A vintage red tram takes tourists through the streets of Christchurch.

Discover post-quake Christchurch

“I get butterflies just thinking about it” a friend shares with me. Her eyes blink back the tears that threaten to escape, her face loses colour and she takes a deep breath to compose herself.

On the 4th September 2010, an earthquake with magnitude 7.1 struck New Zealand and was felt throughout the South Island and in the lower third of the North Island.

The epicentre was in Darfield, just 47km (29mi) from Christchurch, and caused widespread damage across the city. A state of emergency was declared and this, for the next few months at least, was referred to by locals as ‘the big one’.

Powerful aftershocks occurred repeatedly over the following years (the city continues to experience aftershocks now and has had 20,000 to date!), the most devastating of which hit on 22nd February 2011.

With its epicentre near Lyttelton, a suburb just 10km (6.2mi) to the southeast of the city centre, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake violently shook the ground beneath Christchurch. 185 people died, thousands more were injured, and a cloud of dust rose above the collapsed buildings of the Central Business District (CBD).

With the city centre reduced to a pile of rubble, Christchurch sadly found itself bumped from bucket lists – even locals admit they wanted to stay away – but 2018 is the time to visit!

The rebuild process is lengthy and is still very much underway. At first glance, Christchurch is still full of roadworks, shipping containers continue to be a prominent feature, and buildings in various states of demolition, repair or rebuild are numerous, but take a closer look and you will find somewhere very worthy of bucket list status.

 

The garden city

Nicknamed ‘the garden city’, Christchurch boasts over 740 parks and gardens, and is centred around Hagley Park. The park is a haven for runners, bikers and dog walkers, and is also home to Hagley Golf Club and used by sports clubs at the weekend.

On the east side of the park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is the perfect venue for a quiet stroll, a picnic and even a run around in the sprinklers if the kids need to let off steam (there’s also a playground and paddling pool). It’s free to enter and is popular at lunch hour during the week among those escaping the office for some fresh air.  

The outdoors lifestyle in Christchurch isn’t limited to Hagley Park. Riccarton Bush is an opportunity to block out the city’s buzz and feel totally immersed in native bush including kahikatea trees of up to 600 years old. The smell of the forest and the sound of birdsong instantly transports you out of the city.

The Port Hills are worth exploring by foot or bike and offer impressive views over Pegasus Bay to the north and Lyttelton Harbour to the south. Mount Pleasant is the highest peak in the Port Hills at 499m (1,637ft).

 

On the other side of Lyttelton Harbour is Banks Peninsula, the most striking and prominent volcanic feature of the South Island. Mount Herbert is its highest point at 919m (3,015ft), but you don’t have to get to this altitude to experience the breathtaking landscape and views over Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight.

The coast consists of coves, harbours and beaches, and the water is calm and waveless on the north side of the peninsular, making this a popular spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, sailing and jet skiing.

Hiking in this area reminds us of the Lake District in the U.K.; trodden paths meander through native bush, over pastures and along streams, with views over mountains, valleys and glistening blue water. The elevation is also similar; the highest point in the Lakes is Scarfell Pike at 978m (3,209ft).

Orton Bradley Park in Diamond Harbour is a great starting point for a number of beautiful hikes and bike trails. It’s a privately owned working farm so there is a small entrance fee and dogs aren’t allowed on the tracks (but they provide kennels). A small museum showcasing farm machinery through the ages, a playground and a lovely cafe make this a perfect family day out (I was really impressed that the cafe uses stainless steel straws so I didn’t need to request no straw!).

We recently did the hike up to Gully Falls, where we cooled off in the second of the two picturesque waterfalls. We went up on the Valley Track and joined the Waterfall Gully Track, and then looped round to descend on the Faulkner Memorial Track and the Magnificent Gully Track. This was a good half-day walk, which Theo managed easily.

Although not quite as impressive as the Southern Alps, the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are excellent options if you have limited time to escape the city but still want to do some hiking or biking with photo-worthy views.

We are lucky to live beside Bottle Lake Forest Park, with its winding biking trails and walking paths that lead you through the pine trees, and Waimairi Beach, with its decent surf and views out towards New Brighton Pier and the Port Hills.

If you fancy surfing, Taylor’s Mistake has the best surf in Christchurch, along with Magnet Bay and Te Oka Bay on the south side of Banks Peninsula. New Brighton and Sumner beaches are also popular for both swimming and surfing (there’s a highly regarded surf school at Sumner, perfect for beginners of all ages), and there are countless coves and small beaches all along the coast.

 

The old city

The iconic Heritage Tram is one of Christchurch’s most famous attractions and a symbol of the city. The Tramway first opened in 1880 but was closed in 1954 following the expansion of the bus network (which, by the way, is extensive and reliable!). The city circuit was reopened to offer tourists guided tours in 1995 and has since grown to also offer restaurant trams. Following the earthquake, the tram was closed for repair but has long since been reopened and expanded into a longer network.

 

Riccarton House and Bush is a 12 hectare heritage site containing two historic buildings, parkland, attractive gardens and native bush. Deans Cottage, built in 1843 for pioneering Scottish brothers, William and John Deans, is the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Jane Deans, wife of then deceased John Deans, and her son moved into Riccarton House in 1856 following the first stage of completion. Additions were made in 1874 and 1900. The beautiful Victorian/Edwardian building has been fully restored and furnished in appropriate period decor. The gardens, Cottage and Bush are free to explore at your leisure but Riccarton House can only be viewed either by enjoying a meal in the restaurant or on a guided tour of the whole property.

 

The Canterbury Museum, situated next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, is the best preserved example of Christchurch’s pre-earthquake architecture, and is certainly worth visiting. Thankfully, the neo-gothic 1880s building sustained only minor damage in the earthquake and an estimated 95% of its collections were unharmed.

With 16 rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions featuring everything from early settlers and their hunting of the now extinct giant Moa birds to dinosaurs, birds, decorative arts and costume, the Antarctic, and Victorian era furniture, there really is something for everyone.

Temporary exhibitions are located in three rooms. I recently went to see the ‘50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic’ exhibition, which is on display until 25th February 2018. An inspirational collection of work (particularly for an aspiring NatGeo photographer like myself!) and a fascinating opportunity to learn about each photograph from the words of the photojournalist who captured it. Included are both iconic and never-seen-before works by celebrated photographers such as Steve McCurry, Nick Nichols, Paul Nicklen and Gerd Ludwig.

Also on display until 1st April 2018 is the Bristlecone Project exhibition: a collection of black and white portraits and stories of 24 male survivors of sexual abuse. As a Clinical Psychologist, particularly since I work predominantly with trauma, this was of obvious interest to me.

The stories may ignite feelings of shock, sadness, and rage in visitors, but they are so important. The personal anecdotes are bravely shared honestly and openly so that others suffering similar trauma may know that they are not alone, that their voice can be heard and that they deserve to escape the hold of their suffering. They offer a message of hope and celebrate the resilience of these men and many others who have suffered similarly.

There is also a large children’s room suitable for all ages. Learn through play, discovery and sensory exploration in this fun-filled educational room.

All exhibits are free to enter, with a suggested total donation of $5. There is a $2 charge for the children’s discovery room.

The Christchurch Cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, survived the 2010 earthquake but was not so fortunate in 2011. Prior to the earthquake, the impressive building was the heart of the CBD and the focal point of Cathedral Square. After much deliberation over whether to rebuild, demolish entirely or preserve the remains as they are, it has recently been decided that the cathedral will be rebuilt.

The fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as the Christchurch Basilica, is as yet undecided. The two bell towers collapsed during the 2011 earthquake, also bringing down much of the front façade, and the dome was badly dislodged and cracked. Sadly, the entire rear of the building had to be demolished. Great efforts were made during the clean-up to recover all significant artefacts and put them into storage. Both the dome and bells were safely removed and stored prior to demolition.

Along with the Canterbury Museum, the Christchurch Arts Centre is a beautiful example of neo-gothic architecture. The listed buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake but you wouldn’t guess it to look at them now. Repaired and reopened in 2016, the Arts Centre is once again home to a weekend market, shops, businesses and many of the city’s festivals and special occasions.

 

The modern city

The Arts Centre should not be confused with the Christchurch Art Gallery. This modern building, opened in 2003, has a large sculpture in the forecourt and houses both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of both international and Kiwi artists. The sculpture, ‘Reason for Voyaging’, is the result of a collaboration between sculptor, Graham Bennett, and architect, David Cole. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and the bookshop is also worth exploring, particularly for their children’s section.

 

Quake City is Christchurch’s newest museum. Dedicated to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the exhibits bring them to life for anyone who wasn’t here at the time.

I must admit, the CCTV footage filmed in the CBD as the 2011 earthquake struck, along with video interviews with some local residents each telling their story of that day made me quite teary. I gave Theo several big hugs as we walked around!

The exhibition is an informative and interactive experience showcasing recovered artefacts, including the cathedral’s spire and the basilica’s bell, and information is displayed in photographs, videos, and touch-screen learning points as well as witten details that appeal to both adults and children.

Learn about how and why earthquakes happen, the impact on Christchurch both under- and over-ground, and the individuals involved in the rescue and rebuild operations. The exhibition even features a lego station so that children (and adults!) can have a go at rebuilding the city.

The CBD, to the east of Hagley Park, has changed and flourished even in the short time we have been here.

New offices, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up all over the city, and gradually the gaps where buildings collapsed or have been demolished are being filled.

 

The Re:START Container Mall, set up following the earthquake to house shops and restaurants, and to restore life to the city centre, has just closed last week as businesses have moved to permanent residences.

The new lanes around Cashel Street are now full of designer chains and independent shops, whereas high street brands and department stores are mostly found on the main roads. The shops here are, as you would expect in a city centre, generally quite expensive. Papanui Road is also good for independent retailers but equally pricey!

Large malls can be found everywhere! Why a small city with a relatively tiny population needs so many malls is beyond me, but since Amazon doesn’t exist here and online shopping isn’t as popular as it is in the U.K. and the U.S., people do still shop in store and the malls continue to be hubs for each district. They house not just a full range of retailers, but also supermarkets, large food courts, indoor playgrounds, cinemas and salons.

Christchurch has a number of markets, both farmers’ markets and artisan markets. The largest is Riccarton Market, held at the Riccarton Park Racecource every Sunday. This has a car boot/garage sale feel to it but there are some stalls selling high quality, locally made goods, and if you’re willing to search through the tat, there are certainly bargains to be had. Get everything from fresh produce, to clothes, jewellery, homeware, books and more. I recently bought some locally made and totally eco-friendly shampoo bars that I’m really pleased with. Live music entertainment and a bouncy castle make this a fun family morning.

The Christchurch Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday at Riccarton House and Bush. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and baked goods, and locally made jams, chutneys and juices. The selection and quality is far superior to that found in supermarkets, not to mention cheaper, and it’s a pleasure to support local farmers!

 

Christchurch has a great food scene and new restaurants, bars and cafes are continually opening, and those that have been making do using containers or other temporary residences are moving into new buildings. For a country so isolated from the rest of the world, we have been really pleased to discover that the range of cuisine on offer is diverse and authentic.

The city feels full of life and there is an air of excitement among the locals as their city is gradually restored to its former glory.

 

What’s on for kids?

There are 289 City Council owned playgrounds in Christchurch, and this of course doesn’t include those in shopping centres, schools (unlike in the U.K., school playgrounds are accessible for anyone out of school hours), cafes and other private land accessible to the public, so one is never far away! The most impressive of these is the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in the CBD (corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets), which opened in 2015 and is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although I’m not a fan of zoos, I gave the staff at Orana Wildlife Park a pretty good grilling on where their animals have come from. They assured me that they they do not accept animals from the wild (although the chain if you keep following it back isn’t always traceable), and that animals here have typically been born in captivity, either here or at other zoos, and therefore cannot be released. They do a lot of work on conservation and I was pleased to see that the animals all live in large enclosures (this obviously doesn’t compare to the wild but, if an animal has to live in captivity to ensure its survival, it seems like Orana Wildlife Park would be a nice place to live).

Theo was able to feed the giraffes himself, which he loved, and watch the lions and rhinos being fed.

 

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is more like a petting zoo, and you can purchase both animal and bird feed at reception. Farm animals and wallabies are eager to be fed and extremely tolerant of being petted, and visitors can see a number of native birds, including Kiwis, in the large bird section.

Fruit picking is a fun day out for the whole family. We enjoy Tram Road Fruit Farm, a family run orchard where you can pick (depending on the season) raspberries, blueberries, strawberries,  cherries, plums, greengages and nectarines. The fruit is absolutely delicious (the best cherries I’ve ever had!) and much cheaper than the supermarket.

Enjoy a relaxing tour of the city and Botanic Gardens along the Avon. Punters dressed in Edwardian attire skillfully glide tourists past leafy banks in handcrafted boats. This is a family sightseeing trip that the kids won’t want to end!

I also recommend keeping an eye out for events that are on during the time of your visit. We’ve discovered amateur theatre productions, pantomimes, parades and music festivals all geared at children. It seems that there’s always something fun going on!

 

Exploring Canterbury

As you drive out of the city, the Canterbury Plains eventually give way to the imposing and rugged Southern Alps. Canterbury is stunning and offers unrivalled opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing and climbing, all within an easy drive from the city. Christchurch is one of the world’s only locations where it is possible to ski and surf in the same day!

To explore north west Canterbury, Hanmer Springs is a good base. There are lots of options for accommodation and food, and loads to do whether it’s rain or shine. We really enjoyed camping at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp (there are rooms and RV sites as well as tent sites). They have a large playground, loads of space for kids to ride bikes, and several walking and biking trails that go directly from the campsite and are of good lengths for families.

 

If you’re game for something a bit lengthier, hiking up to the impressive 41m Dog Stream Waterfall is local and well signed, but gets you off the busier trails. Take Waterfall Track up through the twisted beech forest, where no tree grows in a straight line. Lichen gives the forest an erie silvery appearance, like a dusty attic.

 

With an ascent of roughly 300m, there are a few steep sections, but Theo bounded up the track and delighted in scrambling over rocks on the approach to the waterfall. Descend via Spur Track for views over the valley and a slightly longer walk. The final descent can be taken through a commercial forestry ground and is steep in places, so watch your footing!

 

From Hanmer Springs, you can also explore Lewis Pass. Although others disagree, I think Lewis Pass rivals Arthur’s Pass in terms of a scenic drive!

The Lewis Tops is a great 8-10km (5-6.2mi) walk, depending on how many of the tops you want to do! The track initially follows the curve of the road but after about 15 minutes the hum of passing cars is replaced by intermittent bird song and the welcome silence of wilderness. Theo enjoyed hopping over streams and running up the steep sections. At 400m above the road, the path suddenly emerges from the bush and the rolling ridge of the tops becomes visible. Follow the path marked with poles to see the valley from all angles. It’s a further 280m climb to the summit and if you’re feeling adventurous and have come prepared, you can camp on the tarns but this will at least double the length of your walk from the car park to bushline.

 

Central Canterbury is all about Arthur’s Pass. The mountains here are more rugged than Lewis Pass and the bush doesn’t start at the roadside, but, with the exception of winter when white fills the landscape, the colours are incredible. It’s all four seasons painted on to one canvas. Pick any one of the walks along the route and you’ll be in for a treat.

 

The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall track is one of the most popular walks along Arthur’s Pass, with good reason. The Otira Valley track is particularly beautiful in Spring and Summer when alpine flowers are in bloom but the surrounding peaks remain dusted in snow. Both these tracks are easily accessible from Christchurch and ideal for families.

En route to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, you will pass Castle Hill, a collection of limestone formations, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s semi-abstract sculptures. The area is rich in Maori history and is popular with climbers. If free climbing isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s a path that will take you round the impressive rocks.

 

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the highlight of south east Canterbury for many, along with the clear blue waters of Lake Tekapo. With 19 peaks over 3000m in the National Park alone, including the continent’s highest mountain, hikers and skiers are spoiled for choice. Glaciers, including New Zealand’s largest glacier, Tasman Glacier, cover 40% of the park and ensure a thrilling skiing experience.

Also in this region is Mount Sunday, perhaps better known as Edoras to any Lord of the Rings fans. This a wonderful short hike through tussock grassland with views over the expansive countryside from the summit. It can get windy (but if you’ve been in Christchurch, you’ll likely be used to this by now!)

 

The still blue water of Lake Tekapo, reflecting the mountains that frame it as clearly as a mirror, is a photographer’s paradise, but for the road less travelled (and photographed), head to Lake Alexandrina or Lake Pukaki.

With little to no light pollution, the skies over this area, known as the Mackenzie region, are recognised as one of the world’s best stargazing spots and has been named the International Dark Sky Reserve.

 

An afterthought

Before our arrival here, we were told a number of times that Christchurch was ‘the most British’ of New Zealand’s cities. For any Brits reading, clearly these people had never been to the U.K.! It’s not at all British! The culture is probably most comparable to Canadian (in our opinion – I’m sure Canadians would probably disagree!). Whether this is something that’s changed post-earthquake, I’m not sure.

 

What next?

The lives of Christchurch’s residents may have changed; loved ones have been lost, kitchen cupboards are now permanently stocked with emergency supplies just in case, valuable possessions are secured to their surface, and it’s not advised to sleep naked in case you find yourself unexpectedly out in the open, but the city has come together to ensure it remains the vibrant hub of the South Island and the door to all that Canterbury has to offer.

So, put Christchurch on your bucket list for 2018 (and come say hi!) before everyone else catches on!

Cheakamus-Lake-Whistler-Canada-breastfeeding

Parenting on the road for happy family travels

D

o you long to travel as a family with your infant or toddler but find yourself hesitating because you fear how the sudden change in environment and lack of routine will impact them? What does parenting on the road look like?

The perceived stress of travelling with young children, the fear of disrupting a routine, and uncertainty around parenting away from the home environment are common barriers to taking that much dreamed of trip.

Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

For most children, the only requirement for optimal cognitive, psychological and physical development is a caregiver who is available to consistently meet their physiological and psychological needs.

If you are able to provide for your child and offer a safe environment and relationship from which they can develop the independence to explore the world, you are the only constant they need to travel happily.

Theo is now well accustomed to life on the road, long flights and car journeys lasting multiple days. He has seen more of the world than the average toddler and has had experiences that many adults are still waiting to tick off their bucket list.

Although he has demonstrated himself to be a natural traveller and he takes it all in his stride, like all children, he can get grumpy when he’s tired, overstimulated, bored or hungry. Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

 

We remain flexible, our plans change, and we choose activities that we will all enjoy. While we’re travelling, every day is different, we regularly jump time zones, we rarely stay in one place for longer than a week, and we have absolutely no routine with regards to eating, sleeping or anything else for that matter.

This lifestyle works for all of us and we all adapt easily, but I have no doubt that three elements of our parenting approach assist Theo in adjusting to the chaos of travel, and help him feel safe and secure in an ever-changing environment: breastfeeding, babywearing, and bed sharing.

This is what works for us. Remember that not every child is the same and this won’t necessarily be right for all families; follow medical advice relevant to you, listen to your own child’s cues and be their constant source of comfort and support, however works best for them.


Breastfeeding

I am still feeding Theo on demand, anywhere and everywhere. He feeds multiple times a day and if he’s unwell, teething or just a bit out of sorts, it can feel like I’m doing nothing but feeding him, all day long and then all night.

 

Although sometimes exhausting, this is exactly why I do it; he obviously feels he needs it more during these times and, as a parent, I am there to support him through life’s ups and downs.

As he gets older, his problem-solving capabilities and strategies for regulating his emotions will obviously become more sophisticated, but at this moment, breastfeeding helps him deal with the emotional turmoil of toddlerhood.

I include travel in this sentiment; every day he is taking in a whole host of new information, some sensory, some emotional and some hypothesis-driven. This can be a lot to process for such a little person, and some time to connect with Mum and feel safe in arms is often just what the doctor ordered.

 

Breast milk is amazing. It not only contains exactly the right balance of nutrients, antibodies and hormones for the child for whom it is intended, but it also changes according to circadian rhythms and over the length of an entire breastfeeding journey in order to meet the child’s individual needs at different times of day and at different stages of development.

Breast milk can soothe pain, fight illness and induce sleep so it makes sense that Theo increases his breast milk consumption when he feels under the weather, particularly if he doesn’t feel up to eating much solid food, and I can rest assured that he is getting everything he needs until he feels better.

Breastfeeding is not just about the physical need for milk though. No, Theo no longer needs breast milk to support his physical development, but this doesn’t mean it is the right time to stop as he clearly still benefits from all that breast milk offers him and feels comforted by the act of breastfeeding.

