The great outdoors
I was very much a city boy through my childhood and teenage years, and I can’t say that I remember being very much connected with nature. Now that I’ve got two kids (aged nine and 11), it’s become one of the most important aspects of our family life. I want my children to become happy, healthy and grounded adults.
Part of this involves having a much closer connection to the food we eat and getting them as involved in our garden as possible. I can’t say they’re always as interested as I’d like them to be, especially in the routine maintenance work (unless there’s pocket money to be earned!) – but somehow they absorb it all anyway. They know a carrot top from a cabbage seedling, and what oats and barley look like before they appear in the shops.
When it comes to harvesting, there’s a lot more enthusiasm and it’s great to spend time outside working together, whether digging up potatoes or crunching on a cucumber fresh off the vine. Our fruit trees give us all a better sense of the cycle of the seasons, and the kids know to expect plums at Christmas, then apples, then feijoas (a big favourite) in autumn. We encourage them to pick and eat what’s there, and in summer not many berries make it inside the house. On top of all that, I find gardening is a great way to give our children additional responsibility – our daughter loves feeding the chooks and collecting eggs – and the sense of independence that comes with it.
Connecting with our environment also means going further afield and exploring our beautiful land. We’re lucky to live near the Waitakere ranges and have easy access to a giant playground of hills, bush and streams. I love taking my kids on long walks. It’s a chance for us to slow down, to appreciate the relative solitude and to be mindful. It’s also a great time to talk. I can be a fully attentive audience – away from any distractions or jobs – and happily listen for hours to complicated game rules or the intricate plot of the latest favourite book.
Eventually the conversations veer to bigger topics. On our last big tramp we went through the judiciary system, Elon Musk, electric cars, orbital mechanics and more. Ultimately, the most important thing for me is to establish these habits of being together in nature and sharing openly. Hopefully this will hold us together through the coming teenage years.
Me and my girl
One of the passions I have is to spend time tramping in the wilderness, enjoying the natural beauty of our country. I wanted to share this with my daughter, Jennifer, in the hope that she would share my love of the outdoors.
Our first overnight outing was before her fourth birthday, with a short walk to Mangatepopo Hut in Tongariro National Park. That first trip helped me gain confidence, and gave Jennifer a taste of life in the bush – which she loved. Since that humble beginning (Jennifer is nearly nine now), we have gone on many outings in the Kaimai and Coromandel Ranges, Rotorua Lakes and Tongariro and Egmont national parks, walking up to six hours a day.
Our trips always have three key features – lots of food (especially marshmallows), competition (Jennifer loves to compare her time to the signposted times), and singing (which is definitely for our ears only!). The one-on-one time with Jennifer is one of the things I value most.
As a father I believe this time with my daughter is priceless. We share a passion for being in the bush and exploring new and familiar territory, and that is something I want to keep fostering for many years to come.