We don’t own bathroom scales, which irks me sometimes as I don’t have the satisfaction of weighing my pack before a trip to obsess over marginal weight savings. So the opportunity to weigh our laden sacks at the start of the Abel Tasman was too good to miss. But once I had found out that I was carrying over 18kg and my partner over 27kg, I thought about it every ten minutes for three days. Perhaps it would have been better not to know.
I haven’t carried that much weight since Te Araroa and even then only on a handful of days. The problem when your pack weight is half made up of baby is that there is no more efficient way to pack them. They are only going to get heavier with each trip, unless you resort to cruel pre-trip fasting methods which I would not advocate publically. With me taking the human, changing kit, my water, snacks and lunches, a few tramping essentials and an increasingly heavy bag of dirty nappies, that left my partner with the tent, cooking gear, three x sleeping bags and mats, three people’s clothes, all the baby’s food and all our dinners. It was somewhat ambitious, even despite our friend helping out with some of our stuff.
The baby was now 11 months, so it was high time to prove to ourselves that we could manage a real tramping trip as a family. I’m desperate to make it work so that we can carry on doing what makes us happy. I’m not bothered that the target ground is Abel Tasman and other easy trips – this is what will make it doable for us and also there’s a pleasure in making easy trails physically hard again. So off we headed, with our bulging Ospreys, on the water taxi to Totaranui, which is the northernmost point on the track that you can reach by boat. The journey was satisfyingly long, making it feel like we were about to embark on an epic journey. A small minke whale kindly showed up to wish us well. It was one of those spring weekends where summer pretends to have arrived, bringing glorious sun and pleasant walking conditions, and a dry track underfoot. We navigated the Awaroa inlet crossing with somewhat more grace than the first time I crossed it, when it was in the dark and without crocs on. Cue much swearing as the shells and stones scored my feet. This time round the water was not high, the destination visible and my soles firmly protected. The baby was happy as larry in the Osprey carrier, chatting away and letting us know when he wanted a break.
In the afternoon someone put rocks in my pack, probably, and it became a tough day. We arrived at camp pretty shattered. In short order, during the first nappy change, the baby met the scourge of the South Island tramping experience for the first time: the sandfly. A howl rang out as the beastie sawed through his skin to find blood. I felt rather relieved as now we no longer need to protect him from his ‘first sandfly bite’. I’d like to believe this is both going to reduce his future inflammation response and also toughen him up. Evidence remains scant on those points.
The main lesson of the trip was that there is not much downtime when camping with an 11-month old. We were ready to go for a swim, maybe lounge around in the sun for a few hours, peruse unfinished books on the Kindle. But there was a small guy hanging around who was trying to eat stones, take his sunhat off or crawl towards the boiling billy. There were sandflies everywhere dancing with delight at discovering his unchomped skin. And there were weka nonchalantly moseying around the campsite until our attention was elsewhere, then diving in to steal our food or any kit in plastic bags. So one parent was fully occupied with parenting, while the other dealt with setting up camp and cooking the offspring’s food. There was no Abel Tasman lounging to be done at all.
It was a huge relief to finally get him inside the tent to get ready for bed – complete with about 4 cubic metres of sand – where there were zero sandflies or weka to contend with. He was in heaven crawling around our new home. And before long he was snoozing away and the adult time could begin. Children are great but when they go to bed is greater.
Of course he was awake before the birds, damn him, and the sound of his chatter carried across all the tents. Sorry campers. I don’t want to be ‘that family’ that wakes everyone else off so we headed to the beach for an early coffee. It was a real pleasure watching the baby discover the fun to be had on a beach, experimenting with sand and watching the waves.
Once we finally got going from the campsite we were the last to leave. But it’s the Abel Tasman so you are allowed to be lazy. Six hours of walking by DOC times was easily enough. By the end of the day the pack was pulling on my shoulders so badly, I couldn’t wait to get it off. The routine began again: one person on baby duty while the other put the tent up, inflated three sleeping mats and cooked a ‘nutritious and delicious’ meal for one (instant mashed potato with pesto and sweaty cheese). But on night two, he decided not to go to sleep. A baby not sleeping feels like someone stole your evening. Time that should have been ours for relaxing and getting over the day was lost to cycles of breast, rocking, walking, playing, shushing and stroking. The sea breeze died down and still he did not sleep. The sun set, the wekas retreated, and still he did not sleep. And then it was dark and time for us all to go to bed. He finally succumbed after I was already in my sleeping bag. Maybe he didn’t want to go to bed in the tent alone… or maybe he’s just a baby.
Our final day should have been easy but those four hours were among the hardest four hours of walking I’d ever done. The views were stunning, the forest sublime, and the track a doddle to follow. But my pack seemed to be heavier every hour, which was not entirely in my imagination since someone was introducing rather a lot of sand after every beach break. We trudged into Marahau looking rather worse for wear. And it was not over, for we still had a seven hour journey to contend with to get home.
So to sum up, tramping with a baby turned out to be a lot like normal tramping, except doubly knackering from sunrise to sunset, and with twice as much unpacking and washing to do afterwards.
Welcome to parenting, said every parent, ever.