My son was pestering me that it was time I took him hiking again, and while it’s great to have kids that are keen and love the outdoors I was getting a serious case of the ‘guilts’. Surely in the business we are in (taking people hiking) we should have our kids out there all the time?
Our food preparations for this hike are super quick thanks to a whole bunch of Exteme Gourmet meals I had prepared for our family hike in the Kahurangi, which we had previously had to cancel due to weather. Our party of three (Liam, Eva and myself) swells to five at the last minute with the arrival of some guests - Jon and Augustine from France. They are less than 24 hours into their New Zealand adventure and they are already bound for the mountains. Not even my very poor attempts to imitate the French accent, including me wearing a beret for the next 24 hours (don’t all French people walk around in berets with a baguette under their arm?), can wipe the smiles off their faces. Eva is a little ambivalent at first about this hike, she was looking forward to a weekend of pony riding and hanging out with her friends. But even she can’t contain her keen sense of anticipation as we arrive at the end of the road, blue skies, mountains, and the Princess Bath up the valley promising to offer us plenty of adventure and challenge.
Princess Bath is an alpine lake that sits at an altitude of about 1700 meters. Mt Princess at 2100 metres stands at the head of the valley, and with large slabs of snow still covering the steep slopes above the lake this early summer hike has a real alpine feel.
My theory with taking kids hiking has always been to choose a hike that will be physically and mentally interactive. Nothing bores kids more than having to trudge along a perfectly groomed trail for hours on end. With no marked trail, some steep scrambling and maybe a short section of hand-over-hand climbing this was shaping up to be quite an adventurous hike for my 10 and 11-year-olds.
We make our way through the tussocks, trying to find the optimum route through a couple of bogs, and wander through a glade of ‘middle-earth’ like Beech forest. The terrain then steepens and we are climbing steeply up the valley towards a line of bluffs below the ‘Bath’. The kids are wanting to know how we will get up them. The map suggests a route up the true left but I don’t really like the look of it so we head the other way hoping that a couple of small gullies may offer us a safe passage to the ‘Bath’.
On arrival at the foot of the bluffs we check out the first gully - it looks a little ‘dodgy.’ I leave the kids and the Frenchies there while I reccie a nearby gully, which isn’t any better. I’m scratching my head and contemplating a retreat back down the valley to an easier spur we had seen earlier when I hear the sound of something crashing through the scrub. I look down to see Liam's pack bouncing end over end down the steep slopes we had just come up. We all watched on silently willing it to stop - just when it seems to have run out of momentum it seems to find a steeper course and takes off again. Eventually it comes to a halt on the edge of snow slope while Liam learns a valuable lesson on where not to put your pack when standing on a steep slope, Jon thankfully volunteers to make the trek down to retrieve it.
Fortunately at this point I spot another potential route up through the bluffs. I check it out and decide that with the help of the Frenchies spotting the kids we can get up to the ‘Bath’ after all.
The kids are a bit nervous about the climb but I remind them that climbing is something they do all the time; trees, forts, jungle gyms, etc and they should just be confident and also know that an adult will be spotting them the whole time. We get down to our work and follow the route up the gully, testing our holds - cracks in rocks, shrubbery and tussocks. The kids are unusually quiet but seem very focused on the job at hand and their confidence grows as we get closer to the easier slopes above. Finally the gradient eases off and we scamper up the final stretch to get our first glimpse of the ‘Bath’.
It's a magical spot and the kids and the Frenchies drop their packs and run off to explore a small peninsula at the far end of the lake and proceed to throw snowballs at each other. I head to the other end of the lake which is just catching the last of the sun's rays. There are superb views to the south of the vast valleys and mountains of the St James Conservation Area and even a couple of ‘flattish’ spots to put a tent.
We go about setting up camp, the kids practice their photography and posing skills against this awesome backdrop while the frenchies brave the frigid waters for a bath - I would have too but someone had to cook dinner! We perch on rocks and eat our dinner and drink up the views and we all feel lucky to be here. Eventually a cold wind picks up and chases us into our tents for the night. Our tent seems to be on quite a gradient and Eva and I spend most of the night climbing back up to the flat part of the tent that Liam has managed to claim.
Next morning milo and pancakes set us up for our retreat. We had already decided on a different route out of here rather than down climbing through the bluffs. The fog rolls in as we sidle high and drop down through some easier country. The kids are fascinated by the grasshoppers. The carpet of alpine plants and mosses that we are walking over is alive with them, every step sees one hopping away in front of you. They all seem to have this red sticky substance on their back legs which seems to mark everything it comes in contact with. (No amount of googling since has been able to give any explanation to this - any entomologists out there that can help?)
Once back down in the valley it is again hot and sunny and the winter like chill of snow and ice seems a lot further away than a couple of hours of hiking. Hunger is getting the better of Liam and knowing better than to push a tired hungry 11-year-old boy too hard - we stop and attempt to make some flat breads from a dry mix I had packed for exactly this situation. Someone makes the fatal mistake of adding too much water- so instead of dough we have a sticky gloopy mess to work with. The French are appalled - but are also very hungry so they lower their standards and help form the sticky mess into cakes which we fry up. We eat and the bread meets my expectations, which are low. With full bellies we soon arrive back at the vehicle.
The bonus of this hike is that you have to go through Hanmer Springs - so we reward our tired legs with a soak in the hot pools. Anne (mum and wife) has met us there and the kids excitedly tell her about the grasshoppers, run away packs and some unexpected rock climbing. It's been a great hike and I’m stoked the kids enjoyed it so much and kept their cool when their limits were pushed. The Princess Bath is a magical spot; I’ll add it to my list of places to return to some day.