Parenting - - In This Issue -

Ex­plor­ing na­ture's play­ground

Kristin Ward and friends dis­cover vol­ca­noes are a nat­u­ral play­ground.

Kids love vol­ca­noes. It's not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing they in­volve

the po­ten­tial for great adventure – ex­plo­sions, fire and of course

there's a def­i­nite link to that other preschool ob­ses­sion, dinosaurs.

The good news is that dor­mant vol­ca­noes can be equally as

ex­cit­ing (al­beit lack­ing in dinosaurs), and there are plenty of those

in New Zealand.

It's likely that by the end of the year there will be re­stric­tions on

driv­ing to the top of Auck­land's vol­canic cones, start­ing with Mt

Eden, so it might be even more of a chal­lenge for lit­tle legs to make

it to the top to see the city in all its glory. But there's plenty on of­fer

to make it worth the ef­fort.

Mt Welling­ton is our Auck­land vol­cano of choice. (Aren’t we lucky

in New Zealand to be able to se­lect our favourite vol­cano?)

I re­cently or­gan­ised a morn­ing ex­cur­sion with a bunch of par­ents

and our preschool­ers to cir­cum­nav­i­gate Mt Welling­ton's crater.

About a dozen keen fam­i­lies turned up at the carpark meet­ing

place on the sum­mit. As the par­ents got out of their cars I kept

hear­ing, “Wow! I have never been up here! Wow! What a view!”

As the chil­dren tum­bled from the cars the three and four year

olds started rac­ing each other up the steps to the ridge around the

crater. There is noth­ing like putting a bunch of four year old boys

to­gether to get some dy­na­mite ex­er­cise hap­pen­ing!

Par­ents with 18 month olds or 2 year olds took a more gin­gerly

ap­proach, hold­ing hands with un­sure lit­tle ones, and count­ing

steps out loud. Each stair as­cended was a per­sonal achieve­ment!

Af­ter just a cou­ple of flights of steps we were out on the

un­du­lat­ing ridge that en­cir­cles the crater. My three-year-old son

has been here quite a few times, so we're now past the stage of

ques­tions as to the like­li­hood the vol­cano will ex­plode on us.

By the time I got to the top of the stairs I could hear his voice

shout­ing out sug­ges­tions to the other kids, “Let’s am­bush them!”

His slightly older cousin yelled back the chal­lenge, “I am go­ing to be

the first to the top!”

The vol­canic sco­ria gravel proved to be quite a chal­lenge and

there were sev­eral un­happy chil­dren af­ter a few tum­bles, but

noth­ing par­ents couldn't fix with hugs and kisses.

I re­mem­ber beam­ing with af­fec­tion and grat­i­tude at my friends

for com­ing with us and for be­ing keen to make adventure part of

our kids’ child­hoods. It is so much more fun to do this with friends.

It didn't take long for one or two fit and re­spon­si­ble mums

to gain on the four year olds and reach the Trig point al­most

si­mul­ta­ne­ously with them. The chil­dren started hav­ing rap­tures

be­cause they dis­cov­ered a dead mouse mys­te­ri­ously ly­ing on the

plat­form of the Trig point. They all had to have a good look be­fore

some­one found a nappy wipe in their sup­plies and gin­gerly picked

up the dead ro­dent by the tail, throw­ing it into the long grass.

With that en­ter­tain­ment over the chil­dren begged for morn­ing tea.

The rest of us con­gre­gated at the top and con­grat­u­lated the

three and four year olds in ex­ag­ger­ated fash­ion for be­ing such

cham­pion walk­ers.

I asked my sis­ter in law to give an im­promptu les­son to the kids

about vol­ca­noes. “Well,” she said, “I did ac­tu­ally look up some fun

facts about vol­ca­noes on Google this morn­ing. Did you kids know

that the Auck­land area has 53 vol­ca­noes..?”

As the chil­dren sat down and tucked into their lunch­boxes, the

adults chat­ted about the stunning 360-de­gree view and pointed

out var­i­ous land­marks to the kids. Some of the older boys started

shift­ing as close to the edge of the crater as they pos­si­bly could.

A cou­ple of par­ents wan­dered over to hover and started chat­ting

to the boys about the crater. The de­ci­sion was made. Let’s go down!

We herded the chil­dren a bit fur­ther round the ridge of the crater to

a well-worn path down to the bot­tom.

What a sight! Moth­ers with in­fants in back­packs, par­ents hold­ing

tod­dlers' hands, the odd heav­ily preg­nant mum, ragamuffin four

year olds hap­pily slid­ing down the steep slope on their bot­toms.

Once at the bot­tom the chil­dren rock-hopped across the base of

the crater and started com­pet­ing to bound up the hill and reach the

ridge up the other side.

I was so im­pressed with my three year old. I have not known him

to man­age such a feat of mus­cu­lar en­durance whilst si­mul­ta­ne­ously

demon­strat­ing en­durance in the field of cheer­ful­ness. Friends are a

great tonic!

My ad­vice for this au­tumn is find your near­est vol­cano and go

straight to the top!

Although Auck­land is well-en­dowed with vol­ca­noes to ex­plore,

(the most fa­mous be­ing Ran­gi­toto and Mt Eden) the rest of

the North Is­land is well pep­pered too! Here are seven ter­rific

vol­ca­noes to con­sider vis­it­ing with your bud­ding vol­ca­nol­o­gists.