 

I am a firm advocate of child-led practices, whether it be play, eating meals, separating from primary caregivers to sleep or to be left with an alternate caregiver, selecting one’s clothes, or indeed weaning from the breast. Every child is different and it is important to follow their lead. Theo will let me know when he is ready to wean by refusing an offered feed and/or failing to ask for milk.

Weaning should be done without tears or distress, and it shouldn’t be received as a punishment. Certainly, refusing Theo milk now would cause him great upset and I’m sure would leave him wondering what he had done to be denied. When he is ready, he won’t bat an eye at a missed feed.


Babywearing

I have a variety of slings, wraps and carriers that get used daily (we have used a pram/stroller maybe a dozen times since Theo was born).

As a newborn and until Theo was about 4 months, a stretchy wrap was ideal for everything apart from hiking so I used a buckle carrier as well (the Ergobaby 360 Performance).

I then moved on to woven wraps, ring slings and a mei-tai (I love Little Frog’s woven wraps and ring slings).

Since the age of about 18 months, my preference has been buckle carriers (we’ve got a lot of use out of our Connecta and Connecta Solar). For longer, harder treks, we also have a sturdy backpack-style carrier (an Osprey Poco AG Premium).

 

Being carried in a sling has always been Theo’s favourite place to snuggle for a nap, and this remains unchanged. When the world is buzzing around you, a sling offers the peace of a rhythmic heartbeat drowning out the chaos, the warmth of being held in a tight embrace, and the comforting smell of a caregiver.

 

I tend to carry Theo on my front facing me as I prefer that we are able to socially engage with eye contact, smiles, conversation and by pointing out elements of our surroundings to one another, but we do also back-carry and forward-face on occasion.

When he is not napping, being carried in a sling is still a time to connect with me, not just physically, but also by being engaged in social interaction that helps him figure out his changing environment.

 

If you choose to carry your child, remember to always follow the TICKS rules for safe babywearing.


Bed sharing

We have bed shared with Theo since birth, following safe co-sleeping recommendations.

Although it wasn’t our intention to bed share before he was born, it was clear that he was much happier being close to us, it was easier to soothe him through the pain of multiple allergies and silent reflux, and it has undoubtedly supported our breastfeeding journey.

When he was really little, we found using a Sleepyhead pillow in our bed gave us peace of mind and we were easily able to stuff it in a suitcase. Along with our stretchy wrap, it was one of our best buys for those early months! He outgrew this at about 6 months (around the same time you might ditch a Moses basket/bassinet) and since then he has just slept directly in our bed.

 

Whenever he decides that he’s ready to sleep on his own, there will be a room waiting for him, but for now, we all get a better night’s sleep when we’re cuddled up together so it works for our family.

It has also made travelling a lot easier, not to mention cheaper. There’s no need to lug a travel cot around, we avoid any potential excess baggage fees, and we can book cheaper accommodation with only one bed.

For Theo, it doesn’t matter where we’re sleeping or that he doesn’t recognise the room; he knows that I’m right next to him. If he wakes in the night, there’s no need to cry out for me, or sleepily wander unfamiliar corridors in search of us; he just reaches over for a cuddle.


All children are different and although the practices of breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are wonderful for us and help Theo feel safe wherever we are, they may not be the right choice, or indeed a choice that is available, for every family. Follow your child.

Some children will find a lack of routine, an unexpected change in environment and periods of transition difficult regardless of how you try to comfort and reassure them.

If this is the case for your child, I recommend creating a storybook appropriate for the age and development of your child, and reading this frequently in the run up to your trip. Include pictures and simple words to depict your family packing your belongings, waving goodbye to your home, details of your journey and chosen method of transport, your destination and what you will do there, and when you will return. If possible, print images of wherever you’ll be staying so you can talk about the area and even the room they will be sleeping in, but make sure that whatever you include in the story, you are able to stick to!

I wish you happy travels with happy little ones!


Where can I buy the items mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information.

When choosing a baby carrier, I recommend finding a sling library near you so that you can try out different options and figure out what you find most comfortable and will work best for your needs.


I am a Clinical Psychologist and wrote this article from both a professional and personal perspective. I am, as always, happy to hear from readers so don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions. However, if you have any concerns about your child(ren) with regards to anything mentioned in this article, please speak to your doctor.
This article was written for and first published by The Natural Parent Magazine
Longyearbyen-from-Lars-glacier-hike-svalbard

Longyearbyen, Svalbard: The World’s northernmost city

‘Don’t fall in!’ my brain screamed at me as I paddled through crunching sheets of ice. I’m a competent kayaker; just a couple of weeks prior, we had kayaked 100 miles around the Isle of Man, but capsizing in the frigid waters of a Svalbard fjord was a somewhat more daunting prospect than the grey silt of the Irish Sea.

I laughed off the voice in my head and upped my tempo, enjoying the opportunity to release a burst of energy and splash Alex in the process. My biceps strained against the weight of the water.

I felt free, as I always do on the water, and inhaled a deep, satisfying breath that filled my lungs with clean, crisp air.

Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past. Hiorthfjellet, our 928 meter-high quest for the day, sat directly ahead, watching our approach.

 

Our hike started uneventfully and, brimming with enthusiasm, our group made a speedy start. We were led by Viktor, a gung-ho Russian with long hair, a cheerful disposition and a lackadaisical approach to group safety.

As our elevation increased, so did the snow, and our pace began to slow. Viktor raced on ahead, his rifle casually slung over one shoulder in case we should meet any polar bears.

A few group members slipped in the snow trying to keep pace with Viktor, and the beginnings of mutterings about the sensibilities of our guide began to echo up and down the line of hikers.

 

We stopped at an abandoned mine shaft; a portal, frozen in time, into the harsh conditions in which miners lived and worked. The snow was falling thick and heavy, and the wind pounded at our eardrums. One woman decided she did not want to go on so a discussion was opened to the group.

I was aware that in Alex’s backpack was an engagement ring that I suspected would come out at the summit – in my backpack was a watch – so I was keen to continue our hike. Viktor proposed cutting across the mountain to an abandoned mining hut, where we could shelter and have some food. I reluctantly conceded that I would not be proposed to today, not on this summit.

Although once uttered in jest, the whispers about our safety under the supervision of Viktor grew more anxious as we began our route to the hut, and swiftly turned to exclamations of “this can’t be safe!” as we tiptoed as carefully as one can in hiking boots along a snow-covered ledge no wider than the footprint impressioned on it. Falling over now meant a tumble all the way down a mountain edge that would certainly result in death.

 

I was enjoying the adventure and, unless we’re talking about public speaking, I generally have no fear, so this was an adrenalin-filled excursion that had me beaming. Alex not so much. He doesn’t care for heights, or ledges, or anything he can fall off. I could sense him getting angrier and angrier.

We were at the front of the group, behind our guide, so were largely unaware of the events behind us. Periodic yelps and calls to wait told us that some were struggling. The woman who had expressed her desire to descend seemed baffled as to why we were still walking in a blizzard, and her husband’s patience was wearing thin.

We both lost our footing a couple of times, reaching out to desperately grab at rocks as we slid. On one fall Alex sprained his ankle. This was the final straw. From this point on he lay face down flat against the mountain, with his arms and legs spread in a starfish shape, and shimmied along the rest of the ledge. I tried to contain both my laughter and the urge to preserve this moment in a photo, but succeeded only in one; we have no photo.

Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.

 

Viktor was unfazed, still smiling and joking. Although we all thankfully survived the treacherous amble to the hut, a few members of the group lost their sense of humour along the way. Hot soup restored previous spirits, the snow had ceased and we all joyously bounded down the mountain to the awaiting kayaks.

Although we didn’t make it to the summit and I had to wait to see my engagement ring, the views over the fjord and back toward Longyearbyen from the hut were worth the near-death hike. The icy water glistened and spread like veins into the snow-covered land. The white mountain tops oscillated across the horizon. The setting sun sent a warm glow across the frozen landscape.

Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.

 

This was not the only example of a hiccup turned unexpected adventure during our time in Longyearbyen. We took a boat trip, for which we were kitted out in full-face goggles and a onesie that had me feeling like a sumo wrestler. It seemed like overkill but we were grateful once we were bouncing over the waves at high speed, icy water lashing up at us.

 

More unharnessed rollercoaster than sightseeing boat ride, this wasn’t for the faint-hearted (or those prone to sea-sickness!). Each passenger was positioned between standing-height padded rails, to which we clung for dear life while being flung in every direction. It was a heart-racing, fun-filled way to witness the beauty of Svalbard.

Flawless glaciers shimmered under the saturated blue sky. A white veil shrouded the mountains, exposing traces of the tundra below. We scanned the horizon for whales, daring only to let go of our hand rails for a split second to point them out. We were taken past Barentsburg, the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard, and docked at Isfjord Radio.

Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past.

 

We showed ourselves around, jumping over rocks and trusting that we would have been alerted to the presence of polar bears in the area. While taking our photos and exploring the peninsula, the waves picked up even more and we were told that our bouncy outbound journey had not been typical, as we had thought. No, the journey is usually calmer and drier.

Sadly, the conditions had become dangerous and until the weather improved, we were stranded. The station was very comfortable and we all warmed up with a hot drink while we waited to learn our fate.

 

The waves crashed relentlessly against the rocks and threatened to capsize our relatively small boat, should we venture back. A call was put out and we were rescued by the Coast Guard.

This was an exciting and unexpected opportunity, and one that really opened my eyes to the range of work the Coast Guard do and the vessels on which they might be stationed.

Once again, we arrived safely back in Longyearbyen, grateful for the adventure that had been handed to us, even if it was a variation on our expectations.

 

For those that are curious, Alex and I did indeed exchange our engagement gifts in Svalbard, at the summit of Trollsteinen (Troll Rock). The hike across Lars Glacier to Trollsteinen was spectacular and from this vantage point, the colours of Longyearbyen’s houses popped against the white canvas on which they are scattered. The snow was thick and deep surrounding the glacier; the perfect location for a snowball fight!

 

Dog mushing, which can be done in any season and is sure to be enjoyed by children of any age, was a great way to see out an exhausting day of hiking. We sped across the tundra, the cold air seeping in through the onesie we were given prior to setting off. The dogs eagerly pulled our cart (we were a bit early for a sledge), keen to exercise both their leg and heart muscles. We took it in turns to steer them, following our guide’s cart up ahead, while the other sat back and enjoyed the ride through the arctic.

 

In writing about our time in Svalbard, I am reminded of a quote by author Greg Anderson: ‘Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.’ It didn’t matter that we were unable to summit Hiorthfjellet or get the boat back from Isfjord Radio; both experiences nonetheless contributed to making our trip to the world’s northernmost city unforgettable.

