We’ve all got fond memories of getting out and about as kids – camping with the family, exploring the hills, learning the history of the land, and picking up handy survival tips along the way.
Walking with kids is a great family activity – getting out in the wilderness is great for those seeking fitness, clarity and a chance to show younger generations the world beyond social media. For younger children in particular, it’s a great opportunity to connect with nature, learning about the trees and bush, and the insects and wildlife that call it home. Tramping teaches young adventurers valuable lifelong skills and all about having respect for the natural world.
New Zealand has an abundance of great family-friendly tramping routes that are just waiting to be explored. From native bush, historic huts, and relics of the past through to breathtaking ocean and mountain views, there’s plenty to see and do off the beaten track– and even more to learn along the way.
Age is no barrier to getting out and experiencing the outdoors – there are a number of short day walks around the country that aren’t too long for little feet. Eventually, they’ll be able to progress to overnight trips – experiencing some of the many DOC huts dotted around the country on some of our best tracks. This week, we’ve put together some of our favourite South Island overnight tramping trips – these are great for families with kids over ten years old.
We’ve also put together some family tramping tips to help you get started.
The Track Suggestions
- Packhorse Hut – Banks Peninsula
- Bealey Spur Hut – North Canterbury
- Woolshed Creek Hut – North Canterbury
- Ces Clark Hut – West Coast
Packhorse Hut – Banks Peninsula
Book ahead to reserve your stay in this serviced nine-bunk hut that’s just on Christchurch’s doorstep. Easily accessible from the Packhorse Hut Track, it’s a great first tramping trip for families with kids, giving little ones a taste for adventure without an exhausting journey. You may have caught a view of this hut from around the Lyttelton Harbour Basin – it’s an historic stone building situated on a low open saddle on the ridge between Mt Bradley and the Remarkable Dykes.
For more information, or to make a booking, you can check out the DOC website here.
Packhorse Hut Track
4km (approx. 1 hour 20 minutes): This is the easiest track to Packhorse Hut and is perfectly suited to families. The track passes through farm paddocks and a bush-clad valley, as well as some small stream crossings – so pack extra gear, you may get your feet wet! John Pearce from the Mapac Head Office has enjoyed many tramping trips with his two daughters over the years, and the Packhorse Hut Track was the first family overnight trip they did together.
“I did this walk with my daughters when they five and seven. It was a great adventure, they managed it well. It might be only 4km, but be prepared for it to take longer than a couple of hours with kids. Make a day of it – enjoy the experience, and do it at their pace. It’s a really good entry level walk,” says John.
35km one way (2-3 days) – This is alternative route that isn’t suitable for small children. As a longer trip, it would be better for families with teenage kids who are more capable of handling a multi-day trip. The Summit Walkway treats trampers to amazing views over Banks Peninsula, right through to the Southern Alps. It links Gebbies Pass in the Lyttelton crater to Hilltop in the Akaroa crater. It can be completed as a one-way walk for most of the year, but is closed from August-mid October each year for lambing.
Bealey Spur Hut – North Canterbury
An historic six-bunk hut in North Canterbury’s Arthur’s Pass area. Bookings are not required – arrive on a first come, first served basis. Built in 1935, the hut is situated on a peaceful clearing of beech forest and is clad with corrugated iron with a wooden floor. It’s a great example of the musterers’ huts of its era, and has local historic significance for its role in high country sheep farming. It was added to Arthur’s Pass National Park in 1978, but remains a great place to visit for a slice of local history.
“This was a great place to visit with the kids. The hut was relatively easy to get to – you don’t have to work very hard, and you still end up with these fantastic views over Arthur’s Pass. We didn’t stay in the hut, and instead decided to camp outside in our tent. There is great camping in the bush clearings near the hut – it really is a great spot. If the kids are keen, it’s worth doing a short walk up to the ridge above the hut as there are some amazing views,” says John.
5.5km (approx. 2-3 hours each way): The track sets off from Cloudesley Rd which is about 14km south of Arthur’s Pass Village. Although it’s not suitable for families during winter, it’s great for children in the warmer months. The well-marked track features gentle climbs through the spur, through mountain beech forest. In the summer, look out for red flowering mistletoe. Care should be taken around a sharp drop off to the side of the track down to Bruce Stream. Enjoy the expansive views of the Waimakariri River Valley and surrounding mountains before arriving at Bealey Spur Hut.
For more information, you can check out the DOC website on the Bealey Spur Hut.
Woolshed Creek Hut
A large 26-bunk hut in the Hakatere Conservation Park. This hut is particularly popular in the summer months, so it’s recommended that you bring a tent just in case it’s full.
From the Woolshed Creek car park to the Woolshed Creek Hut via Miners Track, you’re looking at a 5km walk (around three hours). If you’re just wanting to spend the night at the hut, and then return to the Woolshed Creek car park, DOC recommends a circuit trip, returning via the Rhyolite Ridge Track.
“When you’re tramping with kids, it’s good to break the journey up into sections. When I did this trip with my family, it was great to be able to stop and look at the miners’ relics around the miners tracks, obviously from an old coal mine in the area.
“The hut itself is great, but I would definitely avoid doing this walk on long holiday weekends, because it is so popular and you’ll likely have to end up camping due to the beds being full. One of the big attractions for taking the family there is the rivers around the hut that are just a short walk away. The kids loved swimming and exploring the pools and caves,” says John.
For more information, you can check out the DOC website on the Woolshed Creek Hut.
Ces Clark Hut – West Coast
A serviced 16-bunk hut in the Greymouth Area. It’s not your typical hut – it was built with large windows to take advantage of the expansive views, making for a pleasant place to spend the night after a long day of walking. From the hut, the endangered great spotted kiwi can sometimes be heard calling at night.
“Depending on how keen the kids are, it’s really worth doing a short walk up above the hut to the ridge to watch the sunrise or the sunset. It’s an incredible view of the West Coast,” says John.
Head off from the Blackball side of the Croesus Track and it will take about four hours to reach the Ces Clark Hut. The walk itself is beautiful, with plenty to see in terms of local gold mining heritage, and lots of interesting vegetation and wildlife. Croesus Track is one of the few West Coast tracks that ascends over 1,000m above sea level, and at its highest points, trampers are treated to stunning views of the Southern Alps and the sea. Plenty of visual interest for younger adventurers.
For more information, you can check out the DOC website on the Ces Clark Hut.
Green Lake Hut – Fiordland National Park
The Green Lake Hut is a 12-bunk hut located at the southern end of the lakeside clearing. It’s a great place for families to visit, but it’s best to go in Summer as there can be a bit of snow in the area in the colder months.
“It’s a great hut – really nice with a beautiful view across the lake. It’s a relatively new hut, with double glazing and insulation, along with verandahs. The kids were amused by the mailbox outside,” laughs John.
There are a number of starting points to choose from but heading off from Borland Rd is a great option if you’re travelling as a family. Make sure you check with DOC before you head away, as there are sometimes restrictions on Borlands Rd. From this point, you’re looking at a three hour walk – around 6.8km. It’s a nice distance for kids, and there’s plenty to see along the way. The track passes through Borland Bivvy and low-lying areas of tussock, small lakes and low beech covered saddles. There are a couple of steel points, but nothing too difficult. When you descend onto the shores of Green Lake, you’ll find the hut at the far end of the tussock-covered shore line.
For more information, you can check out the DOC website on the Green Lake Hut.
Big thanks to the Department of Conservation for helping us to put this blog together. For more info on DOC and the valuable work that they do, check out doc.govt.nz.