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Finding Solitude In The Outdoors

Solitude. It is a big part of what attracts our family to the outdoors.

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Relying on each other and creating fun memories is more effective without hoards of people.

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My hubby, kids and I recently spent 5 weeks in New Zealand. It is the land I was born and raised in, and the country our family called home for 12 years. We have lived in Canada for the last 5 years without a visit back, so our goals were to re-connect with family and friends, and adventure!

We had a plan to hike to the Whakapapaiti backcountry hut in Tongariro National Park. Our strategic plan was to have it to ourselves! But when we got to the trailhead, we realized that was not going to be the case if the vehicles that were parked there were any indication. We recognized the logos on the side of the vans – a school that would have unloaded about 20 fourteen year old boys out it’s doors. We didn’t really want to share the hut with them! After a quick change of plan, we threw our tents and thermarests into our packs so we could camp.

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The hike over into the Whakapapaiti valley wasn’t very far – about 3km. The volcanic nature of the terrain made it difficult to decide where to pitch our tents, but we eventually settled on a spot on a knoll, with a creek down below us, and amazing views over the valley.

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The kids could play to their hearts content,

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while Dad was on dinner duty and Mum was taking pictures.

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Off in the distance was a series of waterfalls going down through a lava cliff band, that looked reasonable accessible, though a little far as a side excursion for some of our crew.

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The next day, we decided that there was plenty to explore close to where we camped for Dad and the kids, and that I would run off-trail to the waterfalls. What a feeling to be all alone, with the spray against my face, knowing that no-one else was going to show up. No bears (like there is at home in Canada!). No people.

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The day was bluebird. Once we had united again as a family we hiked out with Mt Ruapehu beside us.

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Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaruhoe were ahead of us.

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As people, we often follow the crowds. We can end up doing what everyone else is doing, especially when visiting another country or area that we aren’t familiar with. Most often, my family plans trips where we will see few other people, and I wanted to share how we achieve that.

1. Study a map. Ask a friend. Look online

A lot of our inspiration comes from studying a real paper map. My favourites are Backroads Mapbook’s & Gemtrek Maps (Canada), as well as regular topographical maps. Teach yourself to read a topo map if you don’t know already – it is an invaluable tool in the backcountry.

Talking to others about their adventures allows me to come up with new trip concepts and I will also use online resources (blogs, trailforks etc) and trail/river guides. Combining all of the above, we can come up with some pretty cool ideas.

2. Timing and choice of route is everything

We find that there can be a super popular trail/cave/river or location that EVERYONE goes to. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular one-day walk in New Zealand. It traverses between two active volcanoes, blackened lava flows, funky-shaped red scoria, deep craters and amazing aquamarine alpine lakes. The area is made more famous by it’s feature in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It deserves every bit of it’s acclaim. And that means its busy. There are times of year and times of day when it isn’t. We choose those instead. Or we get that topo map out and study it to see if there could be a variation on the route. Our other trick is to find something nearby that is just as neat and less known. That was our strategy for this hike. We only saw one other couple and just across the valley is the fore mentioned busiest-hike-in-New-Zealand.

3. Upskill to get off the beaten track

Something that is concerning about people being inspired to adventure through social media or other online avenues is that everyone thinks that they can do ‘epic’. The truth is there is a lot of skill and risk management that goes into staying safe in the outdoors. Make it a goal to always be learning. I highly recommend taking courses in your area of interest. Maybe an avalanche course, learn how to canoe properly or participate in a river rescue course. A wilderness first aid qualification is essential. Both my hubby and I are formally trained in Outdoor leadership and Risk Management (we worked in it for 16 years), but even so, I am regularly taking courses to upskill and learn new things. Over the last couple of years, I have taken block courses for mountain biking and skiing and I have plans to find a course for backcountry skiing/mountaineering. Don’t be blissfully ignorant. You can’t afford to when you have kids!

There you have it…..some idea’s for finding solitude. Play safe out there, know your limits and leave no trace of your visit!!

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