Last winter, my family stumbled upon an outdoor production at Wollongong Botanic Gardens that was loosely based on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. For copyright and royalties reasons, Harry Potter was turned to “Harry Hotter” and Hogwarts turned to “Mugworts” etc with all the cross-referencing adding an extra layer of fun for the genuine Harry Potter enthusiasts. Continue reading Outdoor Theatre
Mt Wilson is a small village off the Bells Line of Road in the Blue Mountains. The village harbours quiet fern-filled gullies, often overlooked by most visitors who are lured by the chestnut picking and the autumnal deciduous leaf displays. One morning in May, my mum (“Nanay”), my kids, and I decided to take advantage of the bushwalking solitude Mt Wilson had to offer.
In 2016, armed with umbrella strollers, baby carriers, and two massive backpacks, Andrew and I took our then two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter on a backpacking trip through 15 European cities with a couple of stopovers in Singapore. This is but one of our many memories from that trip.
I first heard about Pulau Ubin on a CNN ad in 2016 while unpacking our bags in an air-conditioned Singapore hotel room. “Surely if we leave early enough, we will miss the heat,” I explained to Andrew as I organised our belongings to make the hotel room feel like home, something I would do 16 more times in the coming months. Eager to explore Singapore beyond its city limits, Andrew agreed. Miss 4’s pleas to go back to the Jacob Ballas children’s playground we visited earlier in the morning were replaced with questions like “Will there be sharks?” and “Will the boat sink?” after I explained to her that we get to go on a bumboat to get to the island.
Last summer, my cousins and I planned a camping trip to Mt Kosciuszko, as we do every few summers. Lightning storms were forecasted and the trip had to be relocated as one of our friends had a metal plate in his arm. We decided to change our camping location to Wolgan Valley, closer to home and near the Glow Worm Tunnel Walk. Twenty four hours before the trip, bushfires erupted in that area of the Blue Mountains. Running out of options and time, texting alternative tracks close to midnight, we settled on the Berowra to Cowan section of the Great North Walk, the section frequented by Seven Summit enthusiasts and ultra marathon runners.
For my kids and their grandparents, feeding ducks bread at the local park has become an enjoyable and relaxing way of interacting with the local Pacific Black Ducks. However, feeding them bread can lead to nutritional imbalances, altered animal behaviour, and increase their risk of disease and predation.
With the Grass Point Trail and the Lighthouse Walk taking up the most of our day, Andrew and I decided to keep walking after dinner by heading to the Truganini Lookout. The Lookout, with its 200 plus steps, is on an isthmus of land connecting north and south Bruny Island and was conveniently located near our accommodation.
The beach near the track is open until dusk during Tasmanian summers. When we reached the beach, Andrew and I sat on the sand, satiated and sluggish with pizza and steak from the Bruny Island Hotel. The children spent a few minutes repeatedly teasing then running away from the crashing waves.
At around 8 pm, Ranger Stacey and her junior rangers asked beach goers to get off the sand. We were informed that the shearwaters and the penguins needed the beach to be clear so they can come back to their rookery located under the platforms above the walk. Estimated time of re-entry in burrows: 9.45 pm for the shearwaters and 10.00 pm for the penguins.
Ranger Stacey started with an Acknowledgment to Country for the traditional custodians of South Bruny Island, the Nuenonne, before giving the growing group of families a background on short-tailed shearwaters and little penguins, the magnificent birds we were about to witness coming home that night. Some shearwater oil and a stuffed little penguin were passed around, morbid yet poignant reminders of the millions of birds killed for human use and amusement. I’m not complaining, I eat chicken…
As informative as the talk was, it made me reflect on how sometimes what is not mentioned in a story is as important as what is mentioned. There was no mention of Truganini or her people that managed to survive the genocide of the 1800s. Truganini was a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman who even in death, could not escape the brutal dispossession and destruction of her land and culture. Her bones were exhumed for public display shortly after her death in 1876 and some of her body parts were sent to different institutions for “scientific study”. It was only in 1976 that her request to be cremated was finally honoured.
As to what was mentioned in the talk, at 9.45 pm, the shearwaters made their precision landings into or near their burrows. Shortly after, a raft of about 15 penguins landed on the beach. With red cellophane on our mobile phone lights, we witnessed the graceful swimmers turn into bumbling waddlers. With mingled bird cries filling the air, penguin and chick and burrow were reunited for the night. My son whispered “Good night,” to each penguin he spotted while my daughter had to be sternly reminded by Ranger Stacey to stop jumping so as not to scare the penguins. It was 11 pm when we finally pulled out of the car park and into the dark roads of Bruny Island, smug with the thought of walking three bushwalks in one day, with kids.
