From hiking miles while wearing a baby carrier to discovering unexpected wonders outside the tourist attractions, Tara Rock shares how she feeds her wanderlust with a six-month-old son in tow. Words and photos by Teva Explorer Tara Rock.
Our trip to New Zealand almost didn’t happen. Two weeks before our flight, my son Otis got hand, foot, and mouth disease (a highly contagious virus that is pretty harmless but very common for children under 5 years old) that somehow turned into a staph infection. This was one of those mama moments that made me want to track down whoever gave him HFM in the first place and bop them on the head.
He had terrible blisters and sores all over his body. But his disposition never changed and he was still a happy little guy through it all—that was my only saving grace to even consider leaving the house. So, with antibiotics in hand and approval by his pediatrician—he specifically said, “If I were you I would go,”—we hopped on the plane to New Zealand as scheduled.
To make the beginning of our trip even more eventful, my sister Tami and her partner missed their flight from LA, leaving us on our own for two days. But after a long 9-hour flight, another 1.5-hour flight, and navigating in a foreign country with an infant on my own, I felt like I could do anything. It was very empowering to know that I could travel so far from home with my baby, handle all my luggage, and navigate driving on the opposite side of the road all on my own.
A part of me wanted to travel on my own with Otis to prove that I could. So even though my husband Tyler couldn’t come with us, I was still determined to go. I wanted to feel like, “regardless if I had a baby, my lifestyle wouldn’t change all that much.” And aside from changing diapers, being a human milk truck, and a lot of nap times, I’d say not much has changed.
We only had 10 days and decided to spend all of our time on the South Island because it is a lot slower and easier to navigate. Personally, I think 10 days is never enough time to travel anywhere, but some people don’t have the luxury or PTO to take more time off (i.e. most Americans, ahem this needs to change America).
Renting a camper van is usually the only way to see New Zealand. There are just as many camper vans on the road as there are sheep in the fields. But we decided to rent a car and stay at B&Bs on our trip. It was more cost effective (dang those camper vans ain’t cheap!) and most of them only sat 3 passengers (and we had 3 and a half). It was also really nice to know we were going to have a hot shower at night.
Victory dance at the top of Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, New Zealand. Pictured: Women’s Original Universal In GC100 Boomerang.
NO EXPECTATIONS, HIGH ACCOMPLISHMENTS
I had no expectations going into this trip. “No expectations” is a personal mantra I’ve been trying to get comfortable with since having a child. I would have been happy driving around the island (praying Otis didn’t have a breakdown in his car seat, which he did a few times, in case you were wondering) and taking in the sights like an average, generic tourist. But I surprised myself with the amount of hiking and activities we did, considering that I had a six-month-old in tow.
We did several major hikes on our trip including Roy’s Peak and Lake Marian. While we were in the middle of hiking up the switchbacks to Roy’s Peak, I kept asking myself, “What was more ambitious? Taking a six-month-old on a 9-hour flight by myself? Or summiting a steep, 10-mile hike with him in an ergobaby carrier?” In the middle of the hike, it started to rain and I decided Roy’s Peak was probably more ambitious than flying alone (including repeated trips to the tiny bathrooms with him and the diaper blowout mid-flight).
Lake Marian seemed even more ambitious than Roy’s Peak when I had to climb up the roots of trees with Otis in his carrier. I should have considered the literature on the official website more seriously when it said the “tramping track” was “moderate to high-level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and survival skills.” Survival skills? Luckily he slept a majority of the hike and woke up just in time for the view. The way back ended up being way hairier since it started to rain pretty hard and the trail became a lot more muddy and slippery. It took all my brain power to concentrate on each step and try not to slip. It didn’t help that my knees felt they were going to give out with every step I made. I kept imagining myself slipping, knocking his head on the side of a rock, and how I would get him out alive in such a remote area. I would not recommend this hike to other six-month-olds.
“My sister is training for a marathon and had these huge blisters on her feet during our trip. So she took a pair of the Original Universal sandals as an alternative and they came in quite handy to give her sore feet relief on our longer hikes.” Pictured: Women’s Original Universal In GC100 Boomerang
I had to keep reminding myself that we were doing these hikes recreationally, by choice, and there are mamas out there making treks across terrains out of necessity. It negated any thoughts of regret or feeling sorry for myself for carrying a 20-pound baby around.
If I could recommend any must-have while traveling with an infant it would definitely be a baby carrier (after a pair of Teva sandals of course). I forgot his ergobaby carrier when we went to Milford Sound and it made the experience a little more limiting. Nap time was harder to navigate when he didn’t have a little pouch to get cozy in.
Tara’s must-have hiking accessory: an ergobaby carrier for hiking and overall exploring.
I couldn’t help using the Hurricane Drift sandals on shorter distance hikes. Growing up in Hawaii, I rarely wear closed-toe shoes and being barefoot is usually my preferred method of footwear. But these sandals are so lightweight and comfortable they were easy to walk in. A lot of times you need to break in sandals (and that usually involves a few blisters) but the Hurricane Drift sandals were worn often throughout the trip sans blisters.
BE PREPARED AT THE BLUE POOLS
One thing you never read about in any of the blogs is the biting gnats at the Blue Pools. But I am here to give you the nitty gritty of traveling and let me tell you, they suck. I thought I was well equipped but my bug spray didn’t even work on them. I still have little purple markings on my back as a reminder that I got eaten alive. Even though Otis was well covered, they still managed to congregate on his poor little head. I don’t know who was more fussy about it, him or me. I almost didn’t enjoy our time. So people, watch out for the biting gnats and go to a local NZ grocer and pick up some bug spray specifically for those nasty buggers.
Pictured: Men’s Hurricane XLT2 Alp in Black Olive.
SEEK IN-BETWEEN DISCOVERIES
One of the highlights of our trip was stopping at Lake Pukaki. We penned in a lot of common, high-tourist activities during our trip—and rightfully so, a lot of these places are touristy for good reason. When we arrived to Lake Tekapo, I was disappointed by how touristy and manufactured the area felt.
I asked the clerk at the grocery store, “Are there any good places to eat nearby?”
She replied, “I don’t go out to eat around here,” reaffirming my fears that we were caught in a tourist bubble.
Don’t get me wrong, Lake Tekapo was beautiful, but it reminded me that we had to get off the beaten path. On our way out, we decided to stop at Lake Tekapo’s neighbor, Lake Pukaki, and I’m so glad we did. We had the place to ourselves. We dove into the glacial waters and spent a few hours hanging around the water’s edge. It felt like we had this real, authentic moment between destinations. And that felt special.
I always love the unexpected, in-between moments when traveling. You might go to this amazing landscape with thousands of other tourists, then have an intimate, unexpected moment on the side of the road that supersedes the main attraction.
“When you travel with an infant there is a lot of breastfeeding stops throughout the trip. It’s great because it breaks up the driving but it takes more time to get around. This has taught me more patience than I ever thought I had.” Pictured: Women’s Hurricane Drift In Mango
FEAST LIKE A LOCAL IN WANAKA
Wanaka—a small resort town surrounded by mountains and filled with great places to eat—was a personal favorite of mine. Our lodging host gave us amazing recommendations and we had some of our best meals here. There must have been a lot of tourists going through town, (Roy’s Peak is a popular hike only 5 minutes from the city center) but it didn’t feel like it.
When I travel, I love going to cute coffee shops and feeling like a local, and Wanaka exceeded my expectations. We had some of the best Moroccan food, crepes, and coffee of our entire trip—which sounds ridiculous because I should be saying meat pies. We ate very well in Wanaka!
Pictured: Women’s Hurricane Drift In Mango.
OUR LAST DAY
I actually dreaded the idea of coming home. Of course, I wanted to see Tyler, but there is something about being on the move and always doing something new that fuels my creativity and sense of purpose. I joke that I can barely make it out of the house when I’m home but can easily take an infant halfway across the world without flinching. I am more scared of living a mundane, monotonous life than traveling to foreign places with a little one. As you’d imagine, I’m already planning our next trip.
Traveling with an infant is an adjustment to say the least, but it is totally doable. I probably didn’t get to jump into as many lakes as I would have liked and my body is paying the price for wearing him on my chest for all those hikes, but it was totally worth it. Now I can’t wait to show him the rest of the world! I already think he has the same sense of adventure as me.
Shop the latest sandal styles featured in this story at Teva.com.