The national park experience: personal reflection

Marika Strand
National Parks Association of Queensland staff

I grew up in Canada and spent a good part of my childhood in the dense, wet forests of the West Coast. After moving to Australia nearly a decade ago, I quickly grew to love the very different bush and forests here. Upon having children it was important for me to share this love of the natural world with them, hoping they internalise a deep appreciation of nature as well.

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I’m raising city kids - we live in a busy inner-city suburb. While this has the advantage that we can walk or bike most places we need to go, it does mean that to get out in the bush we need to venture further afield. But, for us, it’s worth the effort to expose the kids to another side of life they don’t see on a daily basis.

My husband and I put everything we might need in our backpack, convince the kids to wear sensible walking shoes and pack everyone in the car. After a drive with lots of laughs, some quiet reflection and a few complaints of being car sick, we finally arrive. As soon as we step out of the car the air smells fresher and the kids are excited to get movng.

With my kids, being still rather young and full of boisterous energy, I find it nearly impossible to walk in silence and get the feeling of true immersion that comes with really listening to the forest. However, I am glad that they want to explore and comment on what they are seeing, thinking and feeling. It is their experience and while we try to guide it a little, they need to be free to form their own connections and explore their own way.

Planning is key to getting little ones on bush walks. We check the website for the park we are planning to visit and decide which walk will suit little legs. We pack food and water bottles, sunscreen, hats, a small first-aid kit, and a camera. Consistency helps – my kids know that family bushwalks are part of the rotation of what we do on the weekends, so it’s not a shock to them to get out into nature.

Last year we decided to take a bigger adventure, flying north and visiting, among others, Undara Volcanic National Park and Daintree National Park. Again, planning was key – we hired a comfortable vehicle, broke up the driving with frequent stops, varied the accommodation (staying in a tent at Undara but in a lodge near Daintree), and made sure everyone was fed on a regular basis. We did a lot of walking that trip, but the kids complained very little about tired legs. They were excited by the new experiences and what they were seeing. And my husband and I got some time to connect, playing cards and talking in the evenings, away from our city lives. It was a beneficial experience for the whole family.

I urge you to try taking the special children in your life for a bushwalk. For a list of walks and tips and tricks for making the walk successful, check out NPAQ’s Kids in National Parks booklet available from our website www.npaq.org.au.