Castle Hill Bouldering - New Zealandby Alex Wilkinson & Kathryn Cooper Apr/2011
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Castle Hill (and nearby Flock Hill) is a large collection of beautiful limestone boulders close to State Highway 73, between Darfield and Arthur's Pass in the South Island of New Zealand.
The bouldering is world famous and is visually stunning. Castle Hill has been the backdrop for several fantasy films such as the 2005 movie The Chronicles of Narnia.
In general bouldering a Castle Hill is extremely physical, a local jest is that wrestling sheep would be good training and they are not far from wrong. With good reason it is recommended that your first few days at "The Hill" are spent getting easy mileage and accustomed to the style.
Spittle Hill/Quantum Field - The closest relative to the Castle Hill style would be that of gritstone bouldering, but lacking the friction. The limestone rock provides pockets and comedy "toilet bowls" that often form havens mid climb from the omnipresent mantles and slopers that permeate every climb. Most problems succumb to dynamic shifting of body weight to overcome the bulbous formations. If you're not good at mantles before you come, you will be within a day or so! The landings are flat and grassy on the whole. The density of boulders will provide any climber with months of entertainment from sub-V0 to V12. Both venues differ slightly in style, Spittle Hill boulders are slightly more featured than Quantum Field and can act as a good general warm up venue.
Wuthering Heights - The rock here is more weathered and the problems more spread out. This venue offers a beautiful view and is often the first to dry after a rainstorm. Unlike Spittle Hill and Quantum Field it is not subject to the tourist bus circuit and you can enjoy this tranquil setting in almost perfect isolation. A free topo can be found
Dark Castle (Rambandit Gully only!) - A strange and foreboding venue consisting of test-piece routes with the odd very hard boulder problem. The tall weathered towers block out background sound making you feel extremely small amongst the giant rocks. Most of this venue sits in the shade and is often the last place to shift snow or dry from a rainstorm.
Cave Stream - More featured than Quantum Field boulders and easy access from the DOC car park, the venue sports high ball classics and is home to a 30 minute wade through a natural cave.
Flock Hill - An epic venue which conjures images of forgotten ruins of a magnificent temple complex. This sector is a wild and adventurous venue. The rock here is more featured than the rest of the valley and thus the climbing style is more conventional. Pockets, crimps and good friction are in abundance and the top-outs are less likely to test your grovelling ability. The majority of cleaned problems will appeal to the V5 and above climber. However, regardless of your ability, if you're willing to explore there's enough here to keep you satisfied for a lifetime. Take a broad stiff brush, separate toothbrush and water to clean the rock. The landings are often more precarious than those at the other venues and a lot of the problems are verging on highballs, so a couple of mats and some spotters will see you in good stead. Flock Hill is the jewel in the crown of this truly stunning area.
It is important to note that Dark Castle with exception to those faces lying in the gully between itself and Quantum Field (Rambandit Gully), is off limits to climbers. It is considered acceptable to wander amongst the strange towers, however be careful where you tread as the venue is part of a native bush reforestation project the DOC are running.
Flock Hill: Situated on private land owned by Flock Hill Lodge & Farm station. Access is via parking by the farm gate near parapet rock (a green spray painted rock fin), the walk across the stream and up the hill will take you at least 40 minutes. Access is not available during lambing season and you are required to visit Flock Hill Lodge to sign in before making the climb up the hill. The area is part of a working farm so stock grazing and mustering can also alter access. It is imperative that you take with you your completed copy of the liability statement as you can be expected to be challenged by the farmer. Non-compliance is treated as trespassing of which you can expected to be prosecuted (I kid ye not!). With all this fuss you would wonder why any one bothered to go there at all, in a nut shell this is THE venue to go to. The rocks look epic from the roadside. It is not until you have completed the walk-in do you really get to grasp the sheer scale of the venue and the potential. The boulder density may not be that of the other locations however the volume of climbing is easily double that of all of the Castle Hill venues together.
Cave Stream: This small sector is also DOC owned and there are no access problems, the car park is situated on the right a few kilometres past the Castle Hill village. Its also of note that the Rock Deluxe guidebook does not cover this area.
Weather and conditions?
How do I get there?
International flights arrive into Christchurch daily and tickets are available from a variety of vendors. You will need to consider the weight and size of your luggage, plus sports equipment allowances. We found Emirates the best option as they allowed us each 30Kg of checked in baggage in an unlimited number of bags including our boulder mat.
From Christchurch there is a daily bus service but a car is recommended. Budget car rental is easy to come by. It is well worth taking out the extra insurance for tire and windscreen cover as the roads can be fairly rough.
Where do I stay?
Considering its isolated position there are a fair number of options here. Day tripping from Christchurch is a very reasonable proposition if you just want to check the place out. Christchurch offers many motel, backpacker and more upmarket accommodation. The township of Springfield is the closest mini-metropolis, offering a dairy, motel and backpackers as well as a campground. However if you're making the trip you may as well stay closer to the boulders over Porter's pass. Castle Hill village is a cluster of holiday homes and one B&B with no shops. For a large group staying for a week or two, renting a house up here can be very economical. Freedom camping is frowned upon, however free camping is available at the DOC owned Craigieburn shelter. This is the climbers hang-out however, you get what you pay for - a toilet, water from the stream and you're advised not to leave your gear unattended. 5km further down the road is the more open and pleasant Lake Pearson campground - also DOC owned.
Our pick is the plush yet affordable Flock Hill Lodge which will suit a range of budgets. Camping ($15pp) and the backpacker lodge ($30pp, including some twin rooms) share a fully equipped kitchen (pots, pans, cutlery, fridges etc all provided), a cosy lounge, super showers and a handy drying room for any wet kit. Motel units are also available. There is a bar and restaurant on site offering great value lunch and dinner menus and a pool table. The beer, food quality & prices are extremely competitive, Monday nights offering a good hearty meal, a pint and free games of pool for $15!
What do I need?
High factor sunscreen, lip balm, sun hat, waterproofs, a warm fleece or down jacket (yes even in summer!), sharp and smeary shoes, 2 - 3 litres of water per person, plenty of food, chalk and a boulder mat. A tooth brush or swat-rag are good additions as good clean hand holds offer a vastly improved grip.
If you're here for a few days you'll have plenty of fun without a topo. The boulders of Quantum Field and Spittle Hill are well covered by "Rock Deluxe" with "The Comprehensive Castle Hill Climbing Guide" adding relatively little for the casual visitor. There is no guide to Flock Hill but you're likely to bump into some ripped locals who are more than happy to point out a few classics. The Powerband website has published a mini-guide to Wuthering heights showcasing the harder problems.
Where can I buy gear and food?
What else is there apart from the climbing?
Aside from the bouldering, Arthur's Pass has some special opportunities for walking, caving and snow sports. The valley has half a dozen ski fields and some great back country skiing opportunities. Arthur's pass village tourist information "I-Site" office contains a wealth of pamphlets to fulfil your every need. Its also a good spot to meet the gregarious alpine parrot, the Kea. These highly intelligent birds are pre-disposed to causing mischief and are well worth meeting. Those staying at Flock Hill Lodge can do a variety of walks from the camp ground, one being to the set of the film Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe situated in the valley directly behind Flock Hill boulders.
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