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 hoons.
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 conditions.
Gear: Three things to remember here.
- Do 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 too.
- 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 plenty.
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 18-20.
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 relevant.
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 only.
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 system.
New Ignimbrite Climbs - all the other ignimbrite crags, but check the update sheet too.
Waipapa - available from Bryce's
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 guide.
There are also guides available to the Port Hills and Dunedin Rock but these don't have much useful extra information.
Websites: 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.
OK! On to the crags themselves:
- 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 around.
- Guidebook additions: Grades vary. Totally impossible to get to Main Crag from top carpark - go via Hospital Road instead.
- Fiend's pick: Evening at Top Rocks for a bit of a laugh.
- Ef's pick: Worth wading through the bushes and cobwebs for Mighty Twenty Footer 15 and Surburban Reptile 17.
- 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 tidal.
- Fiend's pick: Slapping Down 21 is a really fantastic arete. Parallel Cracks 16 just right gives a mighty bridging experience.
- Ef's Pick: No.
Mt Eden Quarry:
- 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 good.
- 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 spotlights!
- Ef's pick: Secret Crack 17
- 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.
- Fiend's 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 grade range.
- 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, though.
- Beware of old bolts and stiff grades. Some routes overgrown.
- Rebolted with shiny ringbolts. Charge to use crag.
- Secretive indeed - nice enough but an absolute pig to find, and consequently underused.
- Partly rebolted.
- Mostly rebolted and increasingly popular. It's well worth exploring right to the very end (Back Of Beyond).
- Rebolted with shiny ringbolts. Charge to use crag.
- Description: Ignimbritish slabs, flakes and cracks in a fairly sunny bush setting near a large river. More peaceful, varied, and technically interesting than Wharepapa.
- Guidebook additions: Grades are stiff. Most of Cracked Buttress is overgrown except for at the far left.
- 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 17(+).
- Description: 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 effort.
- 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 line.
- Description: . Tiny but nice, sunny, crag on the shores of Lake Taupo. Peaceful setting, good solid dimpled rhyolite, and a few good mid-grade climbs.
- Guidebook 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 left.
- Ef's pick: Lovely lakeside location for an evening out and a swim.
- General: 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.
- Guidebook 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 Slab!
- Ef's pick: Sea Grass Wall.
- 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 days.
- 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 finish.
- 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 lost.
- Fiend's pick: A superb trio of classic 21s, none of which have typical Castle Hill climbing: Nether Edge, Rambandit, and Mal A L'aise.
- 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 entertainment.
- 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 here.
- Guidebook additions: See below. Grades fair unless otherwise stated.
- 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.
Jane Fonda Wall:
- 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 are easy.
- 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 classics.
- 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.
- More good trad stuff on interesting flakey rock. There's only a few classics here, 17-21 but they're pretty good.
- To round 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 http://www.aspiring.co.nz/dawnwall.htm
- Fiend's pick: Anything that appeals at Ote when you're feeling bold.
- Ef's 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 overgrown.
- 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 Cook:
- 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 - 20.
- 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 NZ.
- 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.
Hanging Rock area:
- 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 setting.
- Guidebook additions: Grades tough (what did you expect?).
- 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 jug-pulling.
- Ef's pick: The river under the Hanging Rock...
- 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 area.
- Guidebook additions: Grades okay. Watch out for the rock and bolts, both as dodgy as the guide says - I pulled a ledge off one route...
- 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.
Long Beach, Dunedin:
- 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 convenience trad!
- Guidebook additions: Grades are fairly easy.
- 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 Sunnyside.
- 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.
- Guidebook additions: Just hope the local guide is around.
- Fiend's 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 evening look.
- 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 vague.
- 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 crag.
You can also download this article in 3 sections as separate PDF files: