We arrived in the South Island of New Zealand with 47 days ahead of us and a lot of road tripping in our head. We really wanted to rent a van to live fully the NZ life, but it was too expensive as we were during their summer holidays, as well as Christmas and New Years. Instead of a van, we rented a big car (in which we could sleep in if needed) and we bought some very cheap camping gear at the Warehouse. Luckily we had a tent, sleeping bags and mats with us, so we didn’t have to find those.
To put in a nutshell, we had plans with rough dates to be here and there, but these plans kept changing with the weather, advices from local and the motivation. We packed up our tent almost every night and NZ made it super easy to be nomad, offering a lot of campgrounds through the island and at a lot of different budgets (sometimes even free).
Let us introduce Derek. Derek (Thatcher) is THE dude in NZ. He probably has developed and FA half (if not more) of all the routes and boulders in NZ. We were lucky enough to be in contact with him from connection of connection. He has been the best e-guide and beta giver (in a wide meaning) we could ask for in the country.
All we can say is : we did a lot
In the few hours following our landing in Christchurch, we drove to Castle Hill. It was the second time for Cha, so she didn't get “the surprise”, but first time for Josh and he was pretty mind blown! Super awesome, open landscape and obviously those cool grey rounded boulders on the green grassy hills! So cool! We camped at the Lake Pearson and climbed in Castle Hill two days, chased by the day heat and enjoy the evening chill. We toured around Spittle Hill and Quantum Field, which we felt very slimy, showing many years of climbing on this limestone.
Flock Hill is also part of Castle Hill but it is the sector we wanted to go the most, because it’s newer, more remote and has a lot of harder stuff. But, while we arrived on the 2nd of December, we had to wait on the 26th of December for the reopening after the lambing season. So yeah, as a Christmas gift, we went to Flock! In the opening morning we met Derek for the first time at the parking lot. Finally we got to meet him and all day long he shared with us a lot of awesome stories while wandering (climbing) through the boulders. We had a very nice day with him, Erin and Christina, and finished the day with a younger strong crew of locals Matt, Alec and Lucas.
The day after, Alec was our guide, which was pretty awesome, because it is so easy to get lost or just not find your way here. Overall we had two very great days and were super lucky with the weather, it was sunny with a little overcast and the temperature was around 15°C, perfect for good friction and good climbing!
There is so much to climb everywhere, but there is no guidebook (yet?) and everything looks climbed or climbable. If you go there, you will notice that the holds forms white patches in the grey rock. We asked about it, but pretty much the rock has a little dust cover (which gives the color) which is not very grippy, so climbers would just brush it. But then they also noticed that after rains, the rock is much stickier and figured they could bring their own water and clean the holds by brushing with water. You would indeed recognize local because they carry around a water spray and clean their route before and/or after climbing it. We experimented it, and indeed it works! The down side is that all the boulders touched end up having those white patches, so if you are wandering around and climbing whatever, it could be anything between V1 and project, and sometimes it’s honestly hard to see the difference!
We came back few times after, but we didn’t have the lucky chilly temps we had at the beginning, so everything became harder, both mentally and physically. And the rain came into play, having us stay inside for 3 days. The day the rain stopped, we went up to Flock Hill to try few climbs that we had in mind. It was so hot and after so much "climbing in the heat", we figured we would have better time going in town (Christchurch) and get some good training!
Here, we tried pretty much all the sleeping options
- Camping at the Craigieburn reserve : the closest option to Flock and Castle, but not so many facilities (rain water and shelter) for 8 NZ$/person/day. Lots of Sanflies spotted…
- Camping at Lake Pearson : a bit further (10min) but it’s free and it’s a pretty neat, just along a lake. No facilities besides a dry toilet. Sanflies spotted…
- Springfield Campground : probably our favorite for low budget. 5NZ$/person/day and it has a house with a common kitchen and dining area. Electricity, running water, toilets and bathroom (1$ for 4 mins). The owner is very nice and chill.
- Springfield Motel and Lodge : on our last week, when the rain period was here we wanted some comfort and dry place, so we decided to pay a little extra (60NZ$ for both of us) and stayed in a lodge which is a house with 4 private bedrooms and awesome common areas. This one is badass!! Super comfy, huge, new, clean and the owner is adorable.
Mount Cook bouldering
Just another one of Derek’s recommendation. He actually sent us a map and pictures of the area when we arrived in NZ and we put it on the side of our head, not making it a destination but a plan B if we had opportunity and time. After few days driving along the East coast, we were a bit bored of the sea side (ah those climbers!) and we decided to do a 2 days loop to Mt Cook for Christmas. We arrived at the Mt. Cook village with an overlook of the valleys and mountaintops including the prominent peak of Mt. Cook himself. We set up camp, drank a cold one and played some rounds of cribbage. The sun dropped and the clear dark sky popped and so we dropped the cards and watched the stars. Sounds cliché and corny but we did it anyway.
We were very excited for our first morning in the mountains.
We hit the trail directly after coffee and tea, weaving our way through the mess of RV's and tents at the campground we discovered the trail head just 50 meters from our car. We hustled along the double wide track past other walkers as the trail curved along the valley floor. We crossed a few suspension bridges along our way, very high, and long - best bridge we've walked on a trail for sure. We soon found ourselves at the Dude Incredible boulder where we heard the potential was great and the already established lines were too. We didn't expect it to be along a turn in the trail making it a spectating boulder for the 500+ people that walked by us that holiday weekend. We climbed a few warm-ups and scrambled around then hit the famous Dude Incredible stand with a very big move off of a right hand gaston to a flat ledge - for sure hard if on the shorter end. Josh found it tricky the first few attempts but then understood it was able to do the stand (V7) and low start (V8).
The locals told us about a hard traverse sit-start coming in from the right on edges and into the stand. We worked the moves and came up with the best solutions - Josh climbed into the dyno and fell, rested in the warm sun and cool breeze and then sent on his next go. Our first, first ascent in NZ clocking in around V10. Charlotte crushed most of the moves but the big move off the gaston was a tough one for her. We bobbled around (Kiwi lingo) on a boulder sitting along the glacier Hooker Lake and then checked out the other 'must see bloc' The Green Monster and decided it was for tomorrow! As we hiked out after a 11hr day in the valley, we couldn't have been more excited for some food and sleep. We returned to our car, but our tent seemed to be gone... apparently the campground was windy and sent our tent rolling across the parking lot. We were happy to have found it (rather than someone stealing it) and pounded steaks in the ground (and a hidden water pipe inches below the grass) this time around.
On our 2nd climbing day, Christmas Eve day, we hiked directly to the Green Monster bloc to get to work on cleaning and landing building. The locals have played around on some of the moves but from what we were told, nothing had been sent/ completed yet. We worked for an hour or more; moving rocks and cleaning holds. Two boulders, the green monster bloc was huge, sitting proud along the river diverging the water around it and another lower bloc with a steep roof with nice edges in the guts. We climbed a new warm we called The Greench (V2) along an arete next to the river, then to the left of that a low but high quality rock V7 we called Water Line. Then the big beast awaited, shady and ready to battle us. The first move was hard no matter how you sliced it; Josh’s beta, grab a small incut crimp in the roof and jump to a perfect smiley face rounded edge; or Cha's beta with a knee scum, undercling and dynamic stab to the same smiley faced hold. Then from there one more hard move and done - another FA in the bag and one hell of a primo line it was! We called it "The Green Monstah" V9 keeping the original name but with a Boston twist.
It was time for Christmas Eve celebration at the Mt. Cook Lodge and whew, it was awesome. Lamb backstops, sirloin steak, bottle of red and carrot cake for dinner. Then, we tossed some darts around listening to old school reggae and 80's pop on the jukebox. We couldn't have asked for a better day, a day in the mountains is always a good day - then add meat and carrot cake and you got a hard to beat day.
While driving along the West Coast down to the Fjords, we stopped in Queenstown which is an area we really liked. Through the rain drops, we spent an afternoon in the climbing sector called Wye Creek. We first were delighted by an awesome warm up, called Aratika, and it followed a perfect shard arete/ prow for 30m. Here Derek advised us to try Leviathan, a 30/8a+ that has been only recently sent and we actually did the 3rd and 4th sends of the route. It was a pure technical face with a little cruxy section in the middle. We couldn’t stay away from the roof of the sector which was just too fun to climb and pretty neat with the lake in the background.