Reusable washable cloth nappies diapers nappy diaper. Collection of TotsBots EasyFit Star, Close Pop In, TotsBots Bamboozle and PeeNut Wrap, Baba+Boo Pocket Nappies and Milovia Pocket Nappies

10 Tips for using cloth nappies (diapers) while travelling

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o you love your cloth nappies/diapers but feel yourself reaching for disposables whenever you’re away from home? Maybe you feel a pang of guilt about the extra landfill waste but don’t quite know how to manage reusable products when you’re away from your trusty washing machine…and how on earth do you get them dry???

I was adamant that we would not be ditching the fluff every time we went away, but everyone I spoke to seemed to think it was impossible to use cloth nappies away from home and advised that we may as well pack some disposables. Even Alex had his doubts.

But, guess what?! It’s just as easy as at home! Here are a few tips so that you too can carry on using your cloth nappies wherever you are in the world!

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Work out how many nappies you’re going to need so you don’t waste valuable packing space. I like to wash mine every 2-3 days, I allow 1 day of drying time, and I take 1 day’s worth of spares (which has come in handy but I’m an ‘overpacker’ so you may not think this is necessary!), so I pack 4-5 days worth. Obviously your total number will vary depending on the age of your child (newborns need more than toddlers!). Don’t forget any extra inserts or boosters you use.

 

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Similarly, work out how many cloth wipes you need using the same formula as above! We also use cloth wipes for sticky hands and faces at meal times and as make-up remover pads, so I also pack extra for these purposes.

 

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Remember to pack liners. We use TotsBots fleece liners. They can be washed with the nappies and wipes, help keep your nappies stain-free, and ensure that your baby’s bum stays dry, thus preventing any itchy rashes. I pack one for each day-use nappy and two for each night-use nappy (we use TotsBots Bamboozles at night because of their excellent absorbency. However, because the whole nappy gets wet (unlike inserts), I like to use an extra liner to ensure the line around Theo’s waist also stays dry.

 

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At home, you may use a bucket or pail to store dirty nappies (I use a TotsBots bucket and mesh liners), but on the road, you’re going to need wet bags! I love Planet Wise wet bags as they contain smells and hold in the moisture. I use the medium size for out and about, and the large size for storing at wherever we’re calling ‘home’. I find that taking two of each size is enough for longer trips. They’re all machine washable so I stick any used bags in with each load of nappies and wipes.

 

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Choose nappies that are space efficient but will also meet all of your needs while you’re away. Your night nappies might be a bit bulkier, for example, but I consider this necessary bulk as I’d rather avoid changing pyjamas and bed sheets in the middle of the night!). It is also helpful to have some that dry quickly. Ultimately though, your nappy choices will probably depend on what you already own and what works best for your little one; they’re all different shapes and sizes so what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. We use a selection of the following: TotsBots EasyFit Stars, TotsBots Bamboozles with PeeNut Wraps, Milovia pocket nappies, Close Pop Ins, and Baba+Boo pocket nappies.

 

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Don’t forget about detergent. If you have a preferred detergent that you want to bring with you, measure out how much you’ll need based on how many washes you’ll want to do. Of course, you can buy detergent while you’re away but be aware that if, for example, you prefer non-bio, this isn’t easy to buy everywhere, and likewise for powders vs. liquids. Ecological brands are also not readily available in supermarkets all over the world. We managed to take an open box of detergent as hand luggage all over North America. We were a little surprised given stringent airport security in the States, but no one seemed too bothered about our box of mysterious white powder!

 

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Right, you’ve packed everything you need, but where are you going wash them?

We often choose to stay in an Airbnb (where you can enter ‘washer’ and ‘dryer’ as search filters) but have also stayed at hotels, motels, guesthouses and campsites/RV parks that have laundry facilities on site. These are typically coin operated machines that you can stick on and come back to later. I’ve been offered free wash cycles as a ‘thank you for using cloth’ at a number of campsites and motels!

Those that don’t have facilities for guests, may still allow you to use their housekeeping machines. Only at one hotel have they not allowed me to use their washing machines (but their housekeeping staff snuck a load on for me anyway when their manager wasn’t around!).

If there are no laundry facilities on site, there may be a local laundrette (we have used many!), or they can be hand-washed.

Of course, if you’re only away for a long weekend, there may not be any need to do any washing at all; just bring your nappies back dirty and do it at home.

 

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What about drying them? The sun is your best friend when it comes to simultaneously drying nappies and removing any stains. If possible, get them outside. If this isn’t an option (or it’s not sunny), I’ve hung nappies on every hangable object in our room/apartment. It doesn’t make for the best decor, but needs must!

 

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Don’t forget to pack a swim nappy or two! We love TotsBots swim nappies and find that having two is ideal for any length of trip. They can be added to your usual nappy wash or hand washed with swim wear, and they dry incredibly quickly. Perfect for the beach, pool, and any other water-based fun, you don’t need to use disposable swimming nappies while you’re away at all! We’ve left Theo is his ordinary cloth nappies when we have an impromptu swim in a waterfall, stream or fountain and have failed to pack swimming gear, but they do get a bit heavy, so I recommend carrying a swim nappy with you just in case!

 

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Finally, if you don’t fancy washing and stuffing nappies on your break, remind yourself that the manufacturing of disposable nappies puts a huge strain on our planet and that a disposable nappy will sit in landfill for approximately 500 years. If this isn’t motivation enough, can your nappy-wearer help you? Theo loves helping me put wipes in piles and placing fleece liners in his nappies. It can easily be turned into a fun game with loads of opportunities for learning; naming colours and objects on the prints, counting, sorting, and stacking.

I hope these pointers have been helpful. I promise that using cloth nappies while travelling is no different to at home!


Where can I buy cloth nappies, wipes, wet bags and ecological detergent?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information. However, I prefer to use independent ethical retailers. I always recommend www.babipur.co.uk as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!

Elephant-Gorongosa-Mozambique

Highlights of Mozambique in two weeks

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ften overshadowed by its neighbours to the north and south, Tanzania and South Africa, Mozambique is a hidden gem still relatively untouched by large-scale tourism.

It was partly for this reason that Alex and I chose to get married on Mozambique’s white-sand coastline in the north; it’s picturesque, private and an ocean-lover’s paradise. Over several trips, we took the opportunity to explore the length and breadth of the country’s diverse and beautiful landscape.

 

I have compiled a list of our favourite spots to see Mozambique’s wildlife, explore cities and bush, meet locals, relax and have some wonderful family (or child-free!) adventures. I recommend you drive as much as possible; we were able to see so much more, appreciate and understand the culture that much better, and come away with surprise experiences and stories that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

This itinerary is very possible to do in two weeks so as to accommodate school holidays or work commitments and will give you a wonderful taste of all that Mozambique has to offer, leaving you desperate to return for more!


Maputo

Mozambique’s capital is a bustling city full of people, traffic and noise, but it is also one of Africa’s most attractive capitals. Set on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean-style buildings house restaurants, cafes, bars and guesthouses on wide, tree-lined streets.  

The warnings you may hear of Maputo being unsafe are seemingly unfounded; everyone we met was friendly and we felt safe walking around at night. Of course, feelings of safety are anecdotal and depend entirely on personal experience, but I have no reservations about family travel here.

I highly recommend the craft market if you enjoy browsing beautiful artwork, sculpture and furniture. Be prepared to haggle but remember it’s a good rule of thumb to aim to pay what you think an item is worth, not the lowest possible.


Limpopo National Park

Parque Nacional Do Limpopo sits adjacent to Kruger National Park on the southern border with South Africa, and is a ‘big-five’ area.

I recommend staying at Machampane Wilderness Camp, located a five to six hour drive from Maputo. Set in the heart of the African bush, it’s an opportunity to enjoy being surrounded by nature.

The tented en suite rooms have basic facilities (running water but no electricity, and don’t be surprised if you share the room with ants and spiders) and rustic handmade furniture, including a comfortable bed for a good night’s rest. They’re certainly far more luxurious than any other tent I’ve slept in! The rooms overlook the Machampane river, which is home to hippos and a regular drinking source for other big game.

 

Our ranger was incredibly knowledgeable about both flora and fauna. During our dawn and dusk hikes through the bush, we were taught to identify clues while tracking game, which plants to avoid, and which plants would offer a lifeline if stuck out here unexpectedly.

After dinner, you can sit around a campfire with staff and other guests. The warming crackle of the fire, the blanket of stars overhead and the trickle of the running river, only briefly interrupted by the sound of elephants in the distance, all make for a relaxed evening affair after the excitement of the day’s adventures in the bush.


Gorongosa National Park

Located three hours from Beira airport, I urge you to make the journey to Gorongosa National Park for an incredible safari experience.

 

We had close encounters with lions and several huge herds of elephants, as well as many species of antelope. The resident warthogs, baboons and vervet monkeys are very curious and come right up to the secluded and tastefully furnished bedrooms.

The elephants of Gorongosa are survivors of the Mozambique civil war, a period that saw the numbers drop from over 2000 to approximately 500 elephants. The emotional scars remain, as is common with elephants recovering from severe poaching.

They are known to be anxious around humans and can charge if they feel threatened. Exposure to safe encounters with humans is reducing this anxiety but the guides are very knowledgeable about elephant behaviour so will keep you a safe distance and ensure you retreat if necessary.

The park itself is beautiful and offers a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Where Limpopo is quite flat, Gorongosa has mountains, forests and vast open plains.

Take a trip to the Vinho community, which includes a boat ride and walk through the village. You will meet the locals and have an opportunity to learn more about their daily life, customs and traditions.

When we visited, we struck up a conversation (translated by our guide) with a gentleman and his ten children. He was busy rebuilding one of his two mud houses for one of his wives. His other wife lived directly opposite in the second mud house, just a few steps away, and he split his time between the two houses and his two families. A very alien concept to us, a British family, but not uncommon here.

One of the sons showed us round his mother’s house. Stooping to enter and with little space to move inside, the first word that came to mind was ‘claustrophobic’, particularly for a family of 8. He pointed out the living quarters and, at the side, the sleeping area. The floor was bare and there was nothing obvious to distinguish these zones.

A humbling experience and a pleasure to meet these children, who happily play with their siblings and are overjoyed to simply be able to attend school.


Vilankulos and the Bazaruto Archipelago

Vilankulos is the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago. Although many people pass through, Vilankulos is worth a visit in its own right and we found it to be less touristy than some of the other popular beach towns.