Toka­toka Peak – Kaipara Dis­trict

For those in North­land, as­cend­ing Toka­toka Peak makes a ter­rific

lit­tle trip. This is an out­landishly-shaped peak which is ac­tu­ally the

heav­ily eroded plug of an an­cient vol­cano. It only takes 20 mins

to as­cend, but it is def­i­nitely very steep. A good level of fit­ness is

re­quired, and this is not for the faint-hearted! Take great care with

kids to su­per­vise them as they climb – the steps can be muddy

and slip­pery. Spec­tac­u­lar 360-de­gree views over the sur­round­ing

area (Wairoa River and farm­land) wait for you at the sum­mit!­ture/toka­toka-peak

Whakaari (White Is­land) – Bay of Plenty

White Is­land, 49 km off the coast of Whakatane, is New Zealand’s

most ac­tive cone vol­cano. It has been in a near-con­tin­u­ous state

of smok­ing since 1769 when it was named by James Cook (the first

Euro­pean to sight the is­land). Walk­ing on White Is­land has been

likened to walk­ing on the moon. Its harsh acidic en­vi­ron­ment

al­lows no veg­e­ta­tion growth at all. Vis­i­tors speak very highly of

the fas­ci­nat­ing tours that al­low vis­i­tors onto the pri­vately-owned

re­serve is­land. It is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by au­tho­rised com­mer­cial

tourist op­er­a­tors. Weather per­mit­ting, a luxury mo­tor launch

leaves Whakatane daily for a six-hour day trip. Fam­i­lies are

wel­come, how­ever a rec­om­mended min­i­mum age is 8 years old.

Chil­dren un­der 4 years are not per­mit­ted. A good stan­dard of

walk­ing fit­ness is re­quired. www.whiteis­

Mt Maun­ganui – Bay of Plenty

Known by lo­cals as sim­ply 'The Mount', this ex­tinct vol­cano is

sit­u­ated in the town of Mount Maun­ganui, at the eastern en­trance

to Tau­ranga Har­bour. The Mount is more a climb for older chil­dren

and teenagers than lit­tle ones. This spec­tac­u­lar climb takes

ap­prox­i­mately 50 mins to an hour to get to the top. It is a well-

main­tained, beau­ti­ful track with stunning views the whole way

up. Highly rec­om­mended! www.tramp­ing­­ranga-


Mt Haszard and Waimangu Vol­canic Val­ley – south of Ro­torua

If your fam­ily lives in the cen­tral North Is­land, or you have de­cided

to hol­i­day in Ro­torua, make sure you take the time to visit the

won­der­land that is the Waimangu Vol­canic Val­ley. Although this

is a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion the pric­ing is rea­son­able. The site of­fers

steam­ing vol­canic crater lakes, amaz­ing colours, and stunning views.

There are mul­ti­ple op­tions for self-guided walks past ex­cit­ingly

named vol­canic fea­tures such as South­ern Crater, Echo Crater, Fry­ing

Pan Lake, In­ferno Crater and Bird's Nest Ter­race. The walk­ing is easy

and there are op­tions suit­able for lit­tle chil­dren’s en­durance lev­els.

Bring your cam­era!

Mt. Ruapehu – Ton­gariro Na­tional Park

In sum­mer this fa­mous ski­ing moun­tain can be a fab­u­lous place

to in­tro­duce your teens to tramp­ing! There is a 10 KM or 7 KM

op­tion, depend­ing on the start­ing point. This is not a climb for

lit­tle chil­dren. A bril­liant rock-hop­ping climb to the heart of an

ac­tive vol­cano, there is no marked track. Alpine ex­pe­ri­ence is

re­quired as well as ap­pro­pri­ate equip­ment such as cram­pons

as there is snow and ice year-round at the top. Trekkers must be

pre­pared for rapidly chang­ing weather con­di­tions as is the case

on all high moun­tains. If you are a novice and feel ner­vous of

alpine walk­ing, this does not have to be con­signed to the 'too

hard bas­ket'. Lo­cal guides take daily trips to the top of Ruapehu

to see the world-fa­mous Crater Lake. If you are keen to give your

teens a great sense of achieve­ment, pack the scrog­gin and put

this vol­cano in the di­ary!­tion­

Mt Ton­ga­giro and Mt Ngau­ruhoe – Ton­gariro Na­tional Park

The Ton­gariro Alpine Cross­ing is a spec­tac­u­lar day trek that

as­cends the flanks of the ma­jes­tic Ton­gariro vol­cano. It has been

named as on of the top ten day treks in the world! Def­i­nitely more

of a trip for fam­i­lies with teenagers who have good en­durance.

Many who com­plete the 19.4-kilo­me­tre jour­ney will tell you the

climbs can be steep and the weather un­pre­dictable, though

worth it in ev­ery as­pect... Golden tus­sock-cov­ered hills, moon-

like ex­panses of red vol­canic rock and strange aqua blue crater

lakes await like jew­els at the top of the moun­tain. If you have fit,

in­ex­haustible teenagers with you, take on the ex­tra chal­lenge

of the scree cov­ered slopes up the per­fectly cone-shaped

Ngau­ruhoe. The Ton­gariro Alpine Cross­ing will be a high­light

in your scrap­book of awe­some fam­ily mem­o­ries.


The view was worth the scram­ble to the top.

Photo: free­

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