Darrans / Little Babylone
What a week (or 8 days, 9 days? we don't even know anymore) we just spent in Milford Sound. Usually famous for the touristy tours in the fjords, Milford Sound is also great for sport climbing! We spent our time in the Milford Sound lodge where we slept in the car but had access to facilities (kitchen, showers, electricity, couches...) in a lodge close by. A nice part of it is that we were totally away from any phone or internet connection so we were able to stay away from our phones for a long time, which actually felt nice!
Between rain and humidity (we can easily say it rained 70% of the time) and other touristy things we mostly climbed in Little Babylon, where we had very good temps around 15°C. This sector is accessible by a 30min hike on a very (very) steep hill side, but it was all covered by trees so we were actually grabbing roots and walking over dead trunks the all time, like if we were climbing in a giant tree! The cliff was awesome, with plenty of routes to climb, all protected by the rain, on a beautiful granite rock. Within 5 days of climbing we climbed combined 12 routes between 8a and 8c - yes we had a great time. The highlight was totally our send of Colossus, a powerful, bouldery and tricky 8c! It was awesome to figure it out together, find our own beta (we have a very different one for the crux) and fight through the process of climbing 20m to fall on the crux at the last clip. But perseverance and micro beta change made it happen. Most exciting parts : This is the first female 8c in NZ and Josh's first 8c !!! woooohoooo!
The cliff was awesome, with plenty of routes to climb, all protected by the rain, on a beautiful granite rock. Within 5 days of climbing we climbed combined 12 routes between 8a and 8c - yes we had a great time. The highlight was totally our send of Colossus, a powerful, bouldery and tricky 8c! It was awesome to figure it out together, find our own beta (we have a very different one for the crux) and fight through the process of climbing 20m to fall on the crux at the last clip. But perseverance and micro beta change made it happen. Most exciting parts : This is the first female 8c in NZ and Josh's first 8c !!! woooohoooo!
The Darrans welcomed us, blessed us with beautiful landscapes and waterfalls, and rewarded us with an awesome time climbing and sending hard.
Another outdoor activity that I am very interested about is mountaineering. I have been doing that since she is very young, even before climbing, so it’s a goal of us to hit some nice peaks along our travel around the World. Our Oceanian summit was Mount Aspiring, culminating at 3033m and highest peak of the Mt Aspiring National Park. Even if we’ve been planning the ascent since we arrived (website, guidebook, blogs, etc.), we were waiting for a good weather window (aka 4 days in a row of nice weather) which took a while to come. And suddenly, just after entering 2018, the window appeared and everything went fast. We drove down to Queenstown from Christchurch (where we spent New Year ’s Eve my extended family Nico and Adele) to chill for few days. But we realized our weather window opened sooner than planned, so we just spent one day in Queenstown and then went to Wanaka for the last shopping, hike planning and boots renting.
The hike up and down Mt Aspiring took 4 days. It was very epic and beautiful:
- Thursday 4th, we left the Raspberry flat car park loaded with our big bags. We hike 5 hours through some big field down in a valley, along a river, by the Aspiring hut, across fun swinging bridges, in a steep fern forest and on top of rock falls. We made it to Scott's bivvy, searching for it at the end as we were being impatient to find it, but for those who read this and want to head there, just follow the marks (read poles) all the way to the last one, and you are there. This seems obvious, but it’s not mentioned in the guidebook or anywhere online. It was very hot so it was not the best hike conditions, but not so bad. We slept in this rudimentary bivvy, after having die r on top of it and set the alarm for 5h30.
- Friday 5th, after a pretty good night of sleep (despite the thousands sandflies), we started to hike up the slabs above the bivvy, thinking (cause that was the plan) we were heading to Bevan Col. Unfortunately, we got in a thick fog pretty quick and it didn't leave us all day long. After about 3h of hiking, we touch our first snow and put the crampons. But soon we felt lost, which we did for about 4-5h, walking around on rock and snow, the pea soup and the rain not helping.
Few seconds clearing came every 30min so we could get information around us, which made us realize where we were, very close to the Breakaway, a "door" to the Bonar Glacier. We followed that way and arrived in the glacier, still in a thick fog, and so we took the compass out to head to the direction of the Colin Todd Hut, that we could guess thank's to a map. We had to cross bigger and bigger crevasses, making us meander for a couple hours in the glacier. Luckