Riding the Trail with a Toddler

Jocelyn Newman is a mom, travel enthusiast, and entrepreneur from San Francisco. She’s the founder of First Peak, a line of sustainable adventurewear for babies and toddlers. She recently completed the trail with her husband and son, with her little one wearing First Peak the whole way. Check them out at firstpeak.co or @firstpeakbaby on Instagram. 

My family just wrapped up our 6-day trek on the Otago Central Rail Trail, taking the well-trodden route and visiting many popular destinations along the way. The scenery was beautiful, the path an invigorating challenge, and the hospitality unmatched. But one detail was a bit atypical about our group: we had a 2-year-old in tow. 


Jocelyn Newman's toddler ready to ride on the Otago Central Rail Trail

When I’ve told friends and other travellers that we completed the trail, the most common question I get is “how is that possible with a toddler?” The short answer: our family has found that bike trekking is one of the most manageable, fulfilling, and fun ways to travel with a young child, and the Otago Central Rail Trail is a great introductory-level route to get you started.

Decisions to make before you dive in...

The most important decisions to make as you start the planning process are around the level of intensity you crave. Luckily, the rail trail can easily be scaled up and down, and its rail-line history ensures that the terrain is quite level and there are plenty of amenities along the route. 

Here are three questions I suggest you consider in shaping your plan:

1. What kind of distance do you want to tackle in a day, and how many days do you have?

2. Do you want to carry your luggage or have it transferred?

3. Do you want a standard bike or an e-bike?


Our daily distances ranged from 25-55k, we transferred our luggage, and we rode standard bikes. This gave us plenty of space in our paneers to pack lunches and baby essentials, and also allowed us to get a good workout, particularly on the longer days. We saw many others on e-bikes, and a few carrying luggage as well. Any level of difficulty will afford you a fabulous trip, and aligning on these details can help you tighten up your itinerary most efficiently. 


The daily schedule

Perhaps the most surprising and disarming detail about our trek was that each day’s cycling was done before nap time. We’d aim to be on the trail each day between 9 and 10am, and made it to our destination by 1 or 2pm, with lots of play breaks for the little one along the way. We could have a quick bite before laying our son down for an afternoon snooze. 

This also meant that evenings could be entirely toddler-led. Mom and Dad chose the activity for the morning, and our son chose what he wanted to do each evening, whether that was relaxing at our accommodation, playing with other kids at the local pub, or skipping rocks at the river. We found this allowed for a great balance, and meant our evenings could be slow-paced and mellow as we rested for the next ride. 


Warmth and hospitality 

The hardest-to-quantify benefit of this route is the feeling of the towns in this region. We’ve traveled to 15 countries since our son was born, and the hospitality here was unmatched. We felt able to slip into communities we may never have had a chance to visit without the trail, and bask in the local pride (and local eats!). We saw our son welcomed with open arms day after day, perhaps all the more so because there are so few toddlers passing through. 

If you’re looking for a memorable and unique way to experience a spectacular region of New Zealand, the rail trail is right for you. Otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz is loaded with resources and recommendations to get you started, and you can read about my family’s itinerary here. Now all you need is a good pair of padded shorts!

The Newmans Itinerary