Category Archives: Camping

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu While Pregnant

Success! Pregnant lady made it!
Success! Pregnant lady made it!

You’ve probably heard by now that we all had a wonderful time on our hiking trip to Machu Picchu, and that we’ve got another little adventurer on the way. When we were planning the trip, I found a distinct lack of positive or remotely helpful information on the web about hiking this particular trail while pregnant. Several people had asked on travel forums (Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, etc) only to receive scathing comments about how dangerous and silly undertaking such a hike would be. I can’t help but note that almost all of said comments came from men (thus probably were never pregnant) who were not medical professionals. So, I’m here to let you know that it is certainly possible, can be extremely fun, and is not that different to any other hike.

There are two big concerns for the expecting (really for anyone) on the Inca Trail – altitude and hiking endurance.

One of many unique experiences along the trail
One of many unique experiences along the trail

Hiking endurance is something you can plan ahead for fairly easily. A couple of months of regular exercise will do the trick. Do you walk often and choose to take the stairs? Do you have a regular exercise routine? If so, you are most likely set on this front. I had completed several hikes during my first pregnancy without trouble – small snacks throughout the day and hydration helped. The Inca Trail is not an easy hike, but it is paved or graded the entire way and you take it quite slow, especially on the steep climbs. I brought one walking stick on the Inca Trail and was pleased to have it for the extended downhill portions. I would say the downhills were the hardest part because it is tough on your knees. I found myself keeping good pace with the other woman in our group (the guys tended to run out ahead), and our guide continued to reassure me that I was making great time. While there were two serious climbs, the limiting factor for everyone in our group was lung capacity (altitude), not physical endurance.

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass

Altitude was a much bigger concern for me, as I have little experience with it. I have always lived at sea level, and nearly all of my previous hiking experience has been below 8,000 ft.  We took the basic precaution that is widely recommended – spend 2 days at altitude (in Cusco at 12,000 ft) before the hike. I drank prolific amounts of water. I also took everything at about 60% while in Peru, to avoid getting overtired. I never felt terrible, but I did start to get light-headed and dizzy during the first big climb on Day 2 of hiking. I slowed down and sipped on an electrolyte drink (like Gatorade). The difference was remarkable – I felt nearly back to normal within 10 minutes and didn’t have any other major problems after that. I elected to not drink coca tea or chew coca leaves as I was unsure of the effects on my developing fetus, but I got a similar caffeine kick from small cups of coffee and dark chocolate scattered throughout the day.

I was slower than normal, but completed the entire trail with a smile on.
I was slower than normal, but completed the entire trail with a smile on.

Choose your team wisely. We elected to take the 5D/4N Inca Trail itinerary with Llama Path, who were very supportive of our group needs ranging from a one-year-old to a pregnant lady (me) to strict vegetarians. In fact, the tour operators were not remotely phased at my pregnancy (“we get lots of pregnant women and they all do great”). They were much more impressed with Simon carrying a toddler, and the endurance of the 1.75 year old. Go figure! This itinerary spreads out the hiking over four days instead of three, and you don’t have to get up as early on the last day when you visit Machu Picchu (4am instead of 2am). Between this and the two days in Cusco ahead of time, we did everything we knew of to stack the odds in our favor of having an enjoyable time. Speaking of Llama Path, it is nearly impossibly to hike the trail without buying a guided tour now. The upside is that basically all of these tours include an army of local porters that carry nearly everything for you (I had a daypack with water, snacks, camera, and raincoat that weighed 10-15 lbs), set up the tents, and prepare three hot meals for you a day. We called it glamping instead of camping, as it was so luxurious compared to what we are used to!

Glamping. I didn't have to set any of this up or cook a thing, and the food was phenomenal.
Glamping. I didn’t have to set any of this up or cook a thing, and the food was phenomenal.

Everyone is different and what worked for me may not for you. I found that by making sure I was in decent shape ahead of time, planning a slow itinerary, drinking lots of water and gatorade, eating small amounts frequently, sleeping lots, and enjoying occasional dark chocolate hit kept me happy and healthy on the trail. Every person and every pregnancy is unique, and it is critical to discuss any such activities and travels with your midwife or doctor ahead of time. I had travel insurance and was ready to completely abandon the trip, or skip the hike, if I had any complications with the pregnancy. Thankfully I did not, and our midwife was incredibly reassuring that I would be tired but just fine. There is no medical care on the trail, and there are limited places from which you can be helicoptered out. In the case of an emergency, the porters will carry you piggyback to the closest place that you can be airlifted (while running – they are truly amazing). So planning ahead and being fairly confident you can handle the hike are a good idea. I was 12 weeks pregnant at the time of hiking, and would have been happy to do it up to about 26 weeks. At some point, the extra size and weight start to make things a little trickier! I had just cleared first trimester fatigue and food aversions when we left for Peru, and wished that the trip had fallen a few weeks later in my pregnancy.

Yoga doesn't stop for hikes
Yoga doesn’t stop for hikes

About me – I’m not a fitness superstar, just a working mom that loves to play outside in her free time. My exercise routine typically consists of a 2-3 mile jog twice a week, yoga twice a week, and a stroller walk with my toddler to the grocery store a couple times a week. On the weekends we mix in kayaking, paddleboarding, and biking depending on the weather and where we are. I have been a fan of hiking, camping, and backpacking for 10 years now and have enjoyed tweaking my style along with Simon to accommodate our growing adventure squad.

Just do it. The Inca Trail is amazing, and we have so many beautiful and unforgettable memories from the hike. There is truly no better way to see Machu Picchu than clambering up the steep stairs to the Sun Gate in the late afternoon. So worth it!

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Success! Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

We have all three returned home safely from our trip to Peru, after having successfully navigated planes, cars, trains, and four days of trekking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I think that overall we can easily say that this trip went well.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
The beginning of the Inca Trail
First day of hiking
First day of hiking

I’ll start with the good stuff. Joey loved hiking in the Poco and camping, and Simon was a champion about carrying him the whole way – including two serious climbs to nearly 14,000 feet! Everyone in our group handled the hike very well, and although it was significantly harder to breath at altitude no one had any serious problems. The tour company, Llama Path, was absolutely

Joey's bed time in the tent
Joey’s bed time in the tent

amazing in terms of service and accommodating all of our needs. This was a case where the journey beat the destination. The hike was extraordinary, traveling through an astonishing number of biomes over four days (near desert, cloud forest, rain forest, high alpine, and more).

Joey makes friends
Joey makes friends

We saw nearly every kind of livestock imaginable, much to Joey’s delight, along with native hummingbirds that squawked and later butterflies that littered the trail. During the first two days we passed several local villages, and the villagers out and about on the trail (their main highway) with donkeys carrying goods. The views were extraordinary, and we were able to visit many Inca sites along the trail. None were quite as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but we had them all to ourselves. After listening to our guide Coco describe the site and give another installment of his on-going history story, we were allowed to explore at our leisure.

Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail
Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail

I will never forget the site of Joey playing with his toy Prius on a 500 year old terrace that drops off to extraordinary mountain views, few other people around for miles. The stonework and masonry of the ruins and the trail was quite impressive. While some had been restored, other buildings and parts of the track have been left untouched for over 500 years and appear in near mint condition.

Joey feeds a baby llama
Joey feeds a baby llama

The views from our third campsite (Phuyupatamarca), which is not used by trekkers on the classic 4-day itinerary, were the best of the trip and simply breathtaking. But most of all, climbing the final stone staircase through cool, dark jungle to emerge at the sun gate and gaze over Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience. After that, taking the bus in the following day for our tour, surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time in days, just didn’t seem nearly as good.

Our favorite campsite
Our favorite campsite

We took the 5 day/4 night itinerary with Llama Path on the Inca Trail. Day 1 was quite easy, nearly flat with one small climb over dusty even track to our campsite adjacent to a very small village/house. We were basically camping in a Peruvian family’s yard, and our group were the only ones in attendance. We stopped at our first Inca site, Llactapacta, and enjoyed impressive views along with extensive hide and seek amongst the many rooms. Day 2 was the most physically demanding, as we moved ahead of schedule to climb over Dead Woman Pass (13,780

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass
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Joey practices jumping off of rocks at an ancient Inca site

ft) and then camped between the two mountains in the saddle. The most challenging part of the climb was not our muscular strength or endurance, but our lung capacity. Despite spending two days in Cusco (12,000 ft) to acclimatize we all felt short of breath during the climb. On Day 3, we started off with our last big climb over the second mountain pass then descended to our favorite campsite, Phuyupatamarca. Not only were the views extraordinary, we were visited several times by a group of llamas. Awesome. Day 4 was another early start (we woke at 6am and started walking at 7am most days) as we descended past many Inca sites. We spent so much time at each that we wound up a bit behind schedule at lunch for the first time, and at our guide’s suggestion we walked quickly towards the Sun Gate. Not realizing where we were, we powered ahead and were suddenly faced with several steep staircases. I put my hiking pole away and climbed up with my hands. The forest was cool and dark, but as we neared the top we could see light streaming through. On the other side was the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon light.

Made it - Machu Picchu!
Made it – Machu Picchu!

We spent lots of time admiring Machu Picchu as we wound down the trail closer to the city. It was near dusk when we walked past the entrance gate. Then came the only part of the trail I really didn’t like that much – about 1.5 hours of steep downhill stairs to our campsite near the town of Aguas Calientes.

Yoga doesn't stop for hikes
Yoga doesn’t stop for hikes

It was a bit of a buzz kill after thinking we had reached our destination at the Sun Gate! No matter, we made it to the campsite intact and had a last impressive meal with our porters. They head chef even made us a cake! The next day we were up before dawn (3:30) to walk into town and catch the bus to Machu Picchu for the day.

If you are thinking about doing the hike – do it. It is 100% worth it. Simon completed the entire trail with a 50lb bag of toddler and accoutrements (at the front of our group!). I was three months pregnant. Along the way we saw young (10 years old) kids, old (> 65 years old) adults, and individuals that were clearly not fit and/or did not exercise much. Everyone made it. Everyone in our group made it with smiles on their faces.

Joey with his Uncle Peter
Joey with Uncle Peter

The not-so-good. Our first days in Cusco were rough, despite staying in a really nice hotel. Joey was tired, cranky, and not feeling great from altitude. He refused to eat anything, and he refused to sleep unless I was lying next to him (not Simon or anyone else – it had to be me). After being blessed with a fairly chill kid for 1.75 years, we didn’t know what to do with this behavior. We decided to ride it out and gamble on the hike anyway, knowing that Joey loves outside time, his Poco, and tents. Taking a toddler on a group tour has its pros (we didn’t have to cook) and its cons.

Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu
Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu

The biggest con was that we had to mold his schedule to the fairly strict schedule set by our guide, which was not designed for small children. We finally had to start putting J to sleep before dinner to avoid extreme crankiness. We often had to duck out of meals or history lessons to take J elsewhere and tend to his needs. Some of our group members and some of our porters took great interest in Joey and would play with him while we set up our tent or got changed, which was a huge blessing. Some of the places we stayed for lunch or to camp were fine for him to wander around, but many were terraces on the side of a mountain, meaning that J required constant attention. While Simon & I had a blast, we were definitely not well-rested!

Was it still worth it? Totally. Would we do it again? Already planning our next trip.

For the finer details on how to take your toddler on the Inca Trail, read Part 2 from Simon. For tips on hiking the Inca Trail while pregnant, read Part 3 from Lauren.

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Backcountry 4th of July Sale

Packing for Machu Picchu with a Toddler

We’re gearing up for our family vacation and packing for departure on Sunday! The destination: Machu Picchu, Peru. The route: planes, a train, and a 5 day trek along the ancient Inca Trail. The team: Simon, Joey, and me, plus five dear friends that were brave enough to join us.

Joey loves the Poco and asks for it by name.
Joey loves the Poco and asks for it by name.

Enthusiasm is growing as our packs get filled with equipment for our next big adventure. Joey is cheerfully telling everyone that he is going to Peru to see Picchu. This is a luxurious trip as far as backpacking goes. Our group is in the hands of Llama Path tours, who will outfit us with a guide, chef, and porters to carry most of our gear. Trekking this way has become almost necessary given the popularity of and regulations regarding the Inca Trail.

