The Fiendish guide to climbing in New Zealand
by Fiend Jul/2003
This article has been read 15,529 times
New Zealand climbing? Pretty damn
good if you ask me. The crags are well spread out, but varied, accessible,
with lots of fun sport and trad climbing. Plus the country is civilised but
sparsely populated, the weather's okay, and they do steak and cheese pies.
What more do you want?? As you'd expect, though, with a less developed
climbing scene, there's a good blend of information, mis-information and
occasionally dis-information in the local guides. Thus this guide should
give you a bit of perspective whilst avoiding the over-intimacy of the
locals and the fuckwittedness of some other views we've seen. Although it's
unashamedly biased towards stuff we actually did, it's supposed to
supplement the information available in the published guides so read those
carefully. Enjoy. Any comments or queries please email Fiend.
- This article was written during 05/03 - the information was correct at time of writing but may change over time. It is based on a 6 month trip from 10/02 to 04/03, during which my partner Ef and I climbed at least 400 mid-grade routes between us.
- This article supplements the information available in the published guides (see below for a list of guides) so read those carefully.
- It's worth noting that NZ has some highly rated mountain cragging at Twin Streams, The Darrans, Milford Tunnel area etc etc. Due to the complexity and relative inaccessibilty of this type of climbing, we didn't explore those areas.
Getting around: Combine the traffic of
Scotland in the early hours, a Japanese-orientated car market so cheap they
almost pay you to have cars, and petrol at "proper" prices, and
it's clear what's the best way to get around. Pity the speed limit's only
62mph tho. Go cheap or save up a bank-breaking 3 grand, treat yourself to a
rudified Toyota Celica or Subura Impreza and join the other
Eating: Food is cheap and plentiful, although if
you're unfortunate enough to have chosen vegetarianism as your calling, you
might struggle. Supermarkets, take-aways, cafes, and good fish and chip
shops abound. Recommended highlights include: The plethora of cheap Asian
eateries in all cities, the ubiquitous steak and cheese pies, Paddle Pops
ice creams and Hubbards cereals. Ef liked the cafe scene - funky places,
great savoury muffins, good coffee.
Sleeping: Accomodation is
also plentiful. Be warned that it gets cool at night even in summer. The
usual options include car+tent, camper van, or perhaps most sensible,
car+campsite cabins or hostels. Likewise it's fairly cheap, though it pays
to look around for the best places.
Weather: Hot sun, cool
breeze, fresh showers sums up NZ. The weather changes very quickly so don't
be put off by rain as it often blows over, and take forecasts with a
handful of salt. Remember this is upside-down land so the seasons and sun
direction are opposite - and although the air is often cool, the sun is
bloody fierce indeed. Beware of North facing crags and dying of sunstroke.
The warmer North Island has a climate that spreads sunshine and showers
across the whole country, while in the cooler South Island the Southern
Alps keep the West rainy and the East dry. Most guidebooks have good
information about how well the crags are suited to various weather
Gear: Three things to remember here.
not even think of buying any climbing gear other than chalk here. You'd pay
25-50% more than the UK, and aside from Bryce's, the selection is arse
- You can get by with just quickdraws, as there's plenty of
good sportclimbing around. But a set or two of wires and half a dozen
small-medium cams would let you do some great trad routes too. If you can
squeeze in a full rack, it might be good.
- Whichever way, you will
need something for the hangerless bolts that are sometimes found on
ignimbrite and Southern limestone. These are either small hexagonal bolts
which take RP hanger plates (should be fairly cheap) or wires, or large
coach bolts that require hooking with wires (or as a last resort, home-made
accessory cord nooses - these have been tested!). 6 wires/plates should be
Grades and stars: Once you've got used to a crude numerical
system that tells you neither the state of protection nor the hardest
moves, the grades are fairly servicable. See the UKC and Rockfax grade tables to begin your confusion.
There is a definite variation from
area to area, this is mentioned in each area's section. Be aware that there
are few good genuinely easy routes (10-14), and they can be underused as
the wall-bred apes jump straight to 16+ where a better choice of climbing
begins. To add further demoralisation, "moderate climbs" don't
mean that at all, they mean "mid-grade climbs", usually around
Stars are pretty reliable
although there's a quite a few excellent understarred routes. A couple of
guides use a sparse single star system which is not particularly
informative - thus spying out good unstarred routes is more
Guidebooks: I think one should be wary of Climbing New Zealand by Posing Productions. Although it gives an overview of most of NZ, and along with South Island rock it is available in the UK, we thought it an amateur effort and found the information patchy and sometimes unreliable. Instead....
Northern Rock - Ngahere, Ti
Point, Mt Eden and a few other Northland crags. Single stars
Central North Island Rock - Good for Froggatt, Wharepapa
South, the adventurous Mangatepopo valley, and some minor Taupo crags (note
that the excellent Motuoapa is now banned).
Or alternatively both the
Froggatt and Wharepapa guides - all the climbs but no star
New Ignimbrite Climbs - all the other ignimbrite crags,
but check the update sheet too.
Waipapa - available from
Whanganui Rock - Single stars only.
South Island Rock - just about everything except Wanaka.
Comprehensive if slightly variable in accuracy.
Paynes and Beyond
- available from Hangdog and conveniently in easy (up to 23) and hard
(23 +) versions. Includes the seacliffs and lots more routes.
Queenstown Climbing - should be back in print sometime soon,
various other crags as well as Wye Creek.
Wanaka Rock - the
There are also guides available to the Port Hills and
Dunedin Rock but these don't have much useful extra
Don't expect an NZClimbing.com. Their climbing websites are few and far between. The only regularly updated one is www.mojozone.co.nz and there is also an older general site at www.climb.co.nz.
to the crags themselves:
Fiend enjoying elegant ignimbrite on Sharp Arete, Bayleys, Wharepapa, NZ© Fiend
- Description: A small collection of limestone
cliffs in a funny suburban setting. Top Rocks are very small but clean,
Main Crag larger but a bit dirty. There are some funky flutings
- Guidebook additions: Grades vary. Totally
impossible to get to Main Crag from top carpark - go via Hospital Road
- Fiend's pick: Evening at Top Rocks for a bit of a
- Ef's pick: Worth wading through the bushes and
cobwebs for Mighty Twenty Footer 15 and Surburban Reptile
Mt Eden Quarry:
- Description: A nicely
isolated, sunny seacliff with interesting flakey and pockety basalt rock.
Technical bolted buttresses (18 and above) are seperated by gruesome
rounded cracks (17 and below).
- Guidebook additions: Grades
are fair for the buttresses, hard for the offwidths. Walk in takes longer
than expected. There are some new routes near the arch. A bit
- Fiend's pick: Slapping Down 21 is a really fantastic
arete. Parallel Cracks 16 just right gives a mighty bridging
- Ef's Pick: No.
- Description: The ultimate urban crag, right in the
city. Smooth, angular, columnar basalt giving thin and tenacious trad
climbing - a fierce and characterful place. Apart from minor routes on the
Short Side, you need to be climbing 18+ at least. Gear is generally
- Guidebook additions: Grades are hard. Not as hot as
you think in summer as the sun is too high. If you're parking in the
school, it seems best to go in the obvious upper entrance and drive right
the way down through the buildings.
- Fiend's pick: Just
follow the good lines really - Deffust 18 and Bandersnatch 19 being two
faves. If you're on the Short Side, try to coincide your visit with a late
night game on the nearby astroturf - climb by the
- Ef's pick: Secret Crack
Perfect pocket pulling on Turtle Power, Froggatt Edge, Wharepapa, NZ© Fiend
- General: Bryce's: Every
climbing area should have somewhere like Bryce's. Part cafe, part gearshop,
part hostel, part campsite, part bouldering cave. All within 5 minutes of
the great ignimbrite crags and all presided over by Bryce, an affable if
foul-mouthed old gnome and renowned guru of the area. Obviously a great
place to stay and hang out. Just remember that while Bryce is bloody
experienced, he is thoroughly over-opinionated, so don't be put off trying
anything by him.
- Description: Pockets pockets pockets. One
of NZ's climbing treats - sheer or bulging crags and spires of pale, rough,
honeycombed ignimbrite rock. Like climbing a cement sponge - just find the
best pockets and pull. After a while it all gets quite similar, then it's
time to go to Waipapa and Whanganui.
- Guidebook additions:
See below. Grades are fair. Check new routes leaflet at Bryce's. Most crags
face all directions, are often exposed and dry quickly. On some routes it's
important to abseil off instead of lowering, to avoid eye-watering rope
drag. Froggatt and Wharepapa South are now owned by Castle Rock, who charge
a small fee for access - this is a contentious political issue, be aware of
it, but make up your own minds whether to visit.
pick: Too much to choose from. The big three of Froggatt, Smiths and
Wharepapa South are great, where choosing the most striking lines reaps the
best rewards. If it rains, try the fantastic Fiend problems in Bryce's
cave, if they're still up.
- Ef's pick: Smith Rocks has loads
of great routes 14-17, especially Pinnacle Knoll and Swamp Wall. Then walk
over to the Back Of Beyond to enjoy the novel vertical tunnel climbing of
Itsy Bitsy Spider. Froggatt has some more technical climbs in the same
Sadly all of the truly
excellent lines at the New Wall are too overgrown to climb. There are still
some good unusual lines on the Roadside crag,
Beware of old bolts and stiff grades. Some
Rebolted with shiny ringbolts.
Charge to use crag.
Secretive indeed - nice
enough but an absolute pig to find, and consequently
Mostly rebolted and increasingly popular.
It's well worth exploring right to the very end (Back Of
Pastoral pocket pleasures on De Sade, Wharepapa South, Wharepapa, NZ© Fiend
Rebolted with shiny ringbolts.
Charge to use crag.
Ignimbritish slabs, flakes and cracks in a fairly sunny bush setting
near a large river. More peaceful, varied, and technically interesting than
- Guidebook additions: Grades are stiff. Most of
Cracked Buttress is overgrown except for at the far
- Fiend's pick: Obviously The Arches 18, easily
comparable to the synonymous Northumberland HVS 5b classic. All of the good
lines are well worth it.
- Ef's pick: Good mid grade stuff -
The Arches 18, Millenium Madness 18, Ring Them Bells
Awesome. The climbing is great, more varied, technical ignimbrite a la
Waipapa, with good lines and trad classics thrown in, but the setting
overlooking a broad valley gorge and Lake Taupo, is even better. Generally
sunny but with some shade from the buttresses and bush. Well worth the
- Guidebook additions: Grades fair. Pay about $10
each per day to the Maori tribe at the lake. The track from the top carpark
will trash your car unless it's a proper 4wd. It's also easy to miss from
the road, look for letterbox 5515 and some sheds. Local info suggests only:
Whekenui, Plateau, Lobotomy Buttress and bits of Taupiri get climbed, the
rest languishes unused.
- Fiend's pick: Everything with a
star... Whekenui for a variety of classics including the great Bizarete 22,
Plateau has several nice mid-grade slabs, Duudoos 21 in one spectacular
pitch on Lobo.
- Ef's pick: All the 17s at Plateau, also
Gunga Din 18 - calf-aching bridging punctuated with a final layback.
Sayonara 17 ar Whekenui is an impressive
. Tiny but
nice, sunny, crag on the shores of Lake Taupo. Peaceful setting, good solid
dimpled rhyolite, and a few good mid-grade climbs.
additions: Grades mostly soft. Right-hand side of Bats In The Belfry
arete is Kimber 19/20*, take some cams and follow the pockets....FA Fiend
Nov 02 =).
- Fiend's pick: Kimber....and the few routes just
- Ef's pick: Lovely lakeside location for an evening
out and a swim.
Every good climbing day should end like this. Sunset at Castle Hill, NZ© Fiend
Hangdog Camp - despite the sad demise of Willy, its bonkers owner, this
should still be THE climbing bum hangout. Cheap, basic and very climbery
indeed - 2 minutes from the crag and very relaxed. It, along with the crag,
can get quite busy (by NZ standards) at Christmas and New Year. The
swimming holes are well worth it too.
- Description: SI sport
climbing mecca #1. Limestone, but don't expect Stoney or anything equally
foul. Expect solid rock, steepness, slopers, occasional sharp pockets and
thin crimps, and thoughtful, satisfying climbing.
additions: Grades very fair. See local guide. The drive over Takaka
Hill is as gnarly as it gets in NZ.
- Fiend's pick: Again
hard to pick, there's a lot of good routes here. It's also a good place to
get into the scene and push things a bit. The Rat Trap Wall area is great
for something a bit longer.
- Ef's pick: A fair selection of
good easier stuff esp. Creese Wall and Little Lost Wall. Then go for Elvis
Lives In Takaka 18 and the mighty Temples Of Stone 18.
- Description: 10 minutes from Paynes Ford and
set back a little from the sea. A slightly different and quieter area with
routes varying from juggy steepness to long edgy face climbing. The rock
can be a little bit fragile though.
- Guidebook additions:
Grades generally fair.
- Fiend's pick: Bo Peep
- Ef's pick: Sea Grass
Unfortunately we were unable to
visit these well regarded trad climbing gneiss sea-cliffs, despite wanting
to. Other climbers who had been recently said there was good climbing
there, enough for a day or two.
- General: The Sheep Shearer's Ranch: Another great
hangout. This time it's the unadvertised shearer's ranch just opposite
Castle Hill station. Pay Mike $15 a night and enjoy a big kitchen, lots of
small dorms, great showers, an open fire and no administration at all.
Chill. You can then walk directly across the farmland with permission. You
might also be able to camp steathily for half-price if you ask nicely. When
it gets too hot or your body demands a rest day, a trip through the awesome
and surreal Cave Stream is obligatory.
- Description: The
other special NZ climbing experience....totally fucking bonkers. The photos
just can't prepare you for what these hillsides covered in blank, bulging,
rounded limestone buttresses and boulders are actually like. The climbing
makes grit feel like a climbing wall - thin, holdless, smearing, mantling,
laybacking, sloping, slapping madness. Enjoy - and don't neglect the
excellent routes just because bouldering is so damn trendy these
- Bouldering: The Hill is famous for bouldering and no
wonder. There's thousands of great problems scattered around, mostly with
good grassy landings. A perfect way to get used to the tenacious and
technical climbing. Expect to bridge holdless scoops, lay off rounded
aretes, jump to and then mantle single pockets, and bellyflop to
- Guidebook additions: Grades are stiff - routes
invariably feature genuinely hard moves. Some of the coach bolts can be a
bit wobbly. It's all more complicated than it looks, expect to get
- Fiend's pick: A superb trio of classic 21s, none of
which have typical Castle Hill climbing: Nether Edge, Rambandit, and Mal A
- Ef's pick: On Some Faraway Beach 16 gives a taste
of classic CH madness at an easier grade, while Tales From The Riverbank 17
requires some sterner pocket pulls.
- General: Christchurch - if you're going to stay
in one city in NZ, this should be it. 15 minutes to the Port Hills, 1 hour
to Banks Peninsula and Castle Hill, 2 hours to Hanging Rock area. There's a
reasonable climbing wall at the YMCA with good leading but inferior
bouldering. Consider staying in Lyttelton as it's quieter, more scenic, and
the port is cool to watch. The Tunnel Vision backpackers there is nice,
fairly cosy, and good value. While in Chch, take advantage of a variety of
good Asian food, two excellent curry houses - Raj Mahal and Tulsi, and
watch the constant stream of ludicrous boy racers parading their
"gaping rear orifices" down the main streets each night for added
- Description: A fine, diverse, selection of
crags await on the Port Hills. Very varied, accessible, and with a
magnificent all-encompassing view across the sea, city, port, peninsula,
plains and distant mountains. There's both good trad and sport climbing
- Guidebook additions: See below. Grades fair unless
- Fiend's pick: The Keep on Castle Rock is
invariably brilliant. Jane Fonda is very inspiring for the confident, and
The Tors has a couple of great routes.
- Ef's pick: Rapaki
for easy (grade 11+) fun on solid rock, and Castle Rock, an obvious choice
for a fine selection of routes 16-18.
A sheer 30m wall with a longer walk-in and more exposed feel
than average. Technical and sustained routes on subtle rock from 19 upwards
give some satisfying classics. Grades tough.
An underused granite-like crag but with a few quality
routes 17+ in a bush setting - worth a visit. It's best to walk in in front
of the Twisted Sister, just before the big choss on the left. Some grades
Steep! A granite-like crag with
plentiful flat holds that barely compensate for the steep pumpiness. A
mixture of sport and trad routes 17+, the steep trad stuff will appeal for
fans of Higgar Tor. Gulp. Grades tough.
Evan's Pass, Cattlestop
Crag and Mt Pleasant:
3 varied, small, granite-like crags (two sport
and the latter trad), that host few minor mid-grade
http://www.aspiring.co.nz/brit_ind.htm - grades very soft,
deduct 1-2 grades off most routes above 19. An extensive granite-like sport
crag with a lot of short steep routes from 18 upwards. Safe, mindless,
climbing wall style cranking, but good fun anyway.
The trad centerpiece of the Port Hills. Splendid position and a
host of trad classics from 14 upwards on nice, flake, edgey rock. Very
English in feel but excellent none-the-less.
good trad stuff on interesting flakey rock. There's only a few classics
here, 17-21 but they're pretty good.
off the Port Hills experience, a good beginner's crag. Well worn
granite-ish rock and nice trad climbing from 11-18.
- Description: More varied trad stuff on
volcanic rock, but with the attendant horrors of LONG WALK INs. Ugh. This
does mean that some crags will be very underused. But there's a few
accessible places too.
- Guidebook additions: The grades
don't seem to take into account gear or lack thereof. Be warned. There's a
new 21-tastic sport crag, details at
- Fiend's pick:
Anything that appeals at Ote when you're feeling bold.
pick: Diploma 12 at Ote is the best 12 I've done, and Voie Classique 16
is very good with above average protection.
Don't bother. CJM 19 is good but the crag is
Hmmm! Not a typical NZ sport crag. A
very attractive crag in the bush, with various trad routes on subtle grey
rock. Despite a few bolts, many routes vary from bold to pretty deadly - a
classic example, The Ultimate Horror 16, Starts with 12m of sustained grade
16 climbing and one poor cam... Despite this the actual climbing is usually
very good and interesting.
Sebastapol Bluffs, Mt
- Description: Very nice orange greywacke-ish slabs
on a big bluff with mega-views over the Mt Cook area. Sunny and spectacular
with well-bolted delectable slab climbing from 14 -
- Guidebook additions: Grades soft. There's some new
routes and some confusion at the base of Red Arete, so get the one page
guide from Alpine Guides.
- Fiend's pick: The typically
lovely Clean Hands 20, if only for the best belay base in
- Ef's pick: Shark Attack 16 and Red Arete 14 for great
bumbly fun - take a picnic as SIR recommends. Seriass 19, now well
rebolted, has excellent slab climbing.
A rare NZ low grade classic - Ef committing Nursery Crimes, Hanging Rock, NZ© Fiend
- Description: More mad limestone. A vague blend
between Castle Hill and ignimbrite. Thus you get massive bulging
buttresses, technical climbing, but a fair bit of pocket pulling too.
Sounds good? It is, very good, if a bit underused. Hanging Rock itself is
the rather impressive main cliff, Beautiful Valley is a peaceful and worthy
companion, and Raincliff has cranky climbing in a shady
- Guidebook additions: Grades tough (what did you
- Fiend's pick: Margins Of The Mind 21, an awesome
hanging arete for the fear, most other starred routes at HR (and the
underrated Conquistador 20) for quality, Shotgun Wall at BW for
- Ef's pick: The river under the Hanging
- Description: Yet
more limestone, getting weirder as one heads South. This time you have
teeth-grindingly technical Castle Hill style bouldering at Elephant Rocks,
and mindless climbing wall style roof nonsense at Hulk Hogan wall. Plus a
few interesting routes scattered around this eeriely quiet
- Guidebook additions: Grades okay. Watch out for the
rock and bolts, both as dodgy as the guide says - I pulled a ledge off one
- Fiend's pick: Hang On Simon 20 is simply very
nice. Good TR potential at Elephant Rocks plus the V3 groove there would
make a cool trad lead.
- Ef's pick: No.
- Description: Well worth going to for
some genuinely fun trad and mixed action on fairly normal volcanic rock.
It's set on a scenic beach which gives the only real problem - sand. Make
sure you have a ropebag or tarp or two. Otherwise revel in the good rock,
good protection, easy access and quadruple bolt lower-offs. Good honest
- Guidebook additions: Grades are fairly
- Fiend's pick: Crime and Punishment 22, not least
because it has a full page essay in the local guide, after warming up on
Burning Sky 19. And the rest.
- Ef's pick: Burning Sky 19 and
some very traditional easy climbs on The Pinnacle
- Description: Around
the XTREEEEM ACTION tourist hell capital of the Southern hemisphere, lurks
some nice genuine adventure for us climbers. Most crags require a fair bit
of a walk, especially the much-renowned (if you climb 23+) Wye Creek. Great
scenery and funky quartzy schist provide interest.
additions: Just hope the local guide is around.
pick: Not really.
- Ef's pick: No.
NZ's only deep water soloing crag?? 3 fair easy routes and
the lake is oh-so-pretty.
Decent little crag
for some crisp edge pulling - watch your rope. Grades easy and worth an
- Description: SI sport
climbing mecca #2. Like Paynes there are loads of accessible routes
throughout the grades. This time it's schist, varying from thin rough slabs
through to steep cranky walls with various big enticing features thrown in
for good measure. In general it's all about good edges though - get
crimping. There's some good bouldering too. The area and nearby Glendhu Bay
campsite could get busy around summer.
- Guidebook additions:
Grades vary but are mostly fair (e.g. Roadside can be stiff, Phoebe Creek
quite soft). As is traditional slabs are graded easier than steep stuff. In
some areas where the climbs are quite similar, they don't get many stars
but objectively deserve some. The bouldering guide can be quite
- Fiend's pick: Phoebe Creek is really nice, don't
ignore it just because of the drive. Otherwise follow the stars - e.g.
balance up Naked On The Neve 20, absorb yourself in Cleansing The Stone 21,
crank through Everything But The Formalities 22, and launch into orbit on
Roche Muttone 23.
- Ef's pick: All the routes on The Diamond
- great technical slab climbing. The "sunset climb" classic, The
Crack 17 (and the other mid-grade routes) on The Tombstone. Shortcut To
Exposure 17, Happy Fat Men 18. And some nice easier routes at Roadside and
Riverside - the latter offering swimming, deep-water bouldering (ish!) and
picnic potential whilst waiting for the shade to reach the
You can also download this article in 3 sections as separate PDF files:
North Island (416kb)
South Island (300kb)
If you don't have Adobe Acrobat, or want to know more about it, you can download it from Adobe. Tips on downloading, saving and printing PDFs can be found on the Rockfax site.