I was lucky to leave the winter darkness and visit New Zealand with our 4 year old son (Joshua) and my 75 year mother for 3 weeks in February. Traveling as a family is definitely different than the adventure traveling Jan and I have experienced in the past but also wonderful.
Here are some observations from gearing down' and enjoying the slow lane biking with my son Joshua in New Zealand.
We packed Josh's bicycle in a duffle bag and flew 18 hours to the opposite side of the world. I knew bringing Josh's bike would give us (me) more freedom to experience the amazing hiking and biking trails but I had no idea how many trails there were going to be!
First, the Bay of Islands, in NZ's 'Far North', had a network of multi-use coastal trails, extending 2 hours in either direction from our campsite. You could see the low tide ecosystems, smell the eucalyptus trees and feel the warm sun on your face.
In Napier, we rented a bike with a Weehoo for Josh to ride behind me and biked 40 km along the coast on paved trails. When we rented the bike there were a variety bike routes to choose from and mapped out for everyone's pleasure (rugged mountain biking, vineyard tours, etc). Along our waterfront ride, there were cafes with amazing coffee, ice cream shops, playgrounds galore, bike parks for the little kiddies and big kiddies,and even a pretend street bike park to teach kids bike skills when biking close to roads. Many families were out enjoying the trail and picnicking along the beautiful coastal sand beach.
One of our hikes up the Whanganui River was actually on a Sky to Sea trail where you could get dropped off in the mountains with your bike and then cycle to the ocean over 3-4 days through spectacular tropical forest geared to any cyclists ability.
In Rotarua, I rented a mountain bike to check out the world class mountain bike trails with Josh. We biked the kids specific trail through a giant redwood forest. The trail was specifically designed for kids with small rolling hills, smooth paths, choices to advance to the next level and with various shortcuts if needed. We then went to Dudzy Skills Park, another fun dirt bike park to advance any cyclists skills, from pumping or practicing drops and jumps. Of course, we finished the day off enjoying the local hot springs and baths.
On the Coromandel, we used Josh's bicycle to gain access to the coolest beaches that I would have otherwise relied on Jan to piggyback Josh into. Cathedral Cove, our last amazing beach stop was a good 45 min hike in with Josh biking. We spent the day at the beach and then when Josh was exhausted I was able to push him out while he 'rode' his bicycle.
No wonder New Zealand is ranked as the 8th happiest country in the world (the World Happiness Report 2016) - the Kiwi's do it right! Everywhere we traveled there were incredible trails (paved and mountain bike) and playgrounds. Kiwi's invest in their youth by providing for healthy activities through a multitude of outdoor experiences available. This healthy lifestyle from a young age is translating into a healthy and active culture later in life too. My 80 year old aunt has been enjoying cycling ever since the trails were developed, where every Sunday she bikes with her husband (82 years young) and 3 other couples their age, down the coast to a cafe for breakfast and then they bike back. That struck me as something unique and amazing that because the infrastructure is available people use it and can remain healthy, active and strong well into their later years.
I think there are a number of lessons we can learn from New Zealand's bike culture and resulting healthy active lifestyle. Canada also has incredible resources similar to New Zealand that we could use to promote a healthy active culture. This trip reinforced for me how important it is to develop trails accessible for all abilities, for everyone to enjoy our natural heritage and to increase overall happiness.