 

I can recommend the Baobab Beach Backpackers hostel, which is located a ten minute drive from the airport and provides cheerful accommodation right on the beach in a relaxed, fun setting and at a very reasonable price. The town centre with its shops, cafes and colourful markets is an easy walk or tuk-tuk ride away.

 

If you’re after idyllic but fairly extravagant luxury, Bazaruto and Benguerra Islands are the place to be. Relax and eat your meals sitting on the white sand beaches; explore the waters by kayak or on a sunset dhow cruise; ride horses across the island and take a walk up the towering sand dunes, meeting resident flamingos on the way.

The helicopter ride between Vilankulos airport and the archipelago offers fantastic views and is highly recommended, but be warned that it doubles the cost of a one night stay!


Nacala

Located 4 hours drive or a charter flight from Nampula airport, Nuarro Lodge in Nacala is wonderfully isolated and combines ecotourism with the everyday luxuries of running water, electricity and WiFi. Built with sustainable, locally-sourced materials by the local community, they have an ethos of both environmentally and socially responsible tourism.

Located on Nanatha bay, right on a coral reef, this is a beautiful location for watersports and relaxation. The lodge offers a ranging of diving packages but the snorkelling is also formidable. Bring waterproof shoes for children so they can walk on the rocks. We really enjoyed the company of the management team and staff from the local village.


Mozambique Island

Ilha de Moçambique has several colonial buildings and attractions of interest. The call to prayer can be heard across the island from the mosque; just one of a number of examples where the coming together of two distinct cultures can be observed in the island’s architecture. Take a walk around the island and stop at local markets and shops.


Pemba and the Quirimbas Archipelago

The Quirimbas National Park offers every ocean adventure you could wish for: scuba diving, snorkelling, whale watching, fishing, sailing on a traditional handmade dhow, and boat trips to neighbouring islands.

 

I highly recommend Guludo Beach Lodge, a sustainable establishment that has been built with the environment and local community in mind. There’s no electricity or running water, and yet they still achieve luxury. This is where Alex and I had our wedding.

Discover the ocean, play archery and volleyball on the beach, learn the crafts of pottery and palm leaf weaving, and search for wildlife from the lookout. A visit to Guludo village is an opportunity to experience rural life and shop for fabric (Guludo’s tailor is incredibly talented and is happy to make clothes, bags and many other items from your chosen fabric). You could even contribute to a community project run by Nema, Guludo’s partner charity.


Africa is my favourite continent (of the five I have been to) and I feel drawn to keep going back, particularly to sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is certainly where my heart is!

Of course, every country is different, with its own customs, culture and societal norms, but three things come to mind when I think of the African continent: the bold, bright colours of the landscape that are mirrored in clothes and artwork, and enable the collective African personality to shine; the music, led by the beat of a drum, that compels even the most rhythmically challenged to get up and dance; and the broad smiles of the people you’ll meet, so welcoming and proud that they are able to show you the country they love. Certainly, we experienced all this and more in Mozambique.

2-weeks-in-Mozambique 2-weeks-in-Mozambique
Northern Lights Aurora Borealis visible against a starry sky in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Grass, a path and small building visible in the foreground.

Churchill: Home of bears, belugas and borealis

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icknamed the ‘polar bear capital of the world’, Churchill, Manitoba, is a bucket list destination that delivered on all its promises. When we decided we were going to Canada, this was the first location that was put on the ‘we must go here’ list and I meticulously worked out when would give us the best chance of seeing polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. I decided on the last week of August and left the rest of our Canadian adventure to fall into place around it. My forethought paid off and we were treated to incredible experiences with all three! Most tourists descend on the small town to witness the polar bears migrating back out onto the ice in October and November, a time when the number of bears passing through Churchill outnumber the human population, but they sadly miss out on seeing and interacting with the playful and curious beluga whales, so I recommend planning your trip for the summer months.

The whales started coming, bumping up against our kayaks and paddles, diving beneath us, and resurfacing on the other side.

We booked guided excursions with Lazy Bear Expeditions and stayed for five nights at Lazy Bear Lodge. Staffed primarily by young seasonal workers, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Everyone we met was personable, knowledgeable, helpful and made a huge fuss of Theo! My only complaint is that management wouldn’t let us wash Theo’s nappies. This is the first and only time this has been an issue; most places have offered money off laundry as a ‘thank you for using cloth’! The staff were great though and helped us find an alternative solution. We very rarely book packaged trips or organised excursions like this, but to get the most out of your trip to Churchill, it’s somewhat necessary. Polar trips are often this way as the threats of extreme weather, difficult terrain, few conveniences aimed at tourists and deadly predators put people off doing it alone; we found Svalbard to be the same, for example.

Churchill itself is a small town but is well equipped for its 800 residents. We were surprised that the Town Centre Complex houses a cinema, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, as well as various sports facilities, health services and a school. On the main stretch, there are only a few places to eat, including Lazy Bear Lodge Restaurant, which serves good food in a cosy environment, and Gypsy’s, a bakery and cafe with a friendly atmosphere. Stop into the post office to get Churchill’s polar bear stamp added to your passport, and I recommend a trip to the Eskimo museum to browse their collection of Inuit carvings, artefacts and artwork, learn about Inuit history and culture, and pick up locally-made gifts and artwork. Outings to the Prince of Wales Fort and Cape Merry also make for interesting historical afternoons, and offer picturesque views over the Churchill River and Hudson Bay.
The Inuksuk is an Inuit navigation tool

Following flooding this spring that caused extensive damage to the Hudson Bay railway line, Churchill was left even more cut off from the rest of the world, many people lost their jobs and the community now faces steep price increases in food, fuel and vital supplies. The disaster prompted artists from around the globe to travel to Churchill for the Sea Walls Festival, a conservation event that raises awareness about the importance of protecting our oceans. You’ll notice 18 vibrant, eye-catching murals painted in and around the town. Through this artwork, the artists highlight the impact of global warming and the fragility of our relationship with our environment. One of my favourite murals was that painted by artist Pat Perry on the side of Miss Piggy, a Commando cargo aircraft that crashed in November 1979 400m/440 yards short of the runway with no fatalities. We climbed up into the aircraft to admire both the eerie remains of the plane and Perry’s artistic vision, which portrays solidarity and the coming together of people when disasters that threaten communities strike, just like the extreme weather that has hit the Churchill community so hard.

On our first day, we were taken out on a zodiac boat with only one other couple, down the Churchill River and out into Hudson Bay. The boat ride itself was fun, bouncing over the waves with the fresh northern air awakening our senses. This trip was unlike any other whale watching cruise I’d done; I was used to running from port to starboard to catch the best glimpse of humpbacks and orcas on larger boats that take you out for a full 4-5 hours. I didn’t imagine that this would be such an intimate experience. White in colour when fully grown, with a dorsal ridge instead of a dorsal fin, and a bulbous head containing the organ used for echolocation, Belugas are among the most distinctive of whales. They are known to be very sociable and usually travel in pods of approximately 10 whales, although they can also congregate in much large groups. First, one pod came, followed by a second, and within minutes we were surrounded by a super-pod of 40+ whales. Curious, playful and within touching distance, the belugas appeared to smile as they rolled in circles next to us, inviting us to interact with them.

You can also book kayaking and snorkelling as additional Beluga watching excursions. Despite our best efforts, Theo wasn’t allowed on the kayaks (due to age-related insurance restrictions) so he stayed on the zodiac support boat with a lovely member of staff while Alex and I had a paddle. He was always within waving distance and continued to point out whales to me from his slightly higher vantage point, so this was a good solution for us all to be able to enjoy the excursion. Initially, the whales were shyer than they had been during our zodiac tour, and we were feeling a little disappointed. We were advised by our guides that the whales are attracted to noise so we could try imitating the clicks and whistles that earned them the nickname ‘sea canaries’. One lady in our group took this information a little too much on board. For the full extent of our time on the water she squealed, shrieked, caw-cawed and sung out of tune. We paddled away from the group, trying to put a bit of distance between us and the incessant racket, and to instead enjoy the tranquillity of being on the water. Lo and behold, the whales started coming, bumping up against our kayaks and paddles, diving beneath us, and resurfacing on the other side. We were greeted by mums and their calves, still a youthful grey, as well as larger males. It seemed that, on this occasion, they were also put off by the piercing shrieks of our tour buddy!

The increasing temperature of our planet is melting the sea ice earlier and thus forcing polar bears onto land for longer periods each season.

We always seek to explore destinations by heading off the beaten track and, despite the necessity of booking some organised tours, Churchill was no exception. We hired a car for the day, packed a picnic and drove off on our own in search of polar bears. There are only a few roads in Churchill and every one of them is a dead end; it is impossible to get lost or stray too far! Information on bear sightings is shared throughout the town so before heading out, I recommend asking for tips on where to go. A female bear and her two cubs had been spotted making their way along the beach, and a lone male had been seen further down the coast. Over the course of the day, we found several bears, all looking sleepy and completely nonchalant about our presence. During the summer, when the ice melts and polar bears make their way to land, they conserve energy and spend their time resting during a period of what has been termed ‘walking hibernation’. The increasing temperature of our planet is melting the sea ice earlier and thus forcing polar bears onto land for longer periods each season. The formation of sea ice is vital to the survival of polar bears as it provides a platform for mating during the Spring and hunting bearded and ringed seals. Over time, polar bears are getting lighter as they spend more time away from their hunting ground, and lighter female bears means fewer cubs. Underweight polar bears struggle to have successful pregnancies; a protective mechanism that ensures only bears fit enough to withstand pregnancy, labour, nursing and 6 months in their maternity den through Winter without food will carry cubs. Those that do manage to see their pregnancy through will birth smaller and more vulnerable cubs. Unlike the huge tundra buggies that provide a viewing platform for groups of tourists, we were able observe the bears’ natural behaviour from close range without disturbing them from their vital rest.

