager, and again when I was in my early 20’s. It captured my attention once more, when we were planning our recent New Zealand trip.  I saw an amazing picture of the Pouakai tarns.  My fingers got googling, and seeing and photographing these magical little alpine lakes, rocketed to the very top of my bucket list.

The Pouakai Circuit is Egmont National Park’s premier 2-3 day tramp, and is a 25km loop. I figured it would stretch our abilities as a family, but wasn’t out of reach.

We got a late start on the first day, not leaving from the North Egmont Visitor ,Centre until 2:30pm. We headed up the Razorback ridge, walking through the bush and gaining about 300m in elevation. Breaking out into the subalpine scrub we got to enjoy these views. Holly Hut Track Mt Taranaki

Holly Hut Track Mt TaranakiThe track traversed in and out of the gully’s and climbed over ridges, passing the impressive Dieffenbach cliffs and rain-gouged watercourses.  Holly Hut Track Mt Taranaki Dieffenbach CliffsOnce we passed the Kokowai junction at about the 5km mark, the track gradually descended, and spread out in front of us was an amazing vista of the Pouakai range (which we would climb on Day 2). Holly Hut Mt Taranaki7.5km and 5 hours walk from North Egmont, we arrived at the 32-bunk Holly Hut.  It is first-come first-served and requires pre-purchased hut tickets.  It has 4 bunkrooms with platform sleeping areas and matresses, basic solar lighting, a wood burning stove, tankwater, and longdrop toilets. Ahukawakawa Swamp Mt TaranakiDay 2 was a little shorter at 4.5km but uniquely different from the day before.  Day one was more sidling around the lower flanks of Mt Taranaki.  Day 2 we got to cross the awesome Ahukawakawa Swamp before a climb of 300m onto the Pouakai Range.   Ahukawakawa Swamp Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiIt took us 3 hours to cover the day’s mileage, with our three year old walking nearly all the way! Hiking with kids

The Pouakai Hut is popular and first-come first-served just like Holly Hut.  It has 16 bunks in 2 separate bunkrooms and since we got there at lunchtime we got to claim one of the bunkrooms just for our family! The kids had fun playing the rest of the afternoon around the hut. Even though it was a beautiful day, clouds had clung to the top of Mt Taranaki all day.  I really needed them to clear so I could get photo’s! After dinner, I left the crew at the hut, to run 1.6km to Pouakai Tarns.  As I crested onto the top of the ridge, I was stoked to see that half of the mountain was visible!  I ran with a skip to my step, confident that it was going to completely clear.  Oh boy.  I wasn’t disapointed! It was amazing 🙂 Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Mt Taranaki from Pouakai RidgeOnce the light faded and disappeared off the tarns, I headed back up the hill and got this 🙂  I was really wishing I had convinced the rest of the crew to come with me. Pouakai Ridge Mt TaranakiThe track for day 3 goes by the tarns, so I was excited to get more pictures with the kids.  But guess what!  We woke up to lots of wind, and poor visibility. kids at pouakai hutWe toyed with the idea of taking an escape route because we were walking along an exposed ridge and we couldn’t risk the weather turning worse.  We decided to go to the Tarns, and if needed we could devise another plan. Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiThose pictures of Mt Taranaki reflected in the tarns?  This is that exact same place! Wind-rippled grey water, and fog. Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiIt was still pretty, but made me super thankful I had clear skies the night before. Henrys Peak Pouakai RidgeFrom the tarns we decided to continue with our planned route.  The wind thankfully wasn’t cold like it can be in the New Zealand mountains, and everyone was in good spirits. During our 11km walk, we summited Henry peak – couldn’t see a thing,  but we did climb a bunch of ladders en-route! Henrys Peak Pouakai Ridge

After Henry Peak, an arduous downhill followed, with lots of rugged stairs and roots. The 3 year old had to be carried most of the way, so we could travel at a quicker pace.  Some of the steps were as tall as her.   Pouakai TrackThe bush is beautiful, and we had fun crossing a couple of swing bridges. swingbridge pouakai track swingbridge pouakai track

The track terminates at the North Egmont Visitor Centre, but we decided to pop out on another trailhead onto the road, so we didn’t have to walk another 2.5 km uphill.  Hubby easily hitched to get our van, saving our weary backs and feet!

