If there was one word to describe my experience of rock climbing in New Zealand, it would be adventurous. Still in it’s relative infancy, New Zealand has immense potential for rock climbing however there hasn’t been enough interest to push it up the agenda at the moment. Typical New Zealand climbing consists of crags with difficult to find information, long approaches and high first bolts. Don’t let that put you off though
There is a large range of rock types and quality from sea side limestone to alpine diorite. Over the last four months travelling in beautiful New Zealand, I can share my experience of what slowly became a crag touring trip (mostly in the South Island).
The best resource for climbing in NZ is climbnz, checking out libraries for guidebooks (though many are outdated) and local beta (the best). Unfortunately NZ has not caught on to things such as thecrag yet. Below is a summary of some of the climbing in the South Island.
Located in the Golden Bay area in the North West of the South Island, the climber’s camp Hangdog is a little bubble in the small town of Takaka. Like a tiny counter culture colony, Payne’s Ford is a must visit for any climbing trip for both the climbing and the community. Climb good quality limestone with short approaches from the camp (5-10 minutes). There are a huge amount of single pitch climbs (over 200) with the famed Payne’s Ford slopers. Generally well bolted with traditions such as nude climbs at night by moonlight on Temples of Stones (18) on the Stone symposium wall. The Globe Wall is by far the best wall around if you climb hard with the easiest climb there a 19/20 and 23+ climbs mostly starred, especially on the Electric Globe Wall. Many people get into climbing here after stumbling into the Hangdog camp and there is an incredibly friendly vibe. The camp boasts a communal fire pit, wood-fired pizza oven and $2 4 minute hot showers. Don’t forget to visit the 1080 wall to do the classic roof climb there 1080 (23), it has a pocket just before the anchors in which you can cam your feet/body in and hang hands free. Well bolted, the climb is the photo featured in the Hangdog sign.
Beautiful swimming holes are a short walk away with crystal clear blue waters a 3 minutes walk opposite the camp with deep water soloing on a roof, traverses and numerous rope swings. This area really comes together in summer where jumping into the water is a pleasant experience, worth to note that Hangdog is sometimes closed for winter.
There’s plenty of options for wet weather cragging as well including sea cliffs at Pohara, a 20 or so drive away with the ironically named Bo Peep slab (which is actually an overhung wall). There is a fantastic 18 here (which is also the easiest route on the wall) in which you abseil through a canopy in the trees into a net below. There is also a belay armrest chair there (hopefully still there) for shits and giggles.
There are plenty of things to do on rest days including Harwood’s Hole, a cave with a 180m abseil. Expect a 12 hour day to undertake this endeavor, ask the manager for information if interested but beware there have been incidents in the past. Anatoki Salmon Farm where you can catch your own salmon and have them cook/smoke it for you and also see tame eels.
Canyoning near Pupu springs near the Hydro Walk down Campbell Stream or down a water race. The water here is incredibly cold so a wet suit is a must as you have to jump off some small (3-5m) waterfalls as you descend. Again, ask the manager if you are going to attempt this, no ropes or equipment required though we did spot some bolts. Plan for around 5 hours as you walk up to the opposite end of the stream and end up back at the car park.
There is also phytoplankton to see in the Golden Bay region if you’re really lucky and the conditions are just right.
A guidebook can be purchased at the camp for $10 detailed the area and Pohara sea cliffs.
For the trad climbers out there, Charleston is a must visit for some very atmospheric climbing by the sea with great quality rock (granite I think?). The South Cliffs are where it’s at for this area with Cathedral and Wonder Wall being the most obvious walls around with a brilliant traverse across an obvious crack line over the water aptly named Shark’s breakfast (18). Most climbs are equipped with bolted anchors and protection is generally good. Visit European Cove for a great experience, the track is hard to find but there is definitely one there (we abseiled in and found it on the way out). Try your luck on the North Cliffs though we couldn’t locate them when we did (the approach is a walk through a graveyard). Reckon you could probably spend two to three days of fantastic climbing here.
What seems to be the emerging hub of climbing in New Zealand. The sheer amount of crags and routes in this area is massive and there is a whole guidebook dedicated just to this area. New routes being bolted every month, there is a crag for every time of the day and every season! The climbing is varied on amazing quality schist (metamorphosed greywacke with quartz inclusions). The climbing is characteristically thin with lots of crimping in the main areas of Hospital Flat and Diamond Lake. Approaches vary from 5 to 45 minutes. One of the classic areas is the tombstone, a monolith on which climbs are bolted on each and every side. For those of you who enjoy slab climbing, take a visit to the diamond slab, a 30 minute hike in to a relatively steep slab. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Pencil Dick Wall with great views over Diamond Lake and great climbs with thin moves if you climb above grade 22.
The Cutting also boasts superb climbing for the thinking climber for those climbing in the 18 – 23 range. Almost perpetually in the shade, this area is great for the afternoon or for those hot days.
Sunnyside, as the name implies is in the sun much of the time. Short, great quality rock and route, this is the go-to winter crag for many. The routes are suited for moderate to hard climbers with the stars pouring in above grade 20.
There are bolted multi-pitch climbs (up to three) in the Matukituki valley at Pearly Gates but be sure to avoid Phoebe Creek. What seemed like a great crag in the guidebook turned out to be the worst crag I’ve ever been to with dead sheep lining the base of the crag and a pit full of decay nearby. Presumably to keep climbers off the private land on which the crag is located.
For those rainy days, take a visit to Mt Iron where the walls are steeply overhung and the climbing characteristically different from the typical Wanaka with pump-fests all around. Rock quality here is slightly lower as bits are coming off all the time, the route quality is still fantastic however.
Queenstown (inc Glenorchy)
There is a good amount of climbing in this area although I only visited one of the classic crags in the area, Wye Creek. A beautiful location overlooking Lake Wakatipu and a great walk in over a pipe. Many come here to climb the 21 to take their silhouette photo with the lake in the background, myself included. A steep 45 minute walk to the crag or 15 minutes if you have a 4WD and can take your vehicle up to the second car park.
Glenorchy boasts one of the classic multi-pitches in New Zealand, Ravages of Time. Be ready for a great adventure if you take on the challenge as route-finding is difficult, rock quality is greatly varied and a 2 hour hike in is required to the start at Chinaman’s Bluff.
Dunedin climbing is growing slowly with three major climbing locations in the area. The most popular of these is Long Beach. With climbing straight on, you guessed it, a beach. There is a sea cave at the end of the beach where there are some short bolted climbs and you may find climbers bivy’d. A beautiful location by the ocean, there is also trad climbing in the area. You will find many climbers at the pinnacle in the middle climbing the three star 14 though there is harder climbs on the opposite face.
Lover’s Leap is an incredibly atmospheric crag on the Otago Peninsula, the area is a natural amphitheater and there is a giant chasm and bridge right next to the crag. There appeared to be a recent landslide and as such the platform wall is now inaccessible. Slightly difficult to locate at Sandymount but the climbing is well worth it. Basalt columns tower high above with climbs of up to 33m, it’s a crack climbers paradise. The approach is a 30 or so minute walk including a descent down a steep grass slope. Although many routes are bolted, they tend to be difficult but there are still many crack climbs/lines that are fun on trad. We chose our own lines as we found the topo incredibly hard to read when everything looks the same on a drawing. The wall takes a long time to dry so avoid visiting the crag after rain.
Doctor’s Point is geographically close to Long Beach although the topography dictates taking a 30 minute drive to reach it. Atmospheric climbing as the tide comes in and. The routes here are typically hard for the grade and the topo is not that detailed. Bolts are aged and rock quality is average.
The fiordlands of which the Darran Mountain Range are a part of boast incredibly high quality diorite and hard climbing. As the area is quite inaccessible, there is not a lot of traffic through here. The main crags of the area are Babylon, Little Babylon, The Chasm and Moir’s Mate. The Fiordlands is no stranger to the rain but luckily most of the crags here are sheltered from the rain with the exception of Moir’s Mate. Steep and hard climbing, expect long approaches to the crags. There is not much available information on the climbing in this area and your best bet would be to get local beta or check the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) hut nearby called Homer Hut where many climbers and alpinists base themselves out of when undertaking a climbing or alpine trip. Therein lies a book in which new routes are detailed in. $35+/ night for non-members and $20/ night for members. Some of the best climbing I have done was at Moir’s Mate on a multi-pitch climb called Lucky Strike, it is however a full mission to get there so be sure to be prepared.
About 2 hours out from Christchurch, Mt Somers is a 2.5 hour walk in up and down steep terrain to a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut. Most of the climbing is 30 to 45 minute walk from the Pinnacle’s Hut which tends to be incredibly busy especially in summer. Rhyolite and andersite columns dominate the area with a 40m finger crack Skate (22) and a 40m three star crack climb, Uno (21) on the Orange Wall. Majority of the climbs here are trad with bolts placed sparsely. Rock quality is generally great except on the pinnacles of which holds tend to break off the conglomerate, however the routes are well protected and of good quality. The area is worth a visit for up to three days of continuous climbing though we ended up spending five nights to justify the hike in. Christian Principles wall has some great easy trad climbs of grade 15-18. Short and serviced by bolted anchors, this crag is great for doing a lot of climbing in a short time.
Depending on how hard you climb, the type of climbing you like, New Zealand has a huge amount of variety of climbing styles and rock to keep you entertained. Although climbing is still in it’s early stages in this beautiful country, climbing partners can be easy to find in the climbing hubs of Payne’s Ford and Wanaka and quite difficult outside those areas.