 

Our second solo outing was less successful but makes for a good anecdote:

Off we go in a hired beaten up old 4×4. We head out towards the research centre (which is worth a quick visit for a coffee and to learn about current projects) in the hope of finding cubs. There are a few glaring faults with the car, but we persevere (apparently we just have to “hit the dash” if it fails to start! In hindsight, this should probably have raised a few more red flags!) We take one of the smaller unpaved tracks towards the beach, constantly turning our heads like owls, searching for any sign of white against the greens and browns of the tundra. We veer slightly to avoid a large flooded pothole at a breakneck speed of 20mph, but no big deal, that’s what the 4 wheel drive is for. Uh, the 4 wheel drive doesn’t work and we’re now well and truly stuck in a muddy bog. Alex gets out to push and I slip into the driver’s seat. “1, 2, 3…vroooom!” Nada. A lot of revving, we’ve not budged an inch and now Alex is covered in mud, spat at him by spinning tyres. We swap. Great, now I’m muddy too and Theo is beginning to think that this looks like a great game! We all start searching for sticks to assist in digging out the tyres, now icebergs in a sea of mud. With no trees or large plants, it’s not really surprising that there are no sticks. We resort to using our hands. Now looking like we’ve had some sort of spa treatment gone wrong, we decide that digging our way out is not going to work. Obviously there’s no service on our phones as we’re in the middle of nowhere, so calling for help isn’t possible. The only option, bar huddling together in the back of the car for the night with no food, no warm clothing and very little remaining water, is to walk back to the main road and wait for rescue. Churchill has one rule: do not walk on the rocks. Bears can be hidden from view and appear only when you quite literally stumble across them. The road is surrounded by rocks and we can either climb over these rocks to the main road, or take the long way by following the track. We sensibly choose the latter and cautiously begin our trek back down what we later learn locals refer to as ‘Polar Bear Alley’. Clutching Theo and a can of bear spray with equal vigour, and with darting eyes and escalated heart rates, we quicken our pace. If it weren’t for the constant rendition of nursery rhymes sung at an eardrum-bursting volume both to deter any bears and distract Theo from the cold, we would be obvious prey. We thankfully don’t meet any bears and make it back to the road alive, where we sit and hope that someone will be along shortly. A car rounds the bend so we start waving. They slow, wind down the window and ask with puzzled looks “where on Earth is your vehicle?!” It’s not common for people to wander this far out of town due to the risk of becoming dinner, much less with a toddler and clearly not dressed or equipped for a hike, so this was a fair question. Recounting our tale, we bundle into the car and return to the town with the researcher and his visiting girlfriend. We’re greeted with exclaims of “you walked down Polar Bear Alley?!” and met with laughter when we proudly point out that we had bear spray; “You’re in polar bear country! I don’t go anywhere without my gun!” The car was rescued too and all was well. We had a fun adventure but next time, if the car has faults, we won’t be going out looking for polar bears…or we’ll just travel prepared for a breakdown!

I was fascinated by the ‘polar bear jail’ and would love to see research supporting its safe and successful use for both bears and humans. A former aircraft storage hangar, the inside of which only official ‘prison guards’ and ‘detainees’ can enter, is a designated holding facility for polar bears that venture too close to the town of Churchill. They are captured in large, can-like traps using seal meat as bait and transported to jail, where they remain for 30 days in solitary confinement, total darkness, and without food, before being taken back to the wild and left at a safe distance from the town. My feeling was that this sounded utterly horrendous but, on being grilled thoroughly, our guide reassured me that the procedure is as humane as possible, and that the bears are kept in optimised temperatures and given water. The aim is to ensure the safety of both bears and humans and to prevent bears associating humans with food; obviously if they cross paths, injury to both species increases. As Churchill sits on the migration route, the Autumn season sees hundreds of hungry polar bears passing right through the town, making Halloween a particularly scary time of year for the people who live here. Not feeding the bears is controversial; some argue that, if the bears are on land, it is not their typical hunting season so they do not miss access to food, and that humans have a responsibility to keep interspecies engagement to a minimum by not feeding wild animals, whereas others believe that confining hungry animals without food amounts to starving them. My view is that punishing the bears for following a migration route that has existed long before Churchill became a town, cannot be the best way to keep both species safe. While the model of a ‘polar bear jail’ is supported by research on operant conditioning, psychologists understand that this approach is relatively ineffective in teaching children, so I find it hard to believe that it would be effective in encouraging other mammals to change behavioural patterns that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Certainly, I find the use of tranquilisers for this purpose unacceptable. As someone with expertise in human behaviour but little knowledge about animal behaviour, I also had a lot of questions about the impact of being in ‘jail’ on the bears’ circadian rhythms (of course, during the summer the sun shines for long hours, but they are still kept in darkness), mating patterns, and the survival rates of cubs following release. These are unfortunately questions I am still searching for the answers to.

 

Lazy Bear Lodge operates a helpful ‘Aurora Alert’ system, whereby you can request to receive a phone call to your room at any time if the Aurora Borealis is visible in Churchill. We had studied the weather predictions and arranged to take a car down to the beach with another couple on the night that we thought would offer the best chance of seeing the infamous Northern Lights. Alex and I had sat by the window for a couple of nights, allowing Theo to carry on sleeping but feeling teased by glimpses of green against the black of night, and itching to get outside and away from the artificial light of the town. Ultimately we were grateful we waited until the best day to actually drag him out of bed; it was definitely a show worth seeing, and I’m sure he’ll understand when he’s older, although he was a little perplexed at the time! We wrapped him up in warm clothes and he curiously gazed at the bouncing colours filling the sky before tiredness won over and he happily nursed back to sleep. Patterns effortlessly shimmied from one end of the sky to the other, like leaves caught in a breeze, constantly changing form, colour and shape. A shimmering, twirling circle beamed down from above, marking our spot on the planet. We were in the centre of a dancing petticoat, our attention captured by the graceful ballerina performing pique turns above us. The colours float, then dart suddenly into a new formation. Utterly bewitching, the sight of the Northern Lights is a magic like no other.

Utterly bewitching, the sight of the Northern Lights is a magic like no other.

 

 

As a final excursion, we booked a dog mushing trip with Blue Sky Expeditions. Alex and I had previously enjoyed dog sledding in Svalbard, and thought that Theo would love it. During our outings by car, we had seen large groups of dogs tied up and abandoned outside in the middle of nowhere, and were concerned that they would become easy prey for bears. Unlike some of the other companies that sadly own these abandoned dogs, we were pleased to discover that Gerald Azure and his wife, owners of Blue Sky Expeditions, care deeply about their dogs and treat them properly. We were given a lot of information about the dogs and the history of dog mushing (as well as some delicious freshly baked treats!) and had a fun short outing with the dogs. Theo was beside himself with excitement! Feeding whiskey jacks (also known as Grey Jays or Canada Jays) was another highlight of this outing for him, and a great opportunity to see and interact with Canada’s national bird!

Plan Toys dino cars

Screen-free travel: Choosing eco-friendly toys to take on long journeys

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o you have a long journey coming up but feel worried about keeping your little one entertained for the duration? Whether you’re travelling by car, plane, train or boat, the thought of a confined child for a prolonged period, attracting glances riddled with judgement and silent loathing from fellow travellers if your child so much as makes a peep, is enough to make many parents wonder whether the journey is even worth it. We started doing long journeys with Theo when he was 10 days old (this first journey was the 327 mile drive from the Lake District to London for Christmas, which took 7 hours with a newborn) and he’s been on 24 flights to date, countless multi-day-long car journeys, and several long boat and train trips. We choose not to use screens to entertain him, so have no child-friendly apps and he doesn’t watch any children’s tv or films. That’s not to say that he won’t enjoy an in-flight movie when he’s older, and certainly no judgement if you do use screens, do whatever works for your family, but, if you want to travel screen-free, let me reassure you that it is possible. I’ve compiled a list of our favourite toys to travel with, all of which have been invaluable not just during long journeys but also to stick in a bag for when we’re out and about. Of course, you don’t need all of these; consider the length of your trip, the length of your journey, the age and development of your child or children, and your luggage allowances. It’s also worth remembering that children will play with anything and will find ways to entertain themselves that us adults won’t have even considered. Theo will happily run up and down the plane aisles, read the in-flight magazine and play with the tray table or remote control, but it’s useful to have a few toys on hand too. These are just our personal favourites and all of them are sustainable and ethically made. 


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Tegu magnetic blocks are a firm favourite, both with Theo and with Alex. For toddler and engineer, the possibilities are endless! We have an 8-piece and a 6-piece set, plus a set of 4 wheels. These are small and light enough to make them practical for travel, but diverse enough in terms of colour and shape to provide options for imaginative building projects. Theo is really into vehicles so the wheels are an essential component of our set and worth forking out the extra cash for. The sets come in convenient felt pouches so individual blocks don’t end up buried and hidden at the bottom of rucksacks. Their internal magnets, as well as providing Theo with a sense of magical wonder when they click together, also reduce the potential for loss, and make it easy for little hands to manipulate individual blocks to form structures limited only by the imagination. Great for creativity and fine motor control, these blocks have no minimum or maximum age limit.


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The Grimm’s mini rainbow is a 6-piece wooden stacker, cut from a single piece of sustainable lime wood and naturally stained using non-toxic water-based colour. This allows the grain of the wood to show through the bright colours. A tiny and much cheaper version of the popular 12-piece rainbow tunnel and the larger 6-piece rainbow, the mini is a pocket-sized open-ended toy for all ages. ‘What is it?’ is a silly question posed only by adults. It’s a tunnel, a bridge, a car ramp, a boat, a rocking chair, a tower…it’s whatever your child wants it to be.


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Our four Plan Toys dino cars have been taken on countless adventures! Plan Toys are made from beautiful, smooth rubberwood and come in dappled, appealing colours. These Dinos are the perfect size and shape for little hands to push up and down plane aisles, or along restaurant tables while waiting for your meal. Ours have also been out for competitive races along tree trunks and are taken to graze on park lawns. All Plan Toys products are made using either rubber trees that no longer produce latex, or Planwood, a material made by compressing the sawdust produced in the Plan Toys factory, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. The whole process is carbon-neutral and non-formaldehyde glue, organic colour pigments and water-based dyes are used to finish and construct the toys.


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Also by Plan Toys, we love the nuts and bolts. I bought this for Theo while travelling. He had developed a determined fascination with our Klean Kanteen bottle tops, insisting on twisting the lids on and off himself, and these seemed the perfect solution to potential spills and toddler frustrations at the lid being too tight. Screwing and unscrewing the large pieces on the bolts allows him to practise this skill without getting soaking wet, and can be played with anywhere. They are also designed in a way to allow imaginative play. We’ve built people and flowers with ours, and Theo finds it hilarious to wear them as funny noses!


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If your child likes threading toys, I highly recommend the Haba number threading dragon and the Bajo lacing fox. The dragon features ten chunky beech wood pieces, each numbered and painted with natural paint in rainbow colours, making it suitable for both younger travellers and those developing their counting skills. The fox, with smaller holes and two shoelaces to thread and tie, is more fiddly and therefore better for slightly older toddlers, preschoolers and primary-age children. Theo will concentrate on them both with such intensity and undivided attention, practising them until he’s mastered it. They’re both fabulous toys for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.


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Lanka Kade make beautiful chunky rubberwood puzzles that range from just two or three pieces to large numbered and alphabet sets. We are currently playing with the three-piece elephant and four-piece train, which are compact, lightweight and ideal for Theo at the moment. I have a ten-piece numbered gorilla stashed for the future (he currently only knows numbers 1 to 3 and wouldn’t be able to identify these in written form yet), which I’m looking forward to watching him play with and will still be small enough for travel. I feel very proud watching him turn the pieces over, trying different orientations and celebrating with a big grin when he figures it out.


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We are big fans of Holztiger and Ostheimer wooden figures but, unless your child has one that’s a particular favourite, they are a bit too heavy to be practical for travel. We love Green Rubber Toys as a much lighter alternative. Their realistic animals are suitable from birth, made from durable natural rubber and non-toxic paints, and, with no holes to collect mould, they can also be used as bath toys.


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If your child enjoys peg puzzles, I can recommend Hape puzzles. The boards are smaller than some other brands and can easily be slotted down the back of a rucksack. I store the pieces separately in a little drawstring bag, which Theo can access as and when he wants it. Puzzles like these don’t seem like the ideal travelling toy, but can be broken down to make storage easier. They are ideal for those practising their fine motor control and problem solving.


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Plan Toys tins are great for older toddlers, preschoolers and primary age children. There are six different tins available; we have only tried the mini balancing cactus (here is the larger version). Theo loves trying to build the cactus by carefully slotting each piece into the last. It retains his focus and concentration, but the base moves easily on smooth surfaces so it can also be frustrating for him. It will topple less as he learns to apply his strength appropriately for different tasks, but for now knocking it down on purpose is a great game! In the coming months and years, I expect he will start to enjoy playing this as a game with other people: who can add or take away a piece without tumbling the rest?


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ÖkoNorm do a full range of crayons, colour pencils, paints and modelling clay, all made with non-toxic, renewable materials. They even have vegan options as an alternative to their beeswax crayons. Colouring is a constant hit while travelling, and it’s a joy to see Theo be creative, explore mark-making and develop his pencil control. The clay does get in fingernails, so have some cloth wipes handy, but it’s a great artistic outlet that’s practical for confined spaces, and can be stored and reused.


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I have gone back and forth on whether or not to include the Plan Toys first shape sorter on this list so I’ll pop it in here as a sneaky eleventh item. We like it, but we don’t love it. While it is a wonderfully compact toy that is great for developing skills in shape sorting and colour matching, it can also be quite frustrating.

The string that links the three coloured shapes together and connects them to the base, is too short in my opinion. It can be tricky for Theo to manipulate with ease and he finds it confusing that the string can block him from pushing the shape through, even when he has it in the correct orientation. Without the string, it would be like any other shape sorter and would be disastrous for travelling; I have visions of bruised individuals, angrily shouting that they’ve had a wooden cube chucked their way yet again. With the string, however, it is very restrictive, but has nonetheless helped Theo practise shape and colour identification.

 


So there is my list of our favourite eco-friendly toys to travel with. Of course, all children are different and you may have other tried and tested suggestions that work for your family. I’m always keen to hear new ideas so please feel free to add to this list by commenting. Books, stickers and snacks (lots of them!) also go down well here! If you’re new to travelling with young children, don’t let the thought scare you. People are generally very understanding that children cannot sit still in the same seat for hours at a time (nor can this adult!) and that, when travelling by plane, their ears will pop (I tend to breastfeed during takeoff and landing to minimise this). You will likely find that at least a few fellow passengers and airline staff want to help you entertain your child and will happily play peekaboo over the seats. You never know, even the most sleep-hating child may drift off to the hum of the engine, and if not, I hope you see something on here that you think your kids will enjoy!

 


Where can I buy these toys?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on www.amazon.co.uk. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information. However, I prefer to use independent ethical retailers. I always recommend www.babipur.co.uk as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!

Yellowstone National Park

Escaping the tourists in Yellowstone

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n 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. Last year, over 4.25 million people visited Yellowstone National Park, with roughly 25% of these visiting in July. The route we were taking across North America meant that we were going to be at the park for the last week of July, so I was understandably concerned that the hordes of other tourists would ruin this bucket list experience, not to mention how this level of visitation would impact the wildlife. While a lot of the ‘must see’ spots within the park were busy, we were advised by a backcountry ranger that most people don’t go off the beaten path, and many don’t even bother to get out of their vehicles, so it is still possible to come during the busy season and experience nature to the fullest. So, off we went, armed with bear spray, into Yellowstone’s backcountry hoping to escape the tourists.

Looking out into the canyon with the same view as the eagles is simply breathtaking.

Trout Lake in the Lamar Valley is a flat, family-friendly walk that takes you through a crunchy, dry forest (although I expect this is limited to the summer season!), perfect for stick-collecting and minibeast hunting, and down to the Lake, where we saw only one other family enjoying an afternoon of fishing. Wild flowers surround the water (at this time of year!), and you may see pronghorn, deer and bison passing through. The Lamar Valley is particularly famous for its two wolf packs, and of course bears may also be about, so keep your eyes peeled!

 

The trail from Pelican Creek to Yellowstone Lake is also easy terrain, picturesque, and relatively undiscovered. Look out for pelicans, eagles and osprey, as well as grizzly bears, and enjoy paddling, skimming stones and playing in the sand at the water’s edge.

 

The Clear and Ribbon Lake trail, passing through Artist Point and Point Sublime, was my favourite walk. This path takes you along the 366 meter-high grand canyon of Yellowstone, where you can appreciate the red, orange and pink stripes of the rock, contrasting with the bright blue and bubbling white of the Yellowstone River rapids below. Looking out into the canyon with the same view as the eagles is simply breathtaking and worth the extra hike beyond the point where most tourists stop, satisfied that they’ve taken a couple of decent photos. Of course, also in this area are the thunderous upper and lower falls, at 33 meters and 94 meters respectively.

Devouring a deer carcass, we were reminded that his might is not to be underestimated.

We were lucky to see grizzlies and black bears while in Yellowstone (I discovered that, confusingly and making it rather harder for an amateur bear spotter to correctly identify the species, black bears can be a variety of shades; we saw both black-coated and cinnamon brown-coated black bears). You can usually tell when someone has spotted a bear as all traffic grinds to a halt, people line the side of the road and cameras come out. We felt a little more adventurous, so on one occasion we took to the plains in order to see these amazing animals a little closer and without the noise from the road to spook them. There was certainly something exhilarating about running towards a cluster of trees that we knew had, a few minutes prior, devoured a large male bear, hiding him from view of other onlookers. We chose a rock to stand on, and watched from a safe distance as the formidable predator appeared from the shrubs. Devouring a deer carcass, we were reminded that his might is not to be underestimated; his cuddly exterior, reminiscent of many a child’s bedtime friend, merely an illusion. He rose and slowly started plodding towards us…time to retreat to another rock (you can see the rock we retreated from in one of the adjacent photos). It is of course tempting to get as close as possible to the wildlife (that, and the landscape, is probably what you have come to Yellowstone to witness), but please let me remind you that these are wild animals whose contact with humans should be limited, so do not feed the animals and stay a distance of 100 yards (91m) from bears and wolves, and 25 yards (23m) from everything else. Of course there are times when this isn’t possible: bison walk down the road alongside vehicles, for example. Be respectful, give them space, and don’t do anything stupid like get out of the car to say ‘hello’! You’re rolling your eyes, thinking ‘surely no one would do that!’ aren’t you? We saw people do just this, and others get within about 5 meters of a herd of bison just to take a selfie. Don’t be that person! If the animals don’t get you, the park rangers certainly will!

It would be neglectful to write a piece on Yellowstone without mentioning the well-known sights. They are, of course, famous because they are truly spectacular, but they are far from the only things going on in Yellowstone’s 3500 square miles. Yellowstone is one of only 6 active supervolcanoes across the planet and has one of the highest concentrations of geothermal activity. As a Brit who has spent her life living in a country relatively safe from natural disaster, seeing the geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone was one of only a handful of personal experiences where I could really see, hear and smell the unbelievable force of our planet. When you stand below a 60 meter eruption, you feel very powerless and you become aware of fragility of the human race at the hands of the Earth. We stood in the middle of three geysers in the Upper Basin (Old Faithful: a cone geyser and the most frequently erupting geyser in the park, Grand: a fountain geyser and the tallest predictable geyser, and Castle: the largest of the cone geysers and the oldest geyser in the basin) as they simultaneously shot into the air; frenzied jets of water, clouds of steam and the resultant rainbows creating a 360˚ light and water show. The geothermal areas at Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, and the Norris Geyser Basin, where you’ll find the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat, are all boardwalked, easy to navigate and showcase a wide variety of hot springs, pools and geysers. We also enjoyed the slightly less frequented 0.85 mile loop boardwalk that starts at the vast Sulphur Caldron (it smells just as its name suggests!) and passes Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring.

There are several options for accommodation in the park, as well as countless alternatives just outside each of the park’s five entrances. We were travelling in an RV, and spent half our time at Bridge Bay campsite and half at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Fishing Bridge has the luxuries of full hookups, showers and laundry facilities, but both were equally clean and had enough space for each tent/RV, including a firepit and picnic table. Before Theo arrived, I had only ever camped in remote backcountry, but the ease of having toilets and laundry facilities a short walk away was ideal with a toddler, particularly as we use cloth nappies/diapers! That said, we passed many backcountry spots that I silently earmarked as perfect family campgrounds so I hope we’ll return in the future for a more remote experience!

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The magical islands of Haida Gwaii

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ever have I been to a place where the whole population is so mindful about taking only what they need from the planet, and the people’s connection to the land and sea is so evident through their art, mythology and way of life. Beautiful Haida Gwaii, meaning ‘Islands of the People’, is an archipelago of approximately 150 islands off the west coast of British Columbia. With only two paved roads, one conveniently passing through all the main towns on Graham Island, and one through Sandspit on Moresby Island, these islands are remote, and travel to Gwaii Haanas (‘Islands of Beauty’) National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is by air or sea only. Perhaps the best way to see Gwaii Haanas is by multi-day boat trip of at least a week, but if your time or budget does not stretch that far, it is possible to do a day trip and spend your remaining time exploring the many beaches, hiking trails and cultural sites accessible by road.

Given how isolated the islands are, the unpredictable weather (expect rain, high winds and big waves) and a (very welcome, in my opinion!) lack of resort-style kid amenities, this may not be the first place you think of for your family holiday, but I urge you to reconsider. We have just spent an adventurous week on Haida Gwaii, where Theo was in his element. We flew from Vancouver to Sandspit and then hired a car to enable us to explore the islands as far the paved and logging roads would allow. There are many options for accommodation; we decided to stay near Tlell, just inside the boundaries of Naikoon Provincial Park, in a self-catered guesthouse. This option is perfect for families as we were able to cook our own meals and had more than enough space for the three of us.

Theo is at an age where hikes of up to 15km/10miles are manageable and enjoyable for us all. He’ll happily walk a fair amount of this, but we use a sling or back carrier when he wants a break. This also maintains our sanity after we’ve chased him heading back the way we’ve just come along a trail/down a hill/to the edge of cliff for the umpteenth time! We did several beautiful hikes on Graham Island, including Spirit Lakes, a loop trail that can be done with a member of Gwaii Haanas staff as a guide, and Tow Hill, a 122m/400’ hill formed from lava eruptions approximately 2 million years ago. The trail at Tow Hill is well-signed for both the summit and the surge channel known as the ‘Blow Hole’, it offers beautiful views over North Beach and the lava rock beach directly below, and a number of plaques provide written information about the significance of the area to the Haida. North Beach was the location of Theo’s first driving lesson. On a wet, misty day, the beach was deserted so we allowed him to sit behind the wheel of our Jeep (on Alex’s lap). ‘Brum brumming’ is his favourite activity of late but this, of course, had previously been restricted to when the engine is off. “Left, left, left!”…”No, not that far left, right!” we laughed/yelled as the ocean and then rocks alternated into our line of sight. I think it’s fair to say that he might need a bit more practice at directions and steering control before we let him loose anywhere other than miles of tightly packed sand, shared only with a few eagles and a small shipwreck!

The smells, sights and sounds of the rainforest are best when unfiltered by human presence.

Tow Hill
North Beach shipwreck

Our favourite hikes were those off trail. The smells, sights and sounds of the rainforest are best when unfiltered by human presence. One afternoon, we were exploring the logging roads by car, looking for a trail to stop at, when we came to a dead end of what can only be described as a ‘tree graveyard’. We felt saddened to see the immense cedar trees reduced to huge piles of debris, and understood the Haida’s long battle against the occurrence of logging on their islands. We scrambled over the wreckage towards a river, in the hope that this would lead to Yakoun Lake. The river took us through the forest, moss covered trees once again towering above us, to a bay on the lake. We navigated a river crossing by walking along fallen trees and jumping across rocks, and worked our way to a spot where we could see the full expanse of water and the mountains surrounding it. We found a canoe and paddle tied to tree and hoped that the owners wouldn’t mind if we borrowed it. Sadly, we weren’t on the lake long before the rickety boat started filling with water, so we made a swift return. Thankfully we had enough time to enjoy the colours of the approaching evening from the water before turning our attention back to our return walk and keeping an eye (and ear!) out for bears!

Wildlife is in abundance and we were privileged to have close encounters (thankfully from the car, not on foot!) with at least half a dozen black bears during our time on the islands. Hiada Gwaii black bears are the largest subspecies of the American black bear, and have evolved to have larger jaws, molars and skulls than their mainland cousins, thanks to their crunchier diet of crustaceans and molluscs as well as salmon, berries and plants. We also had frequent sightings of bald eagles, ravens and other birds of prey. Sitka black-tailed deer were introduced to the islands in the late 19th century and can now be seen around every bend. They are largely responsible for the lack of ground-level vegetation and wild flowers in the forests, so are now under management in an attempt to restore balance to the natural ecosystem.

Evidence suggests that the Haida have lived on the islands since the end of the last ice age. Prior to European contact, the considerable Haida population was spread over dozens of villages. Outbreaks of smallpox and tuberculosis following the arrival of Europeans reduced the population to approximately 6-700, all of whom congregated in two villages that still exist today and are home to the majority of the remaining Haida: Skidegate and Old Masset. The Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate houses artefacts and artwork, and is well worth a visit. There are six totem poles located at the centre, and you are welcomed into the carving house where artists work on others as well as canoes. During our visit, Jim Hart, Haida chief and master carver, and his team were working on a 30’ pole for the new hospital in Queen Charlotte, which aims to welcome all its patients, visitors and staff. When completed, it will feature an eagle and a raven, representing the two clans of the Haida, a nurse, and a watchman. Totem poles traditionally tell a story or illustrate a family crest, and are raised outside homes in order to identify who lives there, at significant locations, or for particular celebrations. They typically depict a mixture of animals and mythical creatures. We were lucky to meet several highly regarded artists during our stay, including Jim Hart and Ben Davidson, who were happy to explain the stories and inspiration behind their work. Take the time to stop in the many art galleries and studios to appreciate the unique Haida style and learn more about their culture, but don’t expect to be taking any artwork home with you unless your budget stretches VERY far. The Heritage Centre is also committed to preserving the Haida language, which is unlike any other in the world, Haida traditions, such as the potlatch, a gift-giving feast and opportunity to discuss important community business and celebrate social occasions, and is the location of many cultural celebrations.

The carving house at The Haida Heritage Centre

 

 

Magical Haida Gwaii is where the fairies of your childhood stories live.

 

Gwaii Haanas is a ‘must’. Jointly run by Parks Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation, it is the only park in the world that offers protection from ‘mountaintop to seafloor’. Unless you have your own boat, kayak or seaplane, you will have to approach one of the tour operators to organise your trip. The zodiac boat trips can be choppy, windy and wet and can take a number of hours, depending where in the park you want to visit, so may not be the best option for younger travellers. For this reason, we opted for a seaplane, which we shared with 3 others, thus bringing the cost down (it actually worked out cheaper than a boat!). Theo sat up front with the pilot and loved it! Gwaii Haanas contains approximately 500 identified Haida heritage sites and is abundant in flora and fauna. There are no established trails, but you are free to walk within the park as long as you remain respectful of the cultural significance of the area, as well as the delicate ecosystem. The most popular sites to visit are popular for good reason and, with a limit of 12 people at a site at any one time, everyone is able to experience the wilderness of Gwaii Haanas without feeling crowded by other tourists. The totem poles and longhouses in Nang Sdins Llnagaay (Ninstins) on SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of other villages can also be seen at K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans), T’aanuu Llnagaay (Tanu), Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay (Hotspring Island) and Hlk’yah GawGa (Windy Bay). Windy Bay celebrates old with new and is the location of the 13 meter legacy pole raised in 2013 to celebrate the 20 years of joint management of Gwaii Haanas. Theo had a wonderful time splashing in the hotsprings on Hotspring Island, while Alex and I enjoyed a relaxing soak with a beautiful view of the surrounding islands.

The purple and blue mist enveloping the hills, the carpet of moss that creeps up the trees, the tales of mythical creatures and the life of the forest; magical Haida Gwaii is where the fairies of your childhood stories live.

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Hi, I’m Joss, Eco Family Travel Blogger

Hi, I’m Joss. I’m married to Alex and we have a son, Theo, who will be 2 in December. We were both raised in London but moved to the Lake District in northwest England, where we lived for 5 years. I am a Clinical Psychologist and Alex is an engineering Project Manager, but we both have a passion for travel. We are in the process of moving to Christchurch, New Zealand, and are taking some well-deserved time out of work to travel en route.

 

I’m very lucky that I grew up in a family that travels; in fact, I’ve been abroad at least once, usually more, every year of my 28-year long life. Before Alex and I started dating, I travelled solo a fair bit in Europe, around China, across Jordan, and up Kilimanjaro. Travelling is certainly part of who I am, and I don’t just mean ‘I like going on holiday’ (because, in my view, there is a huge difference between holiday and travel), I mean I want to really explore every corner of this beautiful planet and understand the people, culture and customs of each place I visit.

in my view, there is a huge difference between holiday and travel

I hope to travel to every country, and I’m prone to getting seriously itchy feet if I stay at home for too long. When we got married, Alex and I were told, more than once, that we would have to choose between our dream of travelling the world and our wish to start a family…we were having none of it, so we chose both! People often remark that we’re ‘mad’ for even attempting extended travel far and wide while heavily pregnant/with a baby/with a toddler, or they seem to be slightly in awe, or they simply don’t believe us (the gentleman conducting our visa interview at the US Embassy in London, for example!). Look out for my posts on trip planning and destinations for inspiration and thoughts of how we do this with ease.

We have always tried to be mindful of our responsibility to preserve the world for future generations, and look to have an environmentally friendly lifestyle and use ecological products where we can.

While travelling, we purposefully choose to support businesses, including where we stay, where we eat and where we buy travel products, that keep the environment and local community at the forefront of their ethos. Having Theo has led us to adopt an even more environmentally-friendly lifestyle (although we are still far from perfect!). Babies and children create so much waste (in both senses of the word!), most of which ends up in landfill, but making thoughtful choices can make a huge difference. We were told by many people that we wouldn’t be able to maintain our eco lifestyle on the road, but it really is easier than you may think. Keep an eye out for my product recommendations and tips on how to stay green while globetrotting as well as at home, all of which have been personally tried, tested and loved by me. I will not promote any products, brands or suppliers that I don’t use regularly.

 

Joss after brain surgery
Since I had a brain tumour removed in 2011, I have been committed to regularly participating in and organising charitable events, fundraisers and projects. Alex and I have vowed to commit to at least one annual project with Theo every year. I will be blogging about the local community initiatives and overseas events that Theo has taken part in, in the hope that it inspires you to also get your children involved in giving to charitable causes.

I’m an adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie and I love being active and outdoors, as well as photography, art and cooking. I’m a ‘throw it together’ type of chef who likes to think that she has a good enough understanding of flavours to pull this off, so I rarely follow recipes. I love picking up ideas from around the world and will share some of our favourite meals from our travels in the hope that this will inspire you to try new foods with your little ones at home and while on your travels. Alex also loves photography and we work together on this, so will be sharing our favourite photos.

We want Theo to have a love for adventure and a sense of curiosity about the world, and what better way to develop this than actually exposing him to it?

No, travelling with young children is not wasted! So, with Theo in tow, I am here to show you that travelling with a young family is not only possible, but hugely rewarding, fun, valuable and it can easily be done in an environmentally friendly way.

Thanks for visiting and happy eco travels with your family!