Update 2019: This track is permanently closed due to the Kauri-dieback disease management plan. Another good short walk in the area is to the two giant Kauri trees. Remember to follow the signs and wash your shoes.
We were 7 adults, 1 dog, and 12 children, aged 2 to 9 years old, determined to start the school holidays with a glorious, challenging family day walk in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. We left Tauranga with the sun beating down. The forecast called for the possibility of showers, but the blue skies refuted. Earlier that day, I had been working on an article about what kids should carry on a day walk and set out all the supplies to be photographed. Included in the mandatory items were our rain jackets. If it weren't for that, I would have left them at home. Rain just didn't seem possible.
After about 20 minutes of driving, the Kaimai mountain range should have come into full view. It didn't. The mountain range, 952m at it's tallest point on Mount Te Aroha, was completed obstructed by thick clouds striped with deep grey lines of heavy rain. We drove another 20 minutes and up the windy road to the start of track at the top of Hot Springs Road where we met with the rest of the tramping crew. As we pulled into the carpark, our windscreen wipers were at maximum, the other kids were still in their cars, and their parents were huddled under the shelter of the open boot of a minivan discussing the rain plan. Two families didn't have any rain gear and another wore their snow jackets to protect from a downpour.
From the Tuahu carpark, there are two great options for walking with kids: The Tuahu Kauri track and the Kauri Grove track.
As we discussed the choices, the rain began to settle and the sun dared to peak out. The group opted to try the Kauri Grove track and turn back if the skies opened up again. We walked to the start of the track 100 metres up the road, cleaned our shoes to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback disease, then headed down into the native bush. Almost immediately we came upon the Te Rereatukahia Stream crossing. The water level was high, covering many of the rocks that would have allowed us to hop over to the other side. We explored up river and down, then opted to head straight across. The adults and the older children staggered themselves into position across the river to help the younger children and the dog (who is afraid of water) get across safely. Everyone made it across with only wet feet, except for the dog who slipped while being passed from arm to arm and was fully submerged.
We continued up the steep, muddy track enveloped by nikau palms. We squeezed under and clambered over fallen trees, hopped over roots, and circumvented puddles of unknown depths and contents. Sadie (4) was particularly nervous after the stream crossing and, though she loves walking in the bush, she despaired over the return trip. She walked slowly in her discomfort, her hand in mine, and we took our place at the back of the pack, talking about it at length. How we'd worked together to make it past the stream, how our feet got wet in our sandals, and how we'd carefully cross back on the way home. Sadie insisted she'd prefer that we continue the 7 kilometres into the Te Rereatukahia Hut rather than face that river again today. Talking wasn't helping so we tried feeling it and sharing our feeling with the world, or the rest of the forest anyway. "Sometimes when I'm scared," I told her, "I scream." Then I did. She laughed and I laughed and then we both screamed and laughed some more.
Gradually the nikaus gave way to kauris and after 90 minutes we stopped in a grove of kauri trees for a picnic. We didn't know if it was the official "Kauri Grove" or not, but it was a beautiful spot with the sun streaming through the trees. At that stage, we'd lost one family and the dog was shivering, so we agreed to turn back to face the stream crossing together. The return trip was punctuated with squeals from the adults and cries from some of the children as we took turns slipping down the perilous track. Many of the older children were squealing with glee as they jumped and purposefully skidded down the track.
With one successful crossing under our belts, the stream was less intimidating and any wet worries were relaxed knowing the cars and their heaters were close by. This was perhaps true for all but the dog, who preferred to stand her ground several metres from the bank. The helpers quickly got into position and everyone made their way across without incident, except for Anja. Anja (5) was the last in the line of dog passers. She was next to the far shore and needed to carry the dog a few steps to dry land. When she slipped there was not a moment's hesitation. She held the dog up high even as she landed, bottom down in the river. Still sitting in the water, she turned around and smiled - the dog did not get wet.
We defied the weather, the river, the mud, and the incline to picnic among the Kauri trees. You should do it, too.
Location: End of Hot Springs Road, South of Katikati
Route Choices: The Tuahu Kauri or The Kauri Grove or overnight tramp to the Te Rereatukahia Hut.
The Kauri Grove
Time: 3 hours return with kids
Buggies: No. Babies can be carried in backpacks. Front packs are not recommended as parents will need an unobstructed view of the ground for safety.
Dogs: With permit only.
UPDATE 2019 - The track to the Kauri Grove is now permanently closed as part of the Kauri dieback disease management plan. The Tuahu Kauri Track (below) remains open.
The Tuahu Kauri Track
Time: <1 hour return with kids
Buggies: A rugged buggy could do the first 10 to 15 minutes. There are about 50 steps at the end to reach the massive Kauri tree. Buggies could be left at the bottom and babies carried to the top.
Dogs: With permit only.
Ready to take it up a notch? Here are 10 ways to prepare your children for their first overnight tramp.