Looking for child-friendly materials that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness and don’t know where to start? Click here for a copy of Aunt Annie’s Sorry Day to start your journey.
Want to learn more about birds? Click here to visit the Birdlife website. Identify some birds in your backyard, read up on their current campaigns, and start your own bird survey family project. Click here to buy a copy of Adam Nicolson’s book on oceanic aviators. See below for his description of shearwaters.
Fresh from our two-hour walk at the Grass Point Trail, still full from our 11 am cafe brunch, and with four hours to spare before our much coveted pub dinner booking at Bruny Island Hotel, Andrew and I decided to drive to the Southern end of Bruny Island to visit the lighthouse. Past endless horizons of cloudy sky and eucalyptus-scented tree-filled green, Andrew focused on getting our family safely through narrow dirt roads as I drifted in and out of my afternoon nap like our kids on the back seat.
When we arrived at the main entrance to the lighthouse, Andrew, not one for naps, stepped out to brave the gusts of wind blowing in from the Tasman Sea to explore. With a quick “I can see the lighthouse from my window, have fun,” I moved to the driver’s seat to resume my nap with the kids, occasionally nudged back to consciousness by conversations carried by the wind into our half open car windows. Twenty minutes later, with Andrew content with his share of alone time and myself refreshed and resuming the driving duties, we slowly drove away from the lighthouse. 200 metres later, our son woke up, filling the car with guttural screaming to match Sepultura, one line repeated over and over: “I want lighthooooooouuussseeeee!!!!!”.
From the bottom car park white gates, we walked towards an old cottage housing a small museum. Looking out one of the windows, I found myself romanticizing the solitude unperturbed by earlier sign reading, “A welcome and a Warning”. The lighthouse is claimed to be the oldest existing tower under Australian Commonwealth Control. Completed with convict labour and lit by whale lamps in 1838, these days the lighthouse is decommissioned, replaced by a solar-powered automatic light located on a hill east of the lighthouse.
After the small museum, we headed towards the wire gates to follow the concrete steps leading to the lighthouse. My daughter led the way as Andrew and I took turns piggybacking the reason why we got ourselves on this impromptu walk in the first place.
As we arrived at the lighthouse, we met the keeper who just finished the last tour and was locking up for the day. “Don’t blow away kids,” he said as he made his way down the hill. Taking the keeper’s words literally, my son tightened his grip on my hands. Despite much squinting, because I left our binoculars back in the car and because of the cloud cover, it was hard to discern Pedra Branca and Eddystone Rock. These rocks are said to be white-tipped due to generations of pelagic birds’ droppings.
Some say “Your life is a product of your choices.” By making a choice to turn around, our family found three more tracks to explore for another day: to the white sands of Jerry Beach, to pristine and secluded beaches of Cloudy and Mabel Bays, and to the dolerite cliffs of Quiet Bay. Three more of the thousands of reasons why our family will continue to come back to Tasmania over the years to come.
I stumbled across the “100 Things To Do Before You’re 12” list in 2017 and quickly got to ticking off things I had done before I was 12. Even though I was raised back in the olden days, without smartphones or Ipads to distract me, with parents and grandparents advocating outdoor play, I could not tick off all the activities. Well, some of them were impossible like No. 99 Make a snow angel. I grew up in a tropical country. This list has since become my “100 Things To Do With Kids While Outdoors”.
Away from the Australian island continent, on the lower eastern side of the island state of Tasmania, lies Bruny Island. Five years ago, Andrew and I were lured to Bruny by the prospect of fresh seafood and cheese. Five years and two toilet-trained and non-stroller dependent kids later, we went back ready to explore some of the bushwalks the island had to offer. We started with the Grass Point Trail which started on the beach to the right of the Fluted Cape parking area.
At 11am, there were already families coming back from the trail as Andrew and I lingered at the start dusting off wet sand. A passing walker recounted how the track took 40 minutes walking in, then 20 minutes walking back. I thanked him and waved to his school-aged children. In the background I could hear Andrew imploring our kids to continue walking. I mentally doubled, then tripled, the kind walker’s figures.
The land for sale to the right of the start of the track triggered my memory of a conversation I overheard at the local oyster place the day before. “You must have to travel out of the island to find things to do,” said a lady in her 40s. “It’s so quiet here, what do you do for fun?” her friend added swilling her white wine. Not missing a beat, the stubbled beanie-wearing waiter, the object of condescension or perhaps flirtation, replied, “Oh I keep busy, I bought 40 acres of land in South Bruny a few years ago and I spend my time camping in and exploring it when I’m not working here.” Anyway, I wondered, will that part of Bruny be subdvided, sold, and commercialised in a few years time or will the owner protect it and keep it wild ala JD Tipper and Mougamarra Nature Reserve? Time will tell.