To summarize, it was well worth our while.  It was important to us to make this trip happen, so we had to shift our schedule around a bit in order to get a good-weather window.  It is a challenging trail, with lots of step-ups, arounds and overs.  I don’t think I have tramped anywhere where so much wood has been used to construct grates to stabilize the trail to prevent water erosion and help keep trampers boots dry!!  I can’t even imagine the work it took to do that.  It was more busy than I expected, but we were also there over a weekend, and there were day hikers and mountain runners that were out enjoying the track too.

It was the hardest backpacking trip our family has done, and we stuffed ourselves into our van, and drove away with that warm, satisfying feeling that we did something hard and smashed it 🙂

 

 

 

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Green River Utah Campfire
Once upon a time, we had one child. We did a lot of fun adventures with her. I often say, we put her under our arm and off we went! Then we added a second baby. Though it was much harder, we still had a 1:1 ratio. One for Mom, one for Dad, or if one parent was flying solo, we had gear to carry two kids. But what to do when #3 came along?!
We needed a new strategy when the scale was tipped towards small people holding the majority in our family. We had 4 kids in 5 years so were very much in a pregnancy/baby/toddler (and repeat) stage for what felt like forever. We then added another little girl into our family to make 5 kids in 9 years.
Many families that I talk with, can’t wrap their heads around how to adventure with multiple children. We hope to spur your own motivations and creativity with these 4 tips……

Which you can read about over at Tiny Big Adventure by clicking here!

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I am always keeping my eyes and ears open for family-friendly adventures.  I have a filing box in my brain for these pieces of information!

Family backpacking trip

A couple of years ago, I filed Fish Lake, Top of the World Provincial Park.  My informant (ha!) told me that it was beautiful, uncrowded, had a backcountry hut & beautiful lakeside campsites, took only a few kilometres of hiking to get there, and was a good base to day hike from.  Perfecto!

The hut sounded like a good idea too.  If you are from New Zealand, like I am, backcountry huts are normal.  We have a 1000 of them, and I’m not even exaggerating!!  They are much more scarce in Canada.

fish lake backcountry cabin

Fish Lake Cabin

Before I tell you about our adventure, lets talk about the pro’s and con’s of huts when you have kids along.

PRO’S:

  • Great place to shelter when the weather isn’t so great – cold, windy, snowy, or rainy – no problem! A hut makes it sooooo much easier to keep kids entertained, not to mention being warm and dry.
  • They often have a fire place which helps with the warmth factor.
  • Don’t have to carry a tent, therefore lowering the weight you have to pack in, which is important when you are carrying half of your kid’s stuff!
  • Can be fun to meet other hikers.
  • If you choose your day of the week and/or time of the year carefully, you could have it to yourselves (for first-come first-served huts).
  • Some huts in the Canadian Rockies are small enough that you can book the whole thing for just your family.  Or invite friends along to bring up the numbers (to avoid the ‘con’ below).

CON’S:

  • Sharing with others. If you have kids that have a hard time going to sleep, wake during the night, are easily disturbed by loud snoring/noises, or wake at the crack of dawn, a shared hut can be a stressful thing for parents and hut partners.
  • Can be expensive depending on the pricing structure.
  • Busy during the summer.

Top of the World Provincial Park is very out of the way.  It isn’t close to any large cities, or part of any major tourist runs.  It takes an hour and a half driving on a logging road to reach the trailhead once you have turned off Hwy 93 (between Cranbrook & Golden).

