Destination Guide Dahab Bouldering - Egypt's Bouldering Paradise
Fred Stone takes us on a tour to Dahab, Egypt, and bouldering area of Wadi Gnai to the south.
Known for its wilderness, waterfalls, mountains and coastline, New Zealand's South Island offers a smorgasbord of adventure sports for the globe-trotting tourist. Tourism has been growing exponentially in New Zealand in recent decades and annual visitor numbers now almost match the population of the country. Despite this, outside of the most popular tourist hubs it's still possible to get away from the crowds and enjoy the remote valleys and coast that the South Island has to offer.
Rock climbing isn't the first thing that springs to mind when visiting New Zealand. In fact, in some ways its climbing is something of a poor brother to that of neighbouring Australia. But what Australia has in convenience, New Zealand has in adventure and if you're willing to put the work in, you'll be rewarded with some excellent climbing in unique locations.
The South Island is perhaps better known for the Southern Alps, a searing snowy mountain range where Sir Edmund Hillary cut his teeth in the art of mountain craft. The mountains of the Southern Alps are often remote and difficult to access, but they are also beautiful and well serviced by small mountain huts. Mountaineering here is as much about travelling through the rainforests of the valleys as it is about the high mountain environment and outside of the honeypot areas you're likely to find yourselves alone in the mountains, a far cry from the popular and accessible hills of Europe.
Having spent the last three months living and working in the South Island, I thought it would be a nice idea to put together some information on the best and most popular rock climbing and mountaineering that New Zealand has to offer. Whilst there's too little space in one article to do justice to the climbing and mountaineering of the South Island, hopefully you'll be inspired to learn more and make a trip to this vast and varied country.
The South Island is similar in size to England and Scotland and therefore has a huge amount of variability in weather. Generally speaking, the most stable summer weather can be found any time from the beginning of January to the end of March, with December to mid-January being popular amongst alpinists. Whilst the east and north of the South Island has much more stable weather year-round, the West Coast is known for having frustratingly abysmal wet weather and low-lying cloud.
Milford Sound, where much of the Darran Mountains rock climbing is centred, receives on average a staggering six and a half metres of rainfall a year – although it has been known to rain up to as much as a metre in a single day, such as in February 2020! Further up the West Coast around Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier, persistent low cloud often bombards the mountains frustrating climbers with ambitions to access the mountains west of the divide.
During my three months in New Zealand, I was often able to dodge the bad weather by travelling to different parts of the country and found that Payne's Ford, Wanaka, Christchurch, Mt Somers and Dunedin could often provide good weather alternatives when the mountains were suffering a deluge.
Conservation practises in New Zealand are something of a shock to the ardent British naturalist – think more Rambo than Chris Packham. In fact, the fauna of New Zealand is a sad example of the devastating effect of 900 years of human inhabitation.
New Zealand had the unusual privilege of being mostly mammal free for millennia other than the humble bat and sea mammals. Because of this, many of the ecological niches occupied by mammals elsewhere were filled by flightless birds, most notably the now-extinct Moa, the Kiwi, Weka and the critically endangered (and exceptionally cute) Kakapo. With no mammal predators, many of the birds are ground nesting, slow and in the case of the vulnerable New Zealand Rock Wren, comically bad at flying. With the arrival of the first humans from the Pacific islands, Moa were hunted to extinction and with their demise came the end of the huge Haast Eagle, who were thought to rely upon Moa as their primary food source. With the advent of the first European inhabitants came the introduction of small mammals such as stoats, mice, rats, hedgehogs, hare and possum that have prospered in a land of bountiful food sources at the expense of the unfortunate native birdlife who have been pushed to extinction – or the very edge of extinction.
These invasive animals are now subject to the ambitious eradication project titled 'Predator Free 2050' by the Department of Conservation. With the use of trapping projects, the application of the aerial poison 1080 in carefully controlled areas and in future, the likely use of gene-editing technology to end the reproduction of invasive species. I received a rapid learning curve in the ways of Kiwi conservation when I undertook some trapping work in a remote corner of the Aspiring National Park. It felt strange to be re-setting traps containing animals that would be protected by law in the UK or Australia and remains a sad example of animals paying the price for human intervention to preserve the country's remaining biodiversity.