Andrew and I trailed behind the kids, him taking photos, me finding gaps in the trees to look for seabirds through my binoculars. Our children busied themselves inspecting and collecting what I hoped were gum nuts and not scat, assessing sticks for walking stick suitability, and pointing out insects along the track.
At one point, my son tripped on the track. I suspect it was because his shoes didn’t really have much tread. He was left with some shallow cuts on his forehead imprinted by the gravel he fell on. Andrew dispensed some lollipop treats that comforted our son enough to stop crying, but he refused to walk. Some reshuffling of cameras, binoculars and bags between Andrew and I, followed by a safety talk on how to eat a lollipop while sitting on mummy’s shoulder, then we were ready to continue on.
The trail ended on a pebbly beach. A few hundred metres away, a tour boat gently bobbed up and down to the beat of the waves. Our kids waved and shouted, their hellos muted by the wind. Some people on the boat waved back while most continued to look intently to the right of where we were standing. Intrigued, I urged the kids to continue walking along the beach to investigate. We were rewarded with a view of a rocky outcrop in front of Penguin Island where terns, seagulls, and cormorants rested.
Our walk back the way we came was spent by everyone listening to my son pointing out where his blood dripped all over the trail although in reality, only a pin prick blood was spilled where his forehead hit the gravel. We played along as this distracted into walking most of the track back.
Some shelf back in Sydney lay a partially read copy of Adam Nicolson’s “The Seabirds Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets, and Other Ocean Voyagers” and Jeannie Baker’s children‘s book about kelp, “The Hidden Forest”. The Grass Point Trail enriched our reading nights when we got back home, bringing us closer to the world and creatures we thought we’d only ever see through books.
This article was prepared by Mario who is an uncle to ten children in Australia alone! His passion for the great outdoors has been reinvigorated by sharing it with friends and family including the little ones. A seasoned hiker and the family’s tennis star, Mario joined the Family Walking Group February walk at the Cumberland State Forest, West Pennant Hills.
I’ve heard of “Cumberland forest” many times in maps, in road signs, and in random work discussions (as IBM HQ is located there). But never did I know it was less than a 15-minute drive from my teenage home. From the city, it was about a 35-minute drive, in easy early weekend traffic, via the M2 tollway.
With plenty of “Treetop Reception” and “Treetop Parking” signs pointing in opposite directions, finding parking in this place may be confuzzling for first time goers. If you do end up taking the detour to “Treetop parking”, think of it as a nice “warm-up”, as it’s about a 100 metre stroll to the Treetop Reception/Cafe Area, where the action begins.
You might be lured by the mysteries of the huge ‘Forestry trail’, or ‘Sensory trail’ signs. But the start of today’s walk was from neither. Instead we followed signs to the Treetop Adventure Park which, on weekends at least, is site to a throng of kids donning bright helmets, and having a very merry time navigating the obstacle course. It will make you wish you were a kid again; the non-treetop-adventure-park-depraved version however.
The walking trail was easygoing, until after about 5 minutes we reached a fork. As the others had a bit of a head start, we were left to fend forourselves.
A timely call came from Charis, heeding: “head away from the treetop reception/cafe area at the forks”. By the time we reached the second fork, I was ready to take out a map and perform a resection, Except I didn’t have a map, and didn’t know how to do a resection. Luckily Charis made another call, except it wasn’t coming from my phone – she was on the lookout not far ahead, and spotted us dawdling. Parents and eagle eyes!
We soon caught up with the rest of the group, relaxing under the canopy of the Adventure park, as the trail took us there again but on a different side.
Here, we were greeted by the six kids joining the walking group that day, some of whom had already navigated the kids adventure park in the past 2 hours. They were clearly not tired. Whilst Charis and Andrew were in deep discussion over directions and way fare, I was kept entertained by the kids, showing off their 100% natural hiking sticks.
The kids, parents, and grandparents resumed the trek shortly, spotting for interesting naturey things:
- a big black feather
- a termites nest high up a tree
- uncovering gum nuts and debris in tree stump cavities
- conversing in French, presumably about la forest
- drinking cordial with 25% “natural” fruit
- reading botanical names and factoids written on plaques
- surveying spiders and cobwebs
- sighting a red/purple colourful bird
- crossing several wooden bridges
The trail was not without its hazards, one of the older kids tripped over uneven ground – at which point I heard my brother’s audible sigh of relief in keeping his juggernaut eighteen-month-old son in his pouch. But, we all managed to get through in one piece – with the mystery name of the trail being uncovered at the finish line. No surprises in the naming!
What was a pleasant surprise, was the tasty and healthy vegetarian picnic spread, courtesy of Andrew’s mum!
It was a great day out for Walking with Kids!
Looking to join a Family Walking Group in Sydney?
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”
Last year, my family walked along some heavily visited trails which were, unsurprisingly, littered with rubbish. The call to action to do something more came loud and clear when we visited the Waterfall Track in Carlingford, where instead of finding a waterfall, we were treated to the sight of a shopping trolley at the bottom of the falls and glints of plastic along the track. Spurred from this experience, we started picking up rubbish on subsequent walks and this year, we also decided to join our local Clean Up Australia Day group.
We walked on the footpath for just over a kilometre at a busy suburban road. It wasn’t a bush walk, but the kids were still able to find walking sticks that turned into poking sticks so these were promptly discarded. There were plenty of dandelions to explode as well as spiderwebs and lines of ants for the children to inspect.
People going on their Sunday morning walks cheered on as the children picked up big pieces of rubbish like brochures, newspapers, plastic bags, and takeaway containers. The walkers were quick to point out that they lived on other streets. Andrew and I concentrated on micro-rubbish: cigarette butts, bits of plastic and Styrofoam near the gutters, tissues, and dental floss!
800 metres in, Andrew and the kids stopped by a playground for a break while I dashed back to the car to drop off some keys at a friend’s place. When I returned 20 minutes later, the children were still playing and Andrew had nearly filled his rubbish sack.
The children lost interest in rubbish picking so Andrew and I continued the job while we sent them on a letterbox drive to drop off some home-made bookmarks promoting our street library.
Bag nearly full and certainly heavy, we refused pleas for a piggyback from our son, explaining “We can’t hold you and the sack at once.” Ice cream reward was agreed to as compensation, but everyone agreed to ice cold drinks instead. In recyclable containers of course.
Shouldn’t it be Clean Up Australia Day everyday? The rubbish goes in dumps and ultimately the ocean anyway? What difference can one day make?
No, our efforts won’t solve the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, nor will it guarantee that the area we cleaned would stay clean. Despite this, we as a family will make Clean Up Australia Day an annual tradition. Our experience brought our family outdoors and allowed us to meet inspiring locals like Kathie (our local councillor) and Pat who have been involved with Clean Up Australia Day since 1992, as well as others who share the same habit of picking up rubbish when they go for walks on the beach, in the bush, anywhere. The experience not only increased our family’s awareness of the complex problem of waste but it has already provided a great springboard for discussions with my children about owning less, composting, and reducing the rubbish that goes to the landfill – practical ways we can make a small difference in our everyday lives. Now what if everybody made a small difference in their consumption habits and waste handling…
Would you and your family like to get involved? Click here to find a group near you for next year’s Clean Up Australia Day or for the more frequent Clean Up Australia Everyday initiatives. You may also want to start a practice of picking up rubbish when you go on your walks.
On a recent visit to Launceston, Andrew and Neil, foodies at heart, wanted to explore the region’s wine route. Alicia and I, with many hikes shared together, wanted to go further afield for a short day walk at the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We were only in Launceston for less than a week so we decided to go our separate ways. My son decided that he would go with the foodies while my daughter volunteered to join her womenfolk on a mini-hike around the Dove Lake Circuit. This is a quick recount of the girls’ day out.
The drive from Launceston to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre took two hours of driving bliss. We passed towns like Promised Land and Nowhere Else while listening to traffic reports proudly reporting “no traffic” and weather forecasts announcing clear blue skies and pleasant twenty-degree temperatures throughout the week. It was no wonder Alicia and I spent nights throughout our Tasmanian holiday, texting each other links to houses for sale and dreaming of endless trails to explore. No doubt like millions of mainlanders who have holidayed in Tasmania before us.
We arrived at an almost full Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair carpark where Alicia and I decided to catch a shuttle to the start of the walk instead of driving in. This ended up being a good decision because the roads into the park were narrow gravel roads more suited to four-wheel drives. We also got some helpful tips from the ranger like it’s best to walk the track in a clockwise direction for better photos of the Cradle Mountain saddle and that the quickest way to finish the Dove Lake Circuit was to get off the shuttle, walk to Glacier Rock, take a selfie, then get back on the shuttle.
The start of the track was very busy and made me suspect that the ranger’s whole spiel about walking clockwise on the track was aimed more at facilitating the traffic among the herds of tourists, than for the supposed Cradle Mountain photo opportunities. When we got to Glacier Rock, a giant quartzite boulder scratched by ancient glacier debris, I urged my daughter to avoid the people taking selfies on the unfenced edge by crouching low near the edge of the rock that was closest to the footpath. The crowd disappeared when we continued our walk, away from Glacier Rock. The ranger’s words on the quickest way to finish the walk rang true.