The 7km trail (200m elevation gain) is very well maintained, and a grade that is easy for kids. Our 3 year old walked just about all the way, with just a couple of short stints on sisters shoulders. kids hiking young boys backpacking Packpacking with kids Hiking with kids

The hut sleeps about 20 people on bunks around the perimeter of the building.  It has a wood burning stove, and a well stocked wood pile.  Everyone enjoyed making shavings to start the fire! making kindling making kindling

We were hoping like crazy, no one else was going to be at the hut.  Our youngest still randomly cries in the night and I didn’t want to have to share that experience with strangers that probably don’t have kids and wouldn’t understand! The first night we were alone.  The second we had two other hikers join us – poor them!

Outside there is a gorgeous view, floating dock, picnic table and fire pit mountain lake fish lake family on a dock kids playing Sunflare by fire lake reflections around campfire

A few different hiking options take you into the alpine.  We choose to go to Sparkle Lake which was 3km and 350m of elevation gain. Family Hiking Sparkle Lake

We also circumnavigated Fish Lake which is about 2km, fishing as we went. Well some fished, and some read their book! girls reading book by lake kids hiking family by lake in fall log hopping at fish lake kids hiking over bridge

We had a great time.  It feels so good for my soul to get out like this!  I will leave you with some links to other huts in the Kootenay Canadian Rockies!

Significant elevation gain, but manageable distance if you are a more experienced family:

Thunder Meadow Cabin, Fernie (Booking required, 8 berth).

Jumbo Cabin, Panorama (booking required, 8 berth)

Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboos (booking required, 35 berth)

Minimal Elevation Gain:

Fish Lake, Top of the World Provincial Park (First-come first-served, 20 berth)

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park (booking required, 14 berth)

Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton National Park (booking required, 8 berth, winter only)

Oh!  And a giant PS. that I nearly forgot!  You pass by Lussier Hot Springs as you drive in on the logging road.  The 100% natural pools are an awesome place to stop on the way in and out 🙂

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  • January 19, 2017 - 1:37 pm

    Nathalie Vandenbrink - I just love looking at your pictures!
    Monique and Kaden have been talking about doing another backpacking trip.
    I want to say “Let’s do one together!” but I’m worried about the cold. You were wearing toques/beanies and puffy coats on this trip. Were you warm enough at night?ReplyCancel

    • January 19, 2017 - 4:49 pm

      Born to Adventure - Yes! Lets do one together!! We were prepared for it to be cold, for sure. But it was actually fine, with the woodburner. We kept it going all night. We were waiting for you guys to do the Elk Lakes Cabin if you were interested? Though that is a XC ski trip in the winter….cold, but warm cabin! Maybe we should do a summer trip first lol!ReplyCancel

  • January 19, 2017 - 11:22 pm

    Kevan - Another Fernie hut for your list – Tunnel CreekReplyCancel

    • January 24, 2017 - 8:35 pm

      Born to Adventure - Sweet. Thanks 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 12, 2017 - 10:50 pm

    Lois - Fabulous photos! You’ve done a great job.ReplyCancel

  • March 9, 2017 - 7:23 am

    Alyssa - Wow what an awesome place! I’ve never heard of a backcountry hut before…I want to go find some near us now!ReplyCancel

  • March 19, 2017 - 6:25 pm

    Myrna - So full of color and vibrancy! I think I need to get out to something similar in the near future!ReplyCancel

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I was standing in a line waiting for the doors to open at a ski swap sale.  I had busted my butt to get there at 8am to be one of the first inside when it opened at 9am.  I was flying solo with my five kids.  My youngest was 2 months old and they were in my vehicle that I had parked right there. I could see them, they could see me, but to others around me, I just looked like any other single person that had sauntered out of bed looking to score a good deal.

The group of people that were in front of me were chatting.  I felt like I was just like them.  Or I had been just like them before I had kids.  They loved the outdoor life, and they had nothing hindering them from chasing after it.  Then their conversation turned.  One of the young woman stated “I don’t want kids.  All the people I know that have babies use it as an excuse.  Oh, sorry, can’t do that, I’m pregnant.  Can’t make it to that party, I have a baby”.  It took everything in me, to not barge in on their conversation and emphatically state that was a choice, not necessarily a reality.  I really wanted to tell her that you can still live an adventurous life AND be pregnant AND be a mother.  It takes a much bigger commitment, a lot of creativity, and a whole lot of energy, but it is possible.

Baby Ultra Sound Picture

20 weeks in utero

Pregnant and Canoeing

38 Weeks Preggo

I want to be like a big sister to you. Someone who has gone before you, saying it is realistic to do what you love, during pregnancy.  I don’t have all the answers.  I am not sharing a single drop of medical or scientific knowledge.  Just my personal experience of positive, active pregnancies.

During my 7 pregnancies (2 miscarriages), I didn’t know anyone personally, that pursued a continuous, active pregnancy, by involving themselves in a variety of outdoor activities. I often had the sense that people were judging me, and giving me vibes that I was living a little too close to the edge of what was ‘safe’ for carrying a child. It was tempting for me to not be as active as I could be, because of fear.  Fear that something might happen to my cherished baby.  And that thought was re-enforced by my culture and medical system.  I had to be a little secretive about what I was doing. If that wasn’t possible, I braced myself for peoples surprize. Especially running. Most people were floored that I was running.

The main thing I have learnt, is life doesn’t have to be ‘over’ at the sight of those two parallel pink lines.  Positive Pregnancy TestSome other key things for me were:

  • My Midwife advised I could pretty much do whatever I was doing pre-pregnancy, but suggested I didn’t take up any new sports. Outdoor activities were my normal, and what I was competent at.
  • I had no health issues, was a healthy weight and ate well. I had no plans to give in to cravings, lay on the couch and gain excess baby weight that I wasn’t going to be able to shake later on. I had a lot of determination to do pregnancy differently than the cultural norm that I saw around me.
  • I didn’t stop doing what I always did because I was tired or I felt sick (which was a lot more and longer than the textbooks say). I knew I needed to keep my fitness and momentum.  I didn’t stop for a week or two, or a month until I felt better. If my body was moving regularly, I knew my muscles and ligaments would continue to adapt to my changing physique.
  • I am a fairly simple gal. I don’t tend to be a fearful person (though pregnancy definitely heightens that in me!).  I don’t need to know everything.  I don’t consult Dr Google. I don’t take all the tests that are available.  I don’t take meds.  I don’t have a bunch of scans. I got good at listening to my body, not pieces of information or stories that might freak me out.
  • I didn’t do absolutely everything. I opted out of stuff that felt too high risk for baby or myself. Things like cliff jumping/canyoning, as well as rafting and kayaking on difficult rivers.
  • But I did do a lot! Active pregnancy is one of my life’s greatest achievements. My main thing was running.  With my 3rd, 4th & 5th baby’s, I ran until I was full term.  I also backpacked, kayaked, canoed, rafted, caved, mountaineered, downhill & XC skied, and mountain biked.
Cross Country Skiing

15 weeks preggo

My personal experience showed me there is lots of advice and many opinions.  Some like to treat a normal, healthy pregnancy like it is an illness or injury, that requires fragile treatment.  It is a special time that does require extra thought and care, but for me, continuing ‘as normal’ was empowering.  Sometimes a lack of self confidence and a knowledgeable cheerleader, hold mothers back from some of the best and most rewarding experiences. I need to know my mental and physical limits, but equally important is knowing when I can and should push past them – even in pregnancy.

I know my way is not for everyone. And my story isn’t your story. We all have our individual bents, personal circumstances, and physiological differences.  But if you are an outdoor girl, feeling a little bewildered about all the changes family life might bring, know that there is at least one other person in the world cheering for you to keep that baby bump moving!

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