On the more positive front of what you are likely to see when tramping around New Zealand then there are many prizes for the keen twitcher. Although not the rarest, one of the most spectacular, amusing and intelligent birds is the Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world. These inquisitive birds will, quite literally, eat the clothes off you if you're looking the other way and are known to regularly decimate campsites, fly off with boots left out to dry and have on one occasion been know to have shut the outside lock on a mountain hut trapping alpinists inside!
Other birds you are likely to come across are fantails, warblers, saddleback, rifleman, the South Island robin and, more rarely, the New Zealand rock wren, parakeet, yellowheads and the Blue duck or Whio. It's a twitchers delight. If you spend time camping in the north of the island, you're likely to be terrorised by the Weka and if you're lucky, you might come across a Kiwi at night in a couple of areas on the West coast or down on Stewart Island.
The sea life off the north, east and south coast of the South Island is also spectacular and kayakers and surfers may be fortunate enough to paddle near to dolphins, seals, sea lions and penguins – I was fortunate enough to bob by all of these sea creatures on the few days I spent in a sea kayak. It's also possible to book whale watching boat tours.
New Zealand uses the Australian/Ewbank system which runs from 1-36 (makes sense doesn't it!). Like the French grading system, it only takes into account the route's climbing difficulty – so be aware that this doesn't include how well protected or not a route is. On a personal note, I've often found some grade conversions to be a little bit out, with grade 25 in Australia and New Zealand often corresponding to 7b rather than 7a+ and a similar rippling effect apparent on the several grades below and above. It's also possible that the long approaches to the climbing here have made my legs heavier and arms weaker…
For mountaineering routes in the Southern Alps, the grades are a little bit different. They consist of a grade for seriousness (I-VII) and a grade for technical difficulty (1-8) – somewhat like the British trad grade.
One of the best (and worst!) aspects of New Zealand climbing is the relative remoteness and inaccessibility of the climbing and mountaineering. Because of the size of the National Parks and limited network of roads reaching up the valleys, many climbs will require a minimum of a day to approach and you're unlikely to be queuing for your objective.
In Aoraki National Park, where the majority of the highest 3,000m+ peaks are located, access is becoming fraught due to glacial recession. In particular, ascending the Fox Glacier and Tasman Glacier are inadvisable under current conditions due to steep moraine walls and heavily crevassed and pitted sections of lower glacier. Because of this, current practice is to use helicopters to access many of the mountain huts, such as the Plateau Hut beneath Aoraki, Tasman Saddle and surrounding huts at the head of the Tasman valley and the Centennial and surrounding huts on the vast neves of the West Coast. Helicopters can be booked as last minute as on the day of travel and with full helicopter flights, the per-person costs are comparable to the Aiguille du Midi cable car for the nearer mountain huts. If you can tie your helicopter drop off or pick up with other climbers/scenic flights you are likely to save a significant amount of money. The irony of using helicopters to access mountains where foot access has been made almost impossible by climate change was certainly not lost on me.
For some of the climbing areas in Milford Sound, you will need to access the climbing by boat or helicopter. For mountaineers hoping to ascend the spectacular Mitre Peak or its surrounding rock climbing (Sindbad Gully and Copper Point), you will have to either bring your own craft (kayak or boat) or book a helicopter.
Much of the more remote rock climbing and dare I say it, all of the alpine climbing, is likely to be out of any phone signal. For that reason, taking a satellite phone, EPIRB emergency beacon or both is common practice for weather forecast updates, arranging helicopter access or contacting the emergency services.
There is an extensive hut network in New Zealand serviced by the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Alpine Club. There is everything from 4 person alpine bivouac huts to spacious and well-stocked tramping huts. Prices for staying at these huts range from the equivalent of £5-10 for NZAC members to £20 for non-members. Reciprocal rights are available for some European alpine and mountaineering club members for this discount. Most huts are very basic, often a single room with bunk beds and a small cooking area, so expect to be woken up often if you're up in an alpine hut. A few of the huts have gas cookers and a wood stove. The most popular tramping huts will need to be booked well in advance and have a resident warden but as a general rule many huts operate on a first come first served basis and in the rare occasions the huts are over-full you're expected to squeeze up and accommodate.
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The New Zealand 'Rock Deluxe South by the New Zealand Alpine Club is a select climbing guidebook to the best rock climbing and bouldering in the South Island. It covers all the main rock-climbing areas covered in this destination article other than the multi-pitch climbing in the Darran Mountains and Remarkables above Queenstown which are considered 'alpine'. There are also comprehensive and user-friendly guidebooks to Wanaka, Queenstown and Castle Hill produced by NZAC which are worth getting if you spend a protracted amount of time in any of them. The Darra mountains guidebook is currently out of print although a new guide is in the pipeline.
For alpine climbing the 'Aoraki Tai Poutini' guidebook is a visually stunning and thoughtfully written guidebook – something of a must buy if you make it to the region which houses all but one of the 3,000m peaks. The Aspiring guidebook provides a brief overview of climbing in the region, however, it's pretty thin on details – something of a running theme for alpine mountaineering descriptions in New Zealand! It's definitely worth supplementing guidebook information through searching for extra information online or speaking to others who've previously climbed in the area you wish to visit.
Online you can find useful topos and updated information/new routes on 'thecrag.com' and 'climbnz.org.nz'.
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The home of New Zealand sport climbing, though perhaps no longer the top spot. Paynes Ford is a classic and rare example of limestone sport climbing in New Zealand, all in a compact area next to the friendly Hangdog campground – exclusively reserved for climbers in the summer season. It's a hub for Kiwi crankers and a great place to pick up a climbing partner for the day. It's also a hub for organic food, dreadlocks and hippies; I'd not seen as many dreads since I last watched a nineties bouldering flick. The climbing is predominantly in the 12 to 27 range so perfect for beginners as well as those looking to cook their forearms on un-helpful sloping-crimps.
Whilst the sport climbing is surpassed in quality and quantity in locations such as Wanaka and the Darrans, it remains a beautiful spot with a great seasonal climbing community. The nearby Pohara also has a number of sport climbs worthy of a day trip.
Make My Day 25
Dread Carefully 24
Send a Gorilla 23
1080 and the Letter G 23
R is for Ranger, D is for Danger 21
Temples of Stone 18
The nearby Abel Tasman national park is home to one of New Zealand's 'great walks' and it's also possible to hire double sea kayaks to paddle with seals and penguins around the forested shores and camp on some stunning beaches. For those looking for more of a relax, the nearby beaches of Golden Bay are perfect for lazy days.
Described by the Dalai Lama as the "spiritual centre of the universe", Castle Hill is a unique landscape of jutting limestone boulders popular with tourists and climbers. With a strangely powerful climbing style on largely frictionless rock, it can hand down beatings to the uninitiated leaving some climbers with dented egos and sore ankles! If you leave your ego behind and start working up from the lowest bouldering grades you'll have an amazing time. It's worth taking a couple of bouldering pads, as some of the problems are pretty high (pads can be rented from Springfield YHA) and if you get the chance to climb here with a local you'll save a lot of time working out where all the boulder problems are as it's quite perplexing on your first visit. There's also some great, but underappreciated sport climbing to be had.
Flock Hill next door is just as delightful, perhaps with a greater concentration of the better problems. Please refer to the Castle Hill basin website before visiting Flock Hill for the safety notice and how to access the climbing.
To the west of Castle Hill is Arthur's Pass which has impressive views and stunning day walks. An hour to the east lies Christchurch. Christchurch itself is a charming coastal city in a fantastic location. There's great mountain biking at Christchurch Adventure Park, nice beaches with reliable surf and an active skydiving centre.
Situated between Christchurch and Mount Cook, this mountain crag has a dry climate and great rock. A steep two-hour hike through native forest brings you to the gorgeously positioned Pinnacles Hut – an excellent base for a few days of climbing. The pinnacles situated ten minutes above the hut provides some fun sport, but the best climbing is reserved for the columnar rhyolite above. The climbing is predominantly traditional although there are a few good sport pitches up aretes and corners. A lovely place to spend a couple of days.
Bring Back the Kane 15
A La Weta 25
Whilst not well known as a climbing destination, Wanaka and Queenstown are home to a wealth of sport and multi-pitch climbing that have been developed by an active local climbing scene. Situated on the east side of the divide, both areas have relatively dry climates for year-round cragging.
The majority of climbing in the Wanaka region is situated around the Hospital Flats/Diamond Lake area about a twenty-minute drive from town. You can find sunny and shady aspects to climb on with some south-facing crags taking a bit of time to dry out after bad weather. The rock is predominantly well-featured schist providing an interesting climbing style with cracks, flakes, breaks and a lot of small holds. Where the rock is well travelled the schist is of good quality, however there is still a lot of friable rock on the less popular climbing. Hospital Flats and the nearby riverside offer the most concentrated climbing areas with grades between 9 and 27. Down the West Wanaka road, the best crags are Al Cap, a searing wall with the areas best high-end sport routes from 24 upwards (and perhaps the best 27 in New Zealand?) and Gentlemen's Club, both amongst the best sport crags of New Zealand.
For those in search of a little more adventure, about twenty minutes beyond Hospital Flats towards Mt Aspiring is the complex wall of Hell's Gate. Whilst nothing special to look at from afar, this hosts one of New Zealand's best multi-pitch sport climbs 'Taniwha', which deviously follows the best 220m of rock to the top of the wall. At a sustained 24 (7a+) it's no pushover either. For wet days, Mt Iron, just behind Wanaka, has a number of permanently dry routes, perfect for keeping the arms in shape whilst the weather is bad.
The primary sport climbing area in Queenstown is Wye Creek which hosts a large number of sport routes from 12 to 31. The climbing style is varied with slabs and walls as well as big overhangs. Up the valley from Queenstown and beyond Glenorchy lie a number of excellent tramping trails such as the ever-popular Routeburn track which will take you across to the Darran mountains. At the head of the valley is the Dart track which can be followed all the way to the Aspiring hut. Near the beginning of this track is Chinaman's Bluff, home to some mid-grade multi-pitch routes of excellent quality in a secluded position.
Above Queenstown are the Remarkables, a Cuilin'esque mountain range accessible by the ski road. The grand traverse of the Remarkables is one of the outstanding rock routes of New Zealand. Best done in an anti-clockwise fashion, the best climbing can be found by sticking to the ridge itself however a few of the more difficult tower can be easily avoided, predominantly on the ski area side of the ridge. For the most part, it's a sustained grade 3 scramble by British standards with the odd pitch up to 12 in difficulty. There are also a number of pleasant multi-pitch routes climbing up Double and Single Cone.
Continuous Play 27 - Al Cap
Taniwha 24 - Hell's Gate
Falcon Steep 22 - Hospital Flat
The Ravages of Time 20 - Chinaman's Bluff
Headbanger's Arete 17 - Hospital Flat
The Mission 16 - Wye Creek
Grand Traverse of the Remarkables 14
Queenstown is surely the adventure capital of New Zealand – a place that is mostly known for adventure! Sky diving, kayaking, canyoning, stand up paddleboarding, jet boating (Dart and Wilkin rivers), water skiing, downhill biking (Coronet Peak and Cardrona) and bungee jumping are the things to do here whether you hire the equipment or go on guided experiences. For those after a less adrenaline-filled rest day you can visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, make a visit to cinema Paradiso for its extravagant sofa seats or fill your Instagram page up with images of the Wanaka tree of Roy's Peak.
The jewel in the crown of Southland climbing is the Darran Mountains. Granite abounds here and the rock is unquestionably the best in the country. The NZAC's Homer hut, situated about a 30-minute drive from Milford Sound, is a perfect climbers base with basic bunkhouse style accommodation and communal cooking space. The Darrans or Fjordland, as the area is better known, has stunning lakes, steep-sided valleys and plentiful rainforest. This region receives approximately 6.5 metres of rainfall annually and as you can imagine, combining your trip with a good weather spell can be the biggest challenge.
The good news is that New Zealand's two best sport crags are both predominantly perma dry at the Chasm and Little Babylon. If you decide to make the relatively short trudge through the rainforest to get to these two overhanging walls, you'll be treated to steep and unrelenting granite climbing through angular roofs. When the bad weather abates then you can visit some of the other walls in the valley.
Much of the most popular climbing in this area is relatively recently developed. 'Uprising' 24 in the Cleddau valley falls very much into the category of modern classic and the work put into opening this line is impressive, to say the least. An hour of jungle bashing up ever steeper rainforest has you questioning your sanity before arriving at the first, often wet, approach pitches. From here sustained climbing at a level of 22 gives you some of the best views in the Darrans and an excellent long day route. The nearby Moir's Mate and Barrier Knob are home to some of the better-established multi-pitch classics from grade 14 to 27 in difficulty. The approach can be anywhere between two and four hours for these routes and teams often bivi at their base.
Sinbad Gully is quickly growing a reputation as the top Kiwi venue for multi-pitch climbing. I was thwarted from visiting here due to bad weather, work and finally huge landslips shutting down the road to Milford Sound so I can only echo what others have said. This wall can only be accessed by boat and a bushwhack or helicopter. Routes are currently between 23 and 31 in difficulty with a mixture of trad and sport and there is plenty of potential for future development by those looking for good rock and adventure. The nearby coastal crag Copper Point is also home to some of the best multi-pitch climbing in the South Island.
Contact Neurosis (29) 29 - The Chasm
Shadowland 27 - Sinbad Gully
Bus t'Milford 26 - The Chasm
Ta Moko 25 - Copper Point
International Turkey Patrol 25 - Little Babylon
Uprising 24 - Cleddau Valley
Bowen Allan Corner 17 - West Face of Moir's Mate
North Ridge of Mt Moir 12
Milford Sound is one of the tourist hot spots of New Zealand and can be a little overbearing for mountaineers looking for a wilderness experience. But "when in Rome…" and all that you can embrace the tourist vibe and book on a stunning short cruise around the Sound to view waterfalls crashing down and get a stunning view of Mitre Peak. It's also possible to book on to guided kayaking trips here. The Hollyford valley is also well worth a visit for the short (and long?) walks in a stunning location.
A short hop away from Wanaka on the east coast is the coastal climbing areas of Long Beach and Lovers Leap near to Dunedin. Long Beach has some excellent easy to mid-grade climbing in a stunning setting climbing off a sandy beach. Lovers Leap, on the other hand, is best suited for those able to climb above 22 on trad. The climbing is somewhat reminiscent of Fairhead and access to the base of some routes is via a chain to pass the poor-quality rock. Not too far up the coast in the unusual bouldering area of Elephant Rocks which will provide an excellent day of climbing in a similar vein to Castle Hill.
With a strong local climbing scene, there's a huge number of routes in the Christchurch area for climbers of all grades and on both trad and sport. Although some of the best areas did suffer from severe rockfall during the last major earthquake, there's plenty of good climbing left to be done.
The little-visited sea cliffs of Charleston are rumoured to have excellent climbing on both trad and sport. Perhaps a good place to stop on a tour of the west coast?
New Zealand's alpinism deserves more than a quick appraisal in a destination article. The Southern Alps is quite different from its European counterpart. Despite their modest altitude (Aoraki/Mt Cook is the highest point at 3,724m), the mountains are extremely snow-covered throughout the seasons, with glaciers coming down to as low as 400m in altitude. The rock quality is generally very poor in the higher mountains with few significant rock walls, but despite this the mountains are steep and shapely with fine ridgelines leading to their summits. The use of snowshoes and snow pickets/stakes is quite prolific in the Southern Alps (as I discovered to my disappointment on Aoraki when I post holed my way to the summit…) and whilst snowshoe use is fairly self-explanatory, it's worth getting a good understanding of snow picket placements and limitations before embarking on a trip.
Most alpinists who come to New Zealand will have one or both of two objectives – to climb Mt Aspiring and Aoraki/Mt Cook. Mt Aspiring is often referred to as the Matterhorn of the Southern Alps for its impressive triangular shape. The normal route up the north-west ridge is relatively straightforward from the Colin Todd hut, with one section of easy but loose climbing through the Kangaroo step and some moderately steep snow slopes leading to the summit. It can be climbed year-round and the Colin Todd hut, somewhat unusually for New Zealand, can be reached in a long day of walking from the car park. The south-west ridge, best climbed in late spring or early summer, is the other classic ascent on this peak with more technically demanding steep snow climbing to finish up a short and icy couloir to reach the summit.