Backpacking is different with a toddler on board, and our gear list is predominated by Joey’s specialty equipment. Here’s what we are bringing along for our 1.75 year old for the trek:

  • Baby thermals x2. We have one merino wool outfit from New Zealand, and one Patagonia baby capilene 3 set.
  • Full body fleece suit for warmth in the evening/at night with hood and hand/foot covers
  • Full body rain suit for wind/rain protection (we brought only the shell and not the liner since temperatures will be mild during the day)
  • Compressible down/synthetic jacket and pants
  • Five diaper covers and compostable diaper inserts
  • Wool socks (from New Zealand) and toddler hiking shoes
  • Osprey Poco baby carrier backpack
  • Toddler sleeping bag (hardest thing on this list for me to find!)
  • Toddler travel cot(heaviest item by far, hopefully worth it)
  • One favorite book and one new book to be revealed on the trail
  • His favorite stuffed toy for sleeping
  • Sunscreen, baby ibuprofen, sun hat, bacitracin, band aids
  • Water bottle
Joey's small sleeping bag is ironically bulkier and heavier than our down adult bags
Joey’s small sleeping bag is ironically bulkier and heavier than our down adult bags

Simon and I each have a sleeping bag, thermals, hiking clothes, and warm jackets. Llama Path takes care of tents, water, and food – luxury! We’ll have extra clothing for the pre-tour time, stored at our Cusco hotel while we are on the trail.

Car camping in Virginia - Joey's travel bed and sleeping bag
Car camping in Virginia – Joey’s travel bed and sleeping bag

*If we were going solo/worried about weight, we would bring a thermarest inflatable sleeping pad for Joey. In this case, we have some extra room and think he will be more comfortable on the cot.

Trip Planning: We booked this tour in late 2014. Tour companies apply for permits for the year in January, so we wanted to get our deposit in before that for the best chance of getting a spot on the trail and at Machu Picchu. We opted for the less popular 5 day 4 night trek (the classic is 4 days/3 nights) to give ourselves extra time on the big climb and also avoid the crowds as much as possible. We fly to Lima from DC, spend one night, then continue to Cusco where we stay for two days and nights to acclimatize to the high altitude (12,000 ft) before beginning our hike. After the tour, we decided to add a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes (the town near Machu Picchu) so we could have the entire day at MP and time to enjoy the hot springs in town without worrying about catching a train home. We have one more night in Cusco on our way back where we can get cleaned up and pick up our extra gear at the hotel, then we fly Cusco-Lima-Panama-DC. We planned to travel before Joey’s 2nd birthday so that he is still free (or heavily discounted) for big ticket items including flights, hotels, and the tour. June is the beginning of the dry season in Cusco/Machu Picchu, which lasts through September, so it is a prime time to go.

Backcountry Summer Kickoff Sale

Shenandoah Valley Camping & Apples

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We took Joey to the mountains this weekend for camping and apple picking, and even convinced some willing friends to join us!

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We stayed at Shenandoah River State Park, in one of the large primitive campsites along the river. This park is absolutely gorgeous, and the upkeep is impeccable. One of the trails we explored from the campsite had a full boardwalk that followed the river! We were just a little too early to get a full fall-leave color explosion, but spotted several yellows and reds popping up in the forest. We will definitely be back, this gem is only 1.5 hours drive from Alexandria.

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Joey has always enjoyed camping, and this time was no exception. He was fully entertained by exploring the outdoors, and extra happy to have his friend Derek along. This is his first camping trip since he has learned to walk, and he had an absolutely fabulous time exploring the trails near our campsite. Derek & Joey’s favorite part of the weekend was being pulled in a wire wagon trolley, left as a courtesy to transport gear between cars and campsites. We made a campfire to keep warm and cook dinner, and the boys were less interested in it than expected (I thought it would be a full time job to keep Joey out of the fire, but he was content to watch from a distance and play in the gravel).

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Apple picking was more work than I remembered! Joey had a brief run around before napping in the Ergo carrier. I got the easier job of wandering through the orchard carrying him while Simon used a big picking pole to collect a bag of the largest and finest apples Virginia has to offer. If you haven’t already guessed, the Freeman fridge and freezer will soon be stocked with applesauce and apple pie. I welcome additional apple recipes 🙂

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Car camping like this is one of the most straightforward and fun ways to get your family outside! Both our car and our friends’ were fully loaded with food (we had enough for at least a week), blankets, extra clothes, and big family tents. Although the low temperature was near freezing, everyone stayed cozy with layers of fleece, jackets, and lots of blankets and sleeping bags.

Simon & Lauren’s Original Round-the-World Trip

In honor of throwback Thursday (#tbt), here is a link to our original travel blog, which we started back in 2008.

I’ll give you a short version of the story here.

Lauren went to New Zealand on study abroad in 2007, and met Simon in the University of Auckland Dive Club (which he was running at the time). Fast friends, they bonded over all things scuba and underwater. They kept in contact via phone and email for nearly a year, including on impromptu visit to Big White, Canada (Lauren went to meet Simon there for a long weekend in January 2008).

Lauren & Simon in Big White, Canada, early 2008
Lauren & Simon in Big White, Canada, early 2008

Soon after that weekend, they decided to go all in and planned a round-the-world escapade. It was to start days after Lauren graduated from the University of Miami, when she would fly from Miami to Auckland to meet Simon, who had just quit his job at Fisher & Paykel Engineering. From Auckland, they traveled to Australia, the Philippines, Palau, Thailand, and Cambodia. From Bangkok, they each flew in a different direction to New York City, USA, and returned to Miami together where they collected Lauren’s car (the trusty Toyota Prius that we still have now!) and belongings. They drove to her family home in Virginia and stayed for a few weeks before driving across North America to settle in San Diego, where they started graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

I think you know the rest 🙂

married at Lauren's family home in Mathews, VA June 2011
married at Lauren’s family home in Mathews, VA June 2011
Joey joined team Freeman in August, 2013
Joey joined team Freeman in August, 2013

On adventuring with a baby

Perhaps the most important thing our son has taught us is to take joy in the little things
Perhaps the most important thing our son has taught us is to enjoy the little things

This is hard to write because one thing I never wanted to do as a parent was to preach my philosophy. But here I go – take or leave it as you like.

Recently, a friend of ours from Scripps was killed by a drunk driver. This tragedy has had me thinking, and one conclusion I’ve come to over and over was that no one should be letting anything stop them from living the life they want, because life is too short. And that, dear reader, is the key to adventuring with a baby and other daunting tasks.

Joey takes the wheel of our 39' sailboat
Joey takes the wheel of our 39′ sailboat

 

We were told many things about babies and parenting before Joey arrived last August. It would be hard. It would be amazing. Life-changing. Tiring. Exhausting, actually. Beautiful. But there were a string of advisorial (preachy?) comments that left me stinging, long before Joey was born. They could all be boiled down to something like this:

Your adventure/traveling/fun days are over. You will now have to sit at home and care for a small, crying thing 24/7. Babies can’t do the kinds of things that you guys do for fun.

Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. This bulldozer kept Joey entertained for an entire picnic lunch and then some
Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. This bulldozer kept Joey entertained for an entire picnic lunch and then some

I found this infuriating and also stressful. What if they were right? Simon and I talked about this endlessly while I was pregnant. We talked about it even more when I was pregnant and we went backpacking (Simon carrying most of our things because we didn’t want a hip belt pushing on our precious fetus), snorkeling, airplaning, and for late night picnics along the ocean. Was our life that we had built together around the things that we loved so much really coming to end? Our style has always been hopeful, so that’s what we went with. But really, we had no idea what to expect.

Hotels are fun for babies, especially when they come with kukui nuts
Hotels are fun for babies, especially when they come with kukui nuts

We watched other parents and their lifestyles. Being scientists, we analysed them carefully and loosely lumped them into a few categories – those that did in fact sit home all day caring for their children; those that threw themselves into parenting 120% and ran around to various baby-centered activities all day; those that simply did their best to get by between a couple of jobs and a little person or two; and a very, very small number of dedicated individuals that were taking their infants on international flights, adventure vacations, and more. The last group was clearly the one that we wished to belong to.

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pro tip – most international airlines will provide small babies with a special container (bassinet) to play and nap in during flight

So yes, having a baby was beautiful, exhausting, overwhelming, and life-changing. We never could have anticipated what parenthood would be, and we love it.

But no, our lives did not end. And no, we do not sit at home all day caring for our child. In some cases, he can’t join us. PADI doesn’t offer Junior Open Water to kids under 10. His swimming skills are solid for an infant, but somewhat lacking compared to ours. We just realized that these are the prime times for grandparents (*babysitters).

Diaper change and play time in the NZ bush along the Routeburn Track
Diaper change and play time in the NZ bush along the Routeburn Track

In Joey’s eight month life, he has completed more than 20 legs of air travel, spent time in three countries, lived at two permanent addresses with a four month period of bumming between friends and relatives homes in between, moved across North America, lived on a sailboat for a week, gone backpacking and hiking, stayed in countless campsites and hotels, and napped everywhere from beaches to grassy fields to restaurants. And you know what? To a stranger on the street, a passing friend, or even his pediatrician, he is a pretty standard* eight month old child. (*there isn’t a good word to put here, but you know what I mean.)

Like any baby, Joey sleeps and eats a lot. He cries when he needs things. He wears diapers that need to be changed many times a day. Sometimes he wants to be upright to look around. Sometimes he wants to be snuggled. Sometimes he wants to be left alone on the ground to explore on baby time. Sometimes he gets sick, or his teeth hurt, or he just isn’t in the best mood.

The thing is, we realized that this would be the case no matter WHERE we were. And really, it wasn’t that different to change a diaper and play with a baby on an airplane, train, park bench, hotel, or campsite compared to our home (which we moved out of last December anyway).

So go out and throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)

guidelines are a great place to dry wet rashies and swim dipes

 

 

South of the South Island

South of New Zealand’s South Island is the third largest, Stewart Island. It is off the beaten path because reaching the only town of Oban requires either a really expensive, bumpy flight on a small plane or an expensive, bumpy ferry ride across a rough expanse of sea.  The stars aligned for us a to spend a week there on our most recent visit to New Zealand, and it was well worth the extra effort to get there.

We had three goals on Stewart Island. 1- see live, wild crinoids; 2- take Joey on his first overnight tramping experience; and 3- see live, wild kiwi (birds).

1- Crinoids. Also known as sea lilies, these ancient creatures are of particular interest to Lauren because of their prevalence in the Paleozoic fossil record. They appear in the Ordovician, and show up in marine limestones from then onwards.  As fossils generally only the circular disks of the stem are preserved. These were a common feature in the rocks that Lauren explored on her geology field school in Newfoundland back in the day. Although we’ve been snorkeling and diving in many places, we’ve never seen live crinoids before. Lauren was audibly excited to discover immediately upon disembarking from the ferry that crinoids could be readily viewed in Stewart Island’s clear waters attached to rocks and pilings in the shallows. She didn’t even need a dive mask or to brave the 14 degree C water! This was the easiest by far of the three goals to tick off of our list.

2- Joey’s first tramping trip. See this post for more details, but in short this was the first time we combined hiking and camping with Joey and he loved it! We have always gone on at least one backpacking trip when we visited NZ and decided to continue the tradition with the babs on board.  We walked the Rakiura Track great walk which makes a small loop along the coast and through the jungle of the northwest corner of Stewart Island.  We could hear kiwis in the late night/early morning from our tent, but we didn’t see any.  Simon particularly enjoyed staying at the Port William hut, where he collected cockles and mussels from the intertidal for breakfast.

3- We had heard from various sources to be sure to make a side trip to Ulva Island from Stewart Island. Ulva is a predator-free, uninhabited (by people) island just a five minute boat ride from Oban.  Upon arriving at very low tide, we were excited to see more crinoids growing on the rocks and pier. Walking around was truly delightful because we were constantly serenaded by birds! We became excited when we spotted some small, brown birds picking at bugs on the beach! They turned out to be weka, which are quite a treat to see, but not the same as the elusive kiwi. As we quietly wandered along a path through the bush (Joey was napping on the ergo carrier), we heard a rustle in the leaves. Lauren stopped and pointed towards the sound and Simon pulled out the camera – it was a kiwi! In the daytime no less, which is extraordinary for these rare, nocturnal birds.

Overall we had an amazing week on Stewart Island. The seafood was outstanding, the people interesting, and the birds fantastic.  While the ferry ride to Stewart Island pushed the limit of the sea legs of even our hardiest soul (Joey), the ferry ride back to the mainland was extremely pleasant.  We were regularly surprised at how much we could enjoy an adventure trip with no scuba diving whatsoever.

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Stewart Island Kiwi!
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Joey checks out a weka on one of Ulva Island’s deserted beaches
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The native bird population on Ulva Island is quite fearless
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Lunch break on the Rakiura Track
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Sunset views from a side walk off of Port William Hut, Rakiura Track
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In Oban, we ate copious amounts of delicious fresh seafood at the South Seas Hotel Restaurant

Can You Go Backpacking With a Baby? Definitely.

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Smiles made the heavy packs and long days of walking just a few miles well worth it

*(Excuse us for stating the obvious to those of you saying ‘duh…’. We got a lot of surprising responses and questions about taking Joey on the trail so thought we’d blog about it!)

We are in New Zealand visiting family and friends, and just got back from an amazing couple of weeks on the scenic South Island.  Usually when we visit NZ we go on a dive trip, but that wasn’t logistically possible with a five month old poo machine who requires constant attention.  We thought quite a bit about other adventures we could take on that would include Joey, and settled on a tour of the South Island including two of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  This is the easiest sort of backpacking (tramping, for the kiwis).   The walking trails are well maintained, often paved in gravel with well cut out steps in steep locations.  Campsites include shelters with a freshwater sink and a composting toilet (long drop), or you have the option to stay at a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut with bunks eliminating the need for tents and sleeping mats!

IMG_5099The biggest chunk of our trip was spent even further south on Stewart Island. Sparsely populated, with just one small town, and an abundance of birds rarely seen on ‘mainland’ NZ, this lesser known gem is well worth the traveling effort!  (More about the birds in a later post!) It took two flights from Auckland (to Christchurch then Invercargill) and a ferry ride to get there.  We did the full Rakiura Track loop over the course of four days with Joey in tow, along with all of our camping gear and his extra accessories.  Afterwards we splashed out on a night in a hotel in the town (Oban), and took a water taxi to nearby Ulva Island which is predator-free and has even more birds.

We weren’t sure how this would all pan out.  We did some practice camping in San Diego, which went off very well, but that was already two months ago- nearly 1/3 of Joey’s life!  Would he still like sleeping in the tent?  We knew he loved going for walks in his carrier, but would he love it for 8 hours a day?  With a little bit of patience and pre-planning, the answer was a resounding yes.

IMG_4527We chose the two easiest of the great walks to take on with Joey.  The Rakiura Track on Stewart Island, and the Routeburn Track in Mount Aspiring National Park.  Both were fantastic, scenic, and featured wonderful wildlife.  We took on the Rakiura Track first and learned quite a lot by the time we entered the Routeburn.  Here’s the answers to some of our FAQs, and some pro tips we picked up along the way.

How do you carry the baby? – In an ergo baby front pack. Usually Lauren carried him, but Simon had him for one day on the Routeburn and for some short day trips also.  This was perfect because it didn’t interfere too much with a backpack, Joey was comfy, his weight was mainly on my hips, and it has an integrated sleep hood for nap times.  The only downside was that it got hot.  We countered that by dressing Joey exclusively in merino wool, which wicks moisture and kept his skin dry.

Joey's diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip
Joey’s diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip

What about the rest of your stuff? – The biggest thing we learned on the Rakiura was that we needed to make everything other than the baby as light as possible.  Gone were the days of bringing whole blocks of cheese and cans of tuna for lunch, instead we packed almost exclusively dry food.

What did you bring for the baby? – Joey had two daytime outfits in merino wool.  Whenever we stayed somewhere for more than one night, we washed everything of his and it was dry before we set out again.  He had a separate merino one-piece for night time as well as his normal fleece sleep sack and muslin swaddle blanket. We brought him food, bottles, sun hat, beanie, and lots of socks (also wool!). If it was cold at night we added an adult down vest as his sleeping bag. We used a kidco pop-up play tent as protection from bugs and sun, which was critical and worth its weight. The pad underneath doubled as Joey’s nighttime mattress.

How did you entertain the baby? – He loves being outside so was self entertained almost the entire time.  He did require stretching/play time in his pop-up tent or on one of our jackets every couple of hours.  We usually coupled this with a feeding and diaper change.

IMG_4476Diapers? – We use cloth diapers at home and on routine day trips out. For multi-day trips, we still used our cloth diaper covers (or shells) that could be hand washed and would dry quickly if needed. We had 5 of those, as well as compostable hybrid inserts that could be deposited in composting toilets.  For a longer trip, it would be easier to just bring the cloth inserts that dry quickly and wash them each night.

In general, we found that this was mostly about attitude.  Once we decided to do it, the challenge was just sorting out the logistics.  We always had an escape plan if Joey’s health or happiness were to be compromised.  Our goal wasn’t to walk particularly far or fast, but to enjoy time outside together as a family.  I’m trying my hardest to make this kid a water baby 🙂 but he loved being in the forest even more than swimming or the beach.  There will be more hikes in our near future!