The walk was straightforward and no map was required. Looking out from the higher sections of the track, we could see faint trails leading to the water’s edge, a few of which we followed. When we reached the sandy pebbly shores, small waves of icy cold glacial water were a most welcome respite for our weary toes.
Parts of the track housed cool temperate rainforest vegetation of ancient towering myrtle-beech trees carpeted in moss and lichen like the ground they stood in. Native flowers, trees, and grasses, common in the mainland, sprinkled the scrub and lake shores. We walked to the sounds of rustling leaves , water gently slapping rocks, conversations carried in the wind, and cawing of what appeared to be forest ravens. Such a peaceful setting made it easier to absorb the finer details of our surroundings.
The track was made of loose gravel, meandering boardwalk, and some sections were paved in stone. We exchanged fleeting greetings with other hikers, some parents, the most dedicated of which was a father with a front carrier with a baby and a back carrier loaded with a toddler. I uttered a silent thanks to the universe when my daughter only asked to be carried once. Down hill. Towards the end of the walk.
Towards the end of our walk, my daughter kept looking up at the sky and walking faster. I asked her what was bothering her. She confessed that she was worried it might get dark soon and that the shuttle might leave us. I showed her my watch and explained the last shuttle leaves at 7.00 pm and the ranger will wait for us, having logged our trip intentions in the guest book before the start of the walk.
In the end, we finished the walk in four hours with plenty of daylight left for the drive back to Launceston. My daughter said the best part of the trip was spending time with her aunt and chomping on our stash of chocolate bars. No doubt, Alicia, my daughter, and I will continue sharing outdoor adventures together for many many years to come. Someday perhaps exploring the Pacific Coast Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or the Camino together. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, one step at a time close to home, is good walking.
The Bunya pine, Araucaria bidwillii, is native to Queensland but can also be found in other parts of the Australian east coast. The process of Aboriginal cultural migration over thousands of years, as well as their towering appeal in parklands, has led to these trees thriving in parts of New South Wales and Victoria. These slow-growing and long-lived trees have special significance for some Aboriginal groups, with gatherings and festivals being held at times when Bunya nuts are in abundance. In the past few weeks, our local Sydney crop swap group has been abuzz with Bunya pine tree sightings. While some members shared recipes and photos of their bunya bounty, others zealously guarded their tree locations, with most located in public spaces.
The Tamar Island Boardwalk meanders through wetlands that lead to the grassy Tamar Island then ends on a wooden platform overlooking the kanamaluka/Tamar River. The Tamar wetlands is home to a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, fish, and insects. The wetlands currently supports over 1% of the world populations of pied oystercatchers and chestnut teals. A few years ago, Andrew and I walked along the Tamar Island Boardwalk with our then eighteen-month-old daughter who wobbled along slowly next to the pram. Fast forward to 2017 and we were back with two children along with our new-found family walking buddies: my sister-in-law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, which you may remember from our previous Forest Path Walk.
We started our day at the Wetlands Centre where we picked up maps and the kids inspected preserved specimens of native animals common to the area. My son kept whispering “Is that dead?” then pointing to each display, which Andrew and I took turns in answering with varying versions of yes. Our kids are familiar with the sight of stuffed animals having visited many museums and I have explained, to my daughter at least, that although some animals are killed just because people want them in a collection, most are required to die naturally before they are preserved. At this stage, the age-appropriate version of “naturally” is old age which has recently led her to question why her great-grandmother is still alive. Some drawers were accessible to the visitors, one of which housed a replica of a copperhead snake that was enough to entertain the kids for a few minutes while us adults rummaged through the reference books, peeked through the spotting scopes, and checked the recent lists of bird sightings
After the Wetlands Centre, we continued walking for about 500 metres before veering to a side track sheltered by a small patch of melaleuca forest. Here, we were treated to the sight of a bevy of swans slowly navigating their way around trees in the shallow waters. When they sensed us watching, they hurried their pace and broke away from the forest to slow float on the lake next to the bird hide. My daughter said the bird hide smelt like our chicken coop which was enough to deter Neil from going in.
