Wilderness and Parenthood: A Father's Journey of Outdoor Adventures with Tom Gerlach
With Father's Day on the horizon, we delve into the life of Tom Gerlach from ‘Noodles for Breakfast’, an outdoor-loving dad who has made it his mission to instil a profound love for nature in his three children.
Tom and his little one at Bay of Fires in Tasmania
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your outdoor adventures, and your role as a dad?
I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors and was lucky to grow up around the ocean and national parks of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We’d only come in when we could hear Mum calling us for dinner or when it was getting too dark to see. We’d head straight back out again after brekky. Our kids had a similar Australian suburban upbringing until we relocated to Wānaka, New Zealand in 2021. We’d been so captivated by these mountains following our family adventure hiking Te Araroa Trail together for 6 months, it’s been a long-time dream to get a taste of what mountain life feels like.
I view my role as a dad more of a mentor and guide. Especially as they grow older and their needs evolve. A big part of that is helping to facilitate their education and world view. I think it’s really important to try to build them up to be resilient, well-rounded people who understand that they are custodians of this planet and how important that role is. We talk about our purpose here and ponder things like,
‘Are our lives any good if these wild places are destroyed by the time our Grandkids or their Grandkids come along?’
We are lucky here in Aotearoa New Zealand to see glaciers and ancient forests but they’re absolutely under threat from so many angles. We really need to evolve our ingrained ideas about convenience and fashion and try to consume less. It’s really tough as sometimes it makes the day to day harder and longer, but there’s just no excuse anymore.
Getting outside and learning how to love this world and feel comfortable adventuring in it are essential in shaping the way our kids see the world and the role they play in it. It is also a bloody fun place to play in.
Balancing outdoor adventures and family life can be challenging. How do you manage to maintain your adventurous spirit while being a great dad?
Finding time to explore the outdoors is a great challenge for most modern families. Our lives are increasingly busy and complicated, especially with sports and activities booked on weekends. I’ve found myself that habits are important - going outside to adventure can become habitual, you crave it. The more you do it the more you realise you need to prioritise it.
We did that huge adventure for six months but now while we’re refuelling our tanks and the kids are connecting with their peers more we’re focusing on smaller, less ambitious adventures. We did this back in Sydney too - finding places to explore close to home. And sometimes that might be just finding a new tree to climb or maybe you’ll try a different path home or a new trail to check out. Or you’ll try swimming at the beach in wintertime. Anything new, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you know you’re on the right track. Keep doing that regularly and you grow as a person, life has more meaning and reward and you’re more connected to place.
Tom and his children refuelling on Te Araroa trail in New Zealand
Could you share a memorable outdoor experience you've had with your family? What made it special?
A recent moment that reaffirms what we’ve learnt about how important the outdoors is for our well-being was a little overnight mission to a hut in snowy conditions. The kids were knackered from School and we hadn’t been out on an overnight hike for a while so they were whinging a fair bit and just wanted to stay home and chill in front of a movie. We pushed through that discomfort in as gentle a way as we could but sometimes you just have to pull the adult card - when your gut tells you that you know what’ll benefit the family overall. It was a bit of a struggle, but we got out there and not 20 minutes into our hike the layers of our overcommitted lives started peeling off. Each person's footsteps were becoming lighter. The eldest streaked ahead feeling the pull of wild and the kid who was whinging the most was almost skipping along beside us and even said, “I feel so happy being out here!”.
Goldie’s birthday sunrise in Wanāka New Zealand
What values do you hope to instil in your children through your outdoor pursuits and adventures?
I believe we are all responsible for the planet we live on. Fully understanding the importance of a healthy environment and the role we all play in it is essential for its long-term viability. One of the best ways to understand the planet's beauty and fragility is by being in it. Exposure to its elements and beauty is essential to gaining an understanding of the role we all need to play in its future. I reckon this is the most important lesson we can teach our kids.
The outdoors also teaches us about our own capabilities as an individual but also the beauty of teamwork. How to work with and consider others. Respect and empathy, learning to see when someone needs your help and how to go about it.
With Father's Day around the corner, what Sea to Summit gear would you recommend as a gift for outdoor-loving dads?
Comfort in the outdoors means you’ll stay longer and enjoy your adventures more. Ensuring you have a way to be warm and dry after a long day sweating or when it’s raining or snowing is so important, especially with kids in tow. I love the S2S sleep systems ( I’m a pretty crappy Dad when I’m low on sleep!) so my Spark III Sleeping Bag is a great comfort to me and still going strong after at least 200 nights of use. My Ether Light Sleeping Mat is insulated so goes well even on the snow which we’re experimenting more with these days.
And for car camping missions we’ve been using the Ikos three person and two person tents which are easy to set up, nice and roomy and pack down nice and small and light - very handy when camping with a whole family, very quickly the car can be overflowing with your outdoors kit!
Tom and his children in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand
What advice do you have for other dads who want to share their love for the outdoors with their children?
Start small and work your way up - an adventure doesn’t have to be big. Just get out there and edge your way out of your comfort zones. We took the kids walking strapped to us in child carriers or on our shoulders, and stuck to shorter walks while they were finding their feet. They learned to love it out there without being overwhelmed or feeling us being too stressed. A headlamp is a great motivator for kids, it’s exciting and allows them to learn to feel more comfortable in the dark.
The best short missions can be heading out in the dark to find a beautiful sunrise or coming back down a trail after sunset. With kids it’s important to keep their motors running - sometimes it can be hard to tell if they’re well fed and watered (we actually still make this mistake!) so carry plenty of food and water and have backup layers for when it cools down or a lightweight towel so a cheeky swim is no drama. Make the most of enjoying your local environment without the risks of sunburn, heat exhaustion or cold.
The kids playing with headlamps at the Barrenjoey lighthouse, Palm Beach NSW.
Can you share any upcoming adventures you have planned with your family? With Father's Day around the corner, do you have any special plans or traditions you're looking forward to celebrating?
It’s our third winter here in Wānaka and we’re really getting into snow sports. Weekends are spent up the mountain. We’d love to get into ski touring and more snow camping with the kids as they get older and more agile.
We’re also planning to knock the last bits of Te Araroa Trail off this Summer - past attempts the rivers have been too high so hopefully we can finally make this work.
We often dream of hiking overseas. We’d love to experience some different cultures and languages, work on growing our world view. We have our eye on a few trails in Spain and Japan. Oh and we’re super keen to learn to sail, we’ve started getting into sailing on the lake with the local yacht club.
One tradition we do love for anniversary days like birthdays and Father’s Day etc is to climb a nearby mountain and enjoy the sunrise together. Such a simple concept, we’ve found even on rainy or overcast days it feels good and there’s no better way to appreciate the rolling around of another day or year here on earth than experiencing the daybreak.
Fatherhood presents a profound chance to nurture resilient, empathetic, and environmentally conscious individuals through outdoor pursuits. In the heart of each adventure and shared moment, Tom carves his legacy as a father, leaving footprints that inspire his children to embark on their unique journeys of discovery.
So here's to Tom and all the dads out there – wishing you a fantastic Father's Day filled with adventure and meaningful connections.