Aoraki, the highest peak in the Southern Alps, is a more technically demanding ascent than Aspiring and a long day on the mountain with return trips taking between 11 and 20 hours via the Linda Glacier route. Most people access the Plateau hut beneath Aoraki by helicopter nowadays, as the Tasman glacier has been retreating and sections of the approach have gradually washed out. The normal route is best climbed in early summer, December through to mid-January, when the Linda glacier is still well covered by snow and easy to navigate. The summit triangle has a number of pitches of climbing up to a level of Scottish grade II to III and is equipped for abseil descent on a single 60m rope whilst the final section of summit ridge provides steep and aesthetic snow slopes. The route is not without its risks, with a major avalanche and icefall hazard in the form of the gun barrel which is best avoided during the hottest time of the day or when it is particularly loaded with snow. Glacier Dome and Mt Dickson, both also accessible from the Plateau hut, provide good preparation days for Aoraki and nice ascents in their own right. The grand traverse of Aoraki is one of the much sought after ascents of New Zealand alpinism and many great enchainments are possible in the National Park via the extensive ridgelines of the divide.
Tai Poutini National Park (the west coast) accessible from Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier is the other major high alpine venue – essentially an extension of Aoraki National Park. The approach to the mountains via Fox Glacier is now in such poor condition that it is no longer recommended for most sane individuals and whilst an approach from Franz Joseph to the Almer hut is still possible – most people take the easy option and get the helicopter up. It's worth noting that with the reliance on helicopter access in this area, a good understanding is needed of the fickle weather conditions on the west coast, as helicopters can often be stuck on the ground due to persistent low clouds on the west and this can leave you stuck in a mountain hut for much longer than anticipated. The Pioneer and Centennial huts provide the best access to the mountains on this side, with classic ascents including Minarets, Glacier Peak, Lendenfeld and the stunning snowy behemoth of Mt Tasman.
As we follow the mountain range down south, we reach the pleasant and accessible Mt Brewster and Mt Armstrong which are accessed from Haast Pass and the Brewster hut. Further south again we reach the Remarkables above Queenstown, a popular venue for Scottish style winter climbing. Down in the Darran mountains, the alpinism is more remote and often blighted by bad weather. One of the great alpine circuits from the Homer hut is the Macpherson-Talbot traverse, a pleasant rock scramble and wintery ridge. For those in search of the complete wilderness feel then Mt Tutoko and Mt Madeleine are said to provide excellent journeys in a very remote setting.
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Fred Stone takes us on a tour to Dahab, Egypt, and bouldering area of Wadi Gnai to the south.
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ahhhh home :) Lived away for a good few years now but have such fond memories learning to climb in the Port Hills, Mt Somers and many other superb crags dotted around. Sure there's not as much of an abundance of crags, but having a crag all to yourself, all day, only 20 minutes from your front door definitely makes up for it.
Great write up and quite right that an article doesn't do justice. More content like this please.
Good article, definitely agree about the paucity of info in route descriptions!
Just to confirm that Charleston on the upper West Coast is definitely worth a visit: great granite sea cliff climbing, some of the rare good NZ rock. In the same area, on the inland side of the road there is also an increasing amount of limestone river side climbing, around Bullock creek and other areas, which apparently is a bit more adventurous in its approaches, but gives 2 different rock types to go at in the same area.
I was going to say Charleston granite and the limestone sport too are worth a visit and definitely the limestone sport is getting visited by locals. I think the week-long SI rock tour spends two days at Charleston as well.
Also the Darran granite batholith is split by the Main Divide fault which is sliding apart inexorably over thousands of years. The other half went Notth and ended up as the Paparoa mountains. Quite a number of excellent granite mountains up there, one 10 pitch grade 19 (gives an idea of scale), but as usual access is a bit tricky (I will try and improve it ;) )
Sounds great, will I be able to see any of it from the Paparoa MTB trail in a few weeks, or is it quite distant still? Always good to know some quality mountain multi pitch in NZ.