Away from the melaleuca forest, a constant cool breeze soothed our skins from the stinging midday sun. The continuous rushing noise along the board walk from the wind-swept reeds and sedges served as reminder that these were the dominant vegetation in the area. My son was intent on finding snakes, unstirred by a bird of prey gracefully circling above us, and the orange-beaked blobs – pelicans – flying towards the water. Alicia and I watched dragonflies darting in and out of the reeds working out the mechanics on how it was possible for our parents to have caught such delicate insects bare-handed. The horizon changed every few bends, from blue skies and cotton wool clouds grounded by farmlands on the mountain sides on one bend, to glimpses of power lines and urban sprawl running along the Tamar Highway the next.
There are three bridges along the walk, each offering a welcome breeze and views of the river. Each bridge had a few benches ideal for resting, re-adjusting piggy-back or shoulder-riding passengers, and the usual watching of the river, the reeds, the birds, the sky, the nearby mountains, whatever appeals to the beholder. I am a bad birdwatcher so naming the birds we saw was a result of thumbing through the Birdlife brochures and bird books we had at home, long after our walk, where my kids and I shared small Eureka moments matching the pictures we took and the details we remembered to the photos we found on our bird books.
An hour later, our shoes crunched gravel signalling our arrival on Tamar Island. We watched superb fairy wrens dart in and out the bushes along the path. Reeds and sedges behind us, we sat at the picnic area munching on some fruit and muesli bars to my son’s squeals of “I want to go home”. Under the sympathethic gaze of the family of four at the picnic bench next to us, we carried on for another 500 metres, with my son on my shoulders.
The walk ended at a platform overlooking a wide section of kanamaluka/Tamar River. Here we watched a small boat rip through the small waves, a faint whirring sound in the otherwise quiet setting. Well, as quiet as the gusts of wind, the wet slaps of water on the timber posts, distant bird calls, my children’s giggles while pointing out bird poo patches on the platform, and conversations among us adults about wanting to move to Launceston for good. We returned the way we came with Andrew and I sharing the load that was our son while Neil, Alicia, and my daughter set a fast pace back to the shady respite of the our cars.
The start of the year is usually a time to set goals and reflect on the years gone by. Last year I set myself a goal of one bushwalk a month. Being a mum, I experienced mother’s guilt when I left my kids at home with Andrew while I hugged my special boulder near Charlotte’s Track in Thredbo and as I scrambled through the bush with my best friend at Wentworth Falls. I wanted my whole family to experience the joys of being outdoors together. Andrew loves photography and I’ve spent many years carrying his tripod around as we went on bushwalks before we had children. My son and daughter liked exploring and being outside and I’ve already tried activities with them inspired by the children in nature movement. That was how Walking With Kids came about.
This year Andrew and I have a common goal of going on one bushwalk a month with our children. We’re both into BHAGS (“Big Hairy Audacious Goals”) so we also started a family walking group. Our first walk was a short one-hour walk around Cumberland State Forest. My extended family came out to support the inaugural walk and it was a delight to see grandparents bounding along the path with their grandchildren. The five kids in the party enjoyed the walk but it was probably the ice blocks expertly packed in an esky in the 25-degree heat that they enjoyed most. Each of the adults and children in our very informal walking group bring their own life experiences and views of the world and I’m really looking forward to spending time and learning more from each of them.
We would really love to see more families outside not only to connect with nature but also to connect with their families and communities. Come and join us for a few walks this year. Besides, research has shown that you are 65% more likely to complete a goal if you commit to someone.
Let’s make 2018 a year of more family walking journeys. See you soon and happy walking with kids!
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1. Plan and prepare ahead.
On a recent camping trip, our children made friends with a three-year-old boy, Abel, from the tent next door. At 8.00 pm, Abel, dressed in his lightweight bushwalking gear mirroring his parents’ outfits, came running to our tent, excitedly jumping and asking my children to go with him on a night walk with his family. Abel’s parents, with apologetic smiles, gently led him away. Andrew and I discussed a walking plan as we hastily stuck citrus-smelling insect repellent patches on our clothes. It was our first night camping beyond our backyard so we were open to adventure. We decided to perhaps follow the path Abel’s family took.
Bad idea. As I saw Abel’s family’s flashlights grow smaller in the distance, Andrew and I had to go back three times to pick up what we thought at the time were essentials. The first trip was to get the camera. The second was to get a long sleeve shirt for one of the kids. The third time was to get another set of headlamps. In hindsight, we should have brought water and our first aid kit. We abandoned our plan to follow in the footsteps of Abel’s super organised and experienced night-walking family and settled instead on walking along a dirt road leading from one campsite to another.
2. Bring light, but be prepared to turn it off.
As Andrew came back with a headlamp for me, I thought we were winning at this night walking business. I can have one child on each hand and light the way for Andrew to take photos.
I switched the headlamp on. I immediately felt tiny soft bodies kissing my face which after a few minutes turned into a swarm invading my nasal cavities. I let go of the children as I fumbled for the switch, two kids screaming for me to turn the light back on, Andrew bumping into my back in the pitch-black trail. It took me a few more goes of turning the headlamp on and frantically waving before my son decided to use his flashlight, distracting the insects away from my face. We used the lights as we walked the path. As we reached an open clearing, we turned the lights off to gaze at the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of any remnants of the Leonids meteor shower that peaked earlier that week. Away from all the suburban lights, the cloudy sky yielded patches of celestial specks but no meteors.
3. Learn more about the local wildlife you might encounter. Before or after the trip.
Andrew and I knew there would be a lot of kangaroos and wombats in the area. My daughter rolled her eyes as I informed her of this abundance as we drove in that afternoon, no doubt unimpressed by the staple wildlife at Australian zoos. My son on the other hand was entranced by the kangaroos feeding lazily at the open clearings. He photobombed many a campers’ photos as he ran towards kangaroos, hoping to pat and feed them like he does at zoos. Of course, being wild, the kangaroos merely eyed his advances wearily as I watched a few steps back in case a kangaroo accidentally landed a kick on their pesky little stalker trailing behind them.
As darkness fell, my daughter’s world was opened to a new way of appreciating the local wildlife. We heard low growling sounds as we stood near a patch of peeling gum trees waiting for our turn to use the pit toilet. At a wooden bridge, we turned our lights off and yielded to the sounds of soft trickling of water punctuated by croaking. On our way back to our tent, ears well-adjusted to nocturnal sounds, the reassuring cicada hum was occasionally pierced by angry territorial screaming made by the local wombats, which continued well until dawn.
4. Walk the track during the day.
Andrew and I resorted to skewering the marshmallows using unused tent pegs wrapped with tissue at the base and preparing our treats over my dad’s Korean hotpot stove. Our children eagerly grabbed a tent peg each and propped themselves by the stove, intently watching the initial crackling ignition then retrieving their treat as they watched and blew on the slow sugary burn as Andrew had demonstrated to them. “I don’t like it,” my son concluded with a wrinkled expression. My daughter was of the same view but this did not stop both children roasting more marshmallows then offering it to Andrew and me.
As we lay awake in our tent shortly after, we went through our family routine of recounting what we were thankful for that day. My son was thankful for the kangaroos, my daughter for meeting a new friend, Andrew for the weekend away, and myself for being with my family. We listened to the drone of voices from the other campers nearby before we fell asleep. At 2.00am, my son started screaming for milk. We didn’t bring any. But that’s another story.
When we go bush walking with our kids, we always come across a multitude of natural loose parts – rocks, stumps, sand, twigs, bark, logs and water to name a few. They come with no specific instructions and the children alone can decide on how to use and/or combine materials.
Determined to give the family a break from our routine bushwalks in eucalypt-laden forests (well, okay, we live in Australia), I booked a walking tour at the Muogamarra Nature Reserve in Cowan. Muogamarra is only open to the public six weekends a year, between August to September, when the wildflowers are in bloom. The Reserve is home to over 900 species of native plants, 16 reptiles, and 140 native birds have been sighted here. We got a sense of the Reserve’s popularity when at 9.30 am on the day of our walk, we arrived to an almost full carpark and lined up for maps behind a throng of nature buffs, young and old, all bright, early, and eager to explore.
Approximately 1 km loop, 30 minutes
Decades ago when I was growing up in the Philippines, a distant relative we called Lola [grandma] Eling stayed with us one summer. That summer, Lola Eling took me, my brother, and her grandson on outings with minimal fuss and preparation. Our recent walk at the Bungoona Path and Rawson Parade Trail in the Audley end of the Royal National Park reminded me of the impromptu days out to parks with Lola Eling with just breakfast leftovers neatly tucked in her handbag. One time she just picked up a pot with some leftover rice that was mostly the brown crunchy bit, dumped the leftover fried egg and tuyo [dried fish] inside, wrapped some plates and cutlery in tissue, put all these in a plastic bag, then off we went to rent bikes at the local park. In Lola Eling style, this impromptu walk was agreed to on the day because the track was short and it was near where we had to drop off my sister-in-law, Alicia, anyway. We brought some leftover fruits and crackers from home.
4.4 km loop, 1 hour 45 minutes
My sister-in law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, recently joined my family for a winter walk at the Forest Path in the Royal National Park. The Forest Path was built in 1886, seven years after the park was declared a “National Park”. Logging was permitted in the area during the early part of this century, but public pressure led to the cancellation of the logging contracts. The signboards at the start of the walk remind visitors that “These majestic forests remain a memorial for those people who spoke for them.”
Despite having weeks to check out the Wildwalks track notes for the Forest Path, Andrew and I left reading them to the last minute. This meant we ended up being at the wrong entrance to the walk in Audley, while Alicia and Neil were at the correct entrance, closer to Waterfall. The kids were oblivious to the slight mishap. With a stroke of serendipity, Alicia and Neil were able to receive Andrew’s voicemail on our whereabouts before their reception failed and it turned out they had to come back to the NPWS Office in Audley to buy their park entrance ticket anyway.
“Take the day and leave us the moon ‘carpe noctum’ and we will seize the night.” – Atticus
I recently read Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N, and was inspired to incorporate some of his practical outdoor activities in my family life. I started with the moonwalk: a winter walk on the night of a full moon. Our first moonwalk was on the afternoon of my day off, when the sky was still blue and on the cusp of darkening, with streaks of pink clouds on the horizon. Earlier that afternoon, as I parked into our driveway, I looked back at the rear view mirror hoping that the kids were asleep so we didn’t have to go on the moonwalk in the 9°C weather. The kids were both wide-eyed, twisting and turning, eager to get out of their car seats. With their high-pitched voices they announced that we didn’t have to go on a moonwalk because they could see the moon outside the car window anyway. I assured them that the walk would be quick and that we would bring a flashlight and a scooter. We rummaged through the layers of toys, books, and dirty clothes on their bedroom floor – no flashlight. We took out everything in our boot – no scooter. We just had to make do with what the outdoors had to offer.
750 metres loop, 40 minutes
It was a sunny winter morning when we decided to stop by Wollstonecraft to explore the Gadyan Track in Berry Island. Berry Island used to be a stand alone island until it was connected to the mainland in the 1960’s through a man-made isthmus of rocks and mud, making the flat picnic area enjoyed by many today. The island contains rock engravings, stone grinding grooves, and middens made by the original occupants of the North Sydney region, the Cammeraygal. To the east of the island lies an Australian Navy establishment and to the west lies a fuel import and storage facility.
1 km loop
The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the United States. It was a crisp winter Sunday morning and we started the day lounging at my sister-in-law and her partner’s place in Engadine for a quick visit to return their car that we borrowed last week before heading to the Royal National Park next door. I was so excited to show my kids the ocean-fronting clifftops, the open Pacific Ocean, and coastal heathland that captured me in my twenties but I was met with both of them saying “I don’t like bushwalks,” eyes glued to the TV, intent on finding out how Owlette, Catboy, and Gecko would thwart Romeo’s evil plans. Andrew and I finally succeeded in prying them away from the TV (after all we’re about walking with kids) but it really made me wonder whether they were actually getting anything out of our walks.
1.4 km return, 40 minutes
After a week of winter rain, I was relieved that the sun finally came out on the last day of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. With our daughter spending the long weekend with my parents, Andrew and I decided to take our two-year-old son for an easy walk to the Nepean Lookout in Glenbrook. The Nepean Lookout boasts stunning views of Fairlight Gorge that was carved by the Nepean River along part of a fault line running along the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains.
Sensory Trail, 350 m loop, 30 minutes
Forestry Trail, 1.3 km loop, 1 hour
The Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills is home to over 100 species of birds being the last remnant of genuine forest in the Sydney Hills District. The Forest was established in 1939 with parts of it naturally regenerated from earlier agricultural clearing and other parts planted as an arboretum. According to the Forestry Corporation, the Dharug, Guringah and Gummeriagal Aboriginal people traditionally visited the Forest.
2.5 km return, 50 minutes
After a lazy Saturday breakfast of rice bubbles, leftover Thai, and what turned out to be stale peanut butter on toast, our family decided to go on a bushwalk. Andrew and I consulted our trusty go-to list of bushwalks then agreed to take the kids to the waterfall at the Hunts Creek Reserve in Carlingford. A bushwalk leading to a waterfall and only 25 minutes away? It was hard to say no.
A Dutch organisation is encouraging parents to allow their children to be involved in risky play. Risky play is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play that involve a risk of physical injury and this is usually done outdoors. Risky play involves allowing children to experience height and depth, movement and speed, den building and using tools, and fire. Something to keep in mind for the next walk?
844 metres loop, 30 minutes
“I am not wearing that raincoat because it is not raining!” my four-year-old daughter cried as our small family of four packed into our car. “But it might be raining up the mountains today so we have to be prepared.” I answered in exasperation looking up towards the overcast sky. Her expression changed to wonder as she asked quietly “Why is it raining up the mountains and not here?” I made a mental note to Google how to explain it better in the future and settled with “The world is a very big place and sometimes it rains in one place but not in another.”