Get outdoors with your little one this summer. Here are some great sanity-saving walks so your child can nap in nature and you can get some much-needed fresh air and exercise. It's a win-win!
At around 3 months old, my bonny, red-headed baby got sick for the first time. He stopped sleeping and embarked on a week of inconsolable gloom – ultimately for us both. We were staying with friends in Golden Bay and I felt there was little I could do to get us out of what was, looking back, a dark moment for me as a new mum. Luckily, on my third day, wanting to give my hosts a break, I discovered the buggy-friendly sanctuary of Te Waikoropupū Springs.
The gentle walk winds through native vegetation until reaching the treasured, untouchable springs – translucent and vibrant. As I strolled through this refreshing place, my son slept for, seemingly, the first time in days. I had found a remedy for us both and organised a walk every day for the rest of our stay.
Inspired by my experience in Golden Bay, I continued to combine naptime with walks wherever I could, taking my baby carrier when the buggy wasn’t an option. Even when I was tired and could see a billion things around me that I ought to be doing, I told myself that getting us both out of the house and into nature (even for 20 minutes) was without doubt my top priority.
As my boy grew older and heavier, I found the buggy quickly became my preferred choice for longer walks, allowing me the option to park up, curl up and soak up nature where possible.
An added bonus was the ability to walk with friends, de-stressing, offloading our parental horror stories (and joys of course) and actually managing to finish our sentences for once as our little ones dozed. Some swore by baby carriers or slings or buggies; all of us appreciated the importance and benefits of these walks in keeping us sane and invigorated.
Buggy-friendly nature walks for summer breaks
Exercising in nature is increasingly being recognised as a tonic for body, mind and soul. Research is showing that alongside physical health benefits, outdoor activities in green spaces can raise self-esteem levels and leave people significantly less angry, depressed, confused and tense. Mums and dads are being encouraged to take advantage of these benefits and join buggy walking groups across the globe, including New Zealand.
And, with the summer break coming up, you needn’t let your travels hinder your walking routine. Below is a list of suggested Department of Conservation tracks for holidaying parents that are toddler and buggy friendly. Several include steps or steep slopes and require suitable off-road buggies, so please take care and check conditions before heading out.
Lake Matheson Walk, Fox Glacier, West Coast
Location: 6km from Fox Village on Lake Matheson Rd
Time: 45 min–1 hr 30 min
A beautiful walk set in ancient forest famous for mirror views of the Southern Alps. You can choose the shorter walk to the jetty or do the more challenging (includes some steps) 2.6 km lake circuit.
Old Coach Road, Arthur’s Pass
Location: This walk starts at Greyneys Shelter, 6km east of Arthur’s Pass Village on SH73.
Time: 30 min return
This easy family walk is suitable for all-terrain buggies, and loops through the beech forest following the old coach road. At the northern end of the track there is a rope handrail – shut your eyes and use your other senses as you move through the forest.
Big Tree Walk, Peel Forest, South Canterbury
Location: This short, easy walk starts from
the Te Wanahu picnic shelter and leads into Mills Bush.
Time: 15 min
An easy access, short walk at Peel Forest. Great for the whole family – take a picnic and explore the forest with its huge kahikatea and tōtara trees. Several large kahikatea and huge tōtara, one almost three metres across, are thought to be about 1,000 years old. These giants of the forest are known as rakau rangatira or chiefly trees.
Anakiwa to Umungata/Davies Bay, Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds
Location: Anakiwa Rd off Queen Charlotte Dr
Time: 2 hr return
The stretch from Anakiwa to Umungata/Davies Bay is the first hour of the Queen Charlotte Track. The track meanders through mature beech forest. At Umungata, there is a camping ground and picnic area with water tank, toilet and shelter. The track is also mountain bike accessible and dog friendly (obtain a dog permit from the Picton Office). Dogs are not allowed any further along the track than the picnic area, or in the camping ground.
Totara Walk, Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, Marlborough
Location: SH6, between Blenheim and Nelson
Time: 30 min
The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve offers visitors the
chance to explore one of the last stands of river flat forest in Marlborough. From the Kanuka Picnic Area, this easy walking track loops through forest with a mixture of podocarp, broadleaf and beech trees.
Ōtukaikino Walk, Christchurch
Location: The entrance is off Main North Rd, between Chaneys Cnr and the Belfast end of the Northern Motorway.
Distance: 1.2 km loop
Ōtukaikino is a 13ha freshwater wetland reserve within Christchurch that is being restored as a living memorial. The easy grade makes this walk suitable for small children and family groups, and the flat boardwalk track is suitable for strollers. It loops around the wetland, with interpretation panels to view and pleasant places to sit along the way. As the boardwalk goes across ponds and there is a nearby stream, young children must be supervised at all times. Ducks and pūkeko can be seen. As the wetland is a wāi tapu (sacred site), picnicking is allowed only in the paddock next to the car park, where there is also a toilet.
Lake Gunn Nature Walk, Fiordland National Park
Location: Milford Rd, SH94
Time: 45 min loop
This walk, accessible to both buggies and wheelchairs, takes in mighty beech trees and native wildlife. Side trips can be made to Lake Gunn beaches. For those continuing to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, the Milford Foreshore Walk is another beautiful, buggy/wheelchair-friendly option.
You can check for safety alerts and get more information about what to expect from these and other easy access tracks by visiting DOC’s website:
A good source of information on the value of exercising outdoors (green exercise) can be found on the UK’s University of Essex website: www.greenexercise.org
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