Retracing our steps through the beautiful roads of Fiordland took us back to the free campground at Queens Reach. After a night here we continued up to Queenstown, with the intentions of tackling ‘Ravages of Time’ at Chinamans Bluff. Em had unsuccessfully tackled this 9 pitch epic before, so we planned to go back and tick it off. Unfortunately the weather gods were not on our side, and our few days in Queenstown offered rain, rain and more rain. Queenstown gave me the impression of an expensive playground – if you have money to burn it would be great, but we passed on pretty quick.
From there we made our way over the scenic Crown Range to Wanaka, a beautiful wee lakeside town. A place I’d never really heard of on the climbing scene, Wanaka turned out to be the hidden gem of our trip. As far as sport climbing goes Wanaka is up with the best in the country, with piles of quality routes in close proximity. With handfuls of different crags within 30km of the city and splendid mountain vistas in every direction, it is a place I could see myself living in the future.
We started at the Hospital Flats area, a collection of about half a dozen crags all within 10 minutes walk of the carpark. Our first stop was the Tombstone, a freestanding rectangular pillar with a couple of routes on each side. ‘Lunge Starter’, a grade 24 on the back side took a good chunk of our time. It began with stunning overhang jug-pulling of a comfortable grade before a challenging dyno at the top. We spent a good deal of time working the last move, each attempt tickling the final hold with no success. The other crags in the area all boasted nice routes, but there was just too much to mention it all. Sunnyside stood out as it was great on a cooler day, with superb climbing from grade 20 to 25 basking in the sun.
We spent a good chunk of time being pampered by Em’s Aunt and Uncle who were kind enough to tolerate us for a week or so, but local knowledge taught us that it was common to camp at Riverside, a crag around the corner from Hospital Flats. Despite the ‘no camping’ signs we spent a few nights there and always had company and no problems from DOC or the council. The climbing at Riverside was great, but mostly hard. The warm up routes (grade 16-18) were horribly polished and generally not enjoyable, but the main feature is a huge slightly overhung wall capped by a short roof. This was full of climbs of grade 23-30, all of which were worth getting on if you can pull stuff hard enough. The shorter routes down the far left end were great, Microcosmos (25) was a good bit of fun with some powerful crimpy moves. We spent quite a few nights camped at Riverside while climbing all the surrounding crags, rather than driving all the way back to town each day.
Pencil Dick wall and Diamond Slabs offered more awesome climbing, as well as an astounding view of Diamond Lake and Wanaka. With lower grades it is well suited to beginners, but the classic 45m ‘Naked on the Neve’ (20) was a true slabfest and a real test as an onsight for me – the hater of slab. Fancy feet were the trick, and it took a good long while before finally reaching the roof at the top and feeling comfortable. Unfortunately there was another small slab at the top to challenge me further. All the routes on the Diamond slab were excellent climbing, I strongly suggest checking them out if your in the area.
Roadside continued the trend of quality routes, and won out on best access. The crag is as close as the name suggests – climb a fence and you are there. The highlight for us was ‘Flying Guts’ (26) a 3 bolt slightly overhanging crimp fest. The climbing reminded me of Froggatt at home, and suited me perfectly. After a hard afternoon figuring a sequence through the seemingly blank middle section, 3 of us were all keen to get it. It took a return trip and two more attempts to finally send it, and I’m sure it is a tick I will remember.
We were lucky enough to stay with a friend met in the Darrans who lived near Mount Iron, and his house was certainly an original setup. We arrived to our accomodation in a shipping container converted to a room, with the collection of climbing gear taking up most of the container. Mount Iron is on the outskirts of Wanaka, and when he mentioned there was climbing just over the back fence, he wasn’t kidding.
We jumped the back fence and walked 100m to the crag. Mount Iron was very different to the rest of the Wanaka climbing – around Hospital flats was all crimpy and ledges, while Mount Iron was overhung and open handed. There were a few great routes, many of which can be climbed in the rain due to a nice capping roof. Most of the routes were grade 20+, with plenty of good routes around grade 23. I sandbagged Em onto a 28 (I told her it was a 25 so she would attempt it) and was suprised that the moves were actually doable – perhaps this summer of climbing has actually helped a little! Unfortunately, Em’s nice new La Sportiva Muiras dissapeared after this days climbing, never to be seen again.
As awesome as the climbing is in Wanaka, we had to have the odd day off. A few days were occupied slacklining by the lake with new friends and practicing our generic hippie skills (juggling, poi, devil sticks etc.), while another led us to the weird and wacky Puzzle World – a mindbending place with all sorts of quirky brainteasers and illusions. Definitely worth a trip if you are passing through, but don’t tackle the ‘hard’ challenge in the giant maze unless you have plenty of time to kill.
All in all we spent nearly a month of our trip exploring the various crags of Wanaka, as both the climbing and the town are just that good. From here we’re heading off to do the Gillesbie Pass – a 4 day tramp, and then up the West Coast.