Gillesbie Pass Slog and Charleston Cracks

After spending far longer in Wanaka than we had planned it was time to head up through the unpredictable West Coast, and start on the homeward leg of our journey.

We’d picked up a few stragglers in Wanaka, so our gang had grown to four. Matt had ventured down from Auckland to come for a stroll, and Claudia had attached to us in Wanaka. We opted for a quick lap of the Gillespie Pass Circuit, a 3 day walk near the top of Lake Wanaka with an extra day trip up to Crucible Lake.

Somewhere along the Gillesbie Pass

We spent a night at the Boundary Creek DOC campground at the top of Lake Wanaka, and made a nice dawn start at the Makarora DOC center. Four days of slogging took us up the Makarora valley, through a bunch of streams and rivers, over an awesome mountain range with a magnificent view of Mount Awful, and up to the Crucible lake. The lake was a beautiful wee pool of water surrounded by huge cliffs just begging to be climbed. The tramp totally blew out my knee, with me limping on my leki poles from day two. The others all enjoyed it hugely, but for me it was a suffer-fest of epic proportions with the last day involving me holding back tears of pain while crutching my way out on my poles, and I was more glad to see the end of it than anything else.

The end of the walk meant we said our goodbyes to Matt and Claudia, and continued our way up the West Coast. The drive through Haast Pass was awesome – beautiful scenery through winding valleys, cliffs and waterfalls. After the pass it was up to Maori beach, where tourist randomly build stone cairns for no apparent reason, and scribble all over rocks just for the hell of it, or apparently good luck. A worthwhile 5 minute stop to check out, but certainly nothing worth writing home about. After an obligatory photo, we continued on our way up to Hokitika.

Em at Hokitika Gorge

A great little city, we checked out all the sights then ventured out to the Hokitika Gorge 30km from town but apparently unmissable. The short walk left us impressed providing a great view of some of the most gorgeously bright blue water around with a nice swing bridge to take in the view from. The NZ Frenzy guide book we had noted this was a spot most tourists miss, but it was definitely worth the side trip. In total contrast to the amazingly blue water of the gorge, we proceeded on to the Dorothy falls. The tannins from the fern life around turn the water a blood red colour, providing a totally surreal environment in the middle of some beautiful bush, and all a 30 second walk from the road.

The blood red water of Dorothy Falls

On the West Coast the towns were so quaint. We spent a good few days pottering around checking out the touristy greenstone (jade) shops, as well as the local arts and crafts galleries. We headed for the ‘town’ of Charleston, possibly most known as a climbing spot as all else it offers is a campground and a pub. The West Coast is known for its horrid weather, but we fluked it and continued our run of nice days. The sea cliff climbing was great, with an added element of fear due to the waves crashing well above the heights of the cliffs.

It took a while to get comfortable with the idea of waves smashing the rocks around you, but once we were happy enough that no rogue wave would come punishing through over the top of everything, both the climbing and the surroundings combined for a great experience in a truly unique environment. From what I’ve heard it is like the sea cliff climbing in Wales, which I can’t wait to be doing in a few weeks! With blowholes that were much more exciting than Punekaiki at the base of the climbs, and tide dependent info all covered in the guide, we set off on a few routes hoping the tide couldn’t catch us. Charleston certainly had a lot to offer and in our two days we only managed to touch the surface of it. The climbing was a combination of traditional cracks and face climbing, but the gear was always great.

Climbing at Charleston

From Charleston we had to accept our adventure was over and pack the climbing gear away while we ventured round Nelson before heading home. The beautiful beaches of the area remind me of the Coromandel with the gorgeous sheltered bays finally providing water warm enough to go for a swim. After a night in a DOC campground 15km out of Picton, it was time to set sail for the island we call home, and ask the parents nicely to take us back before we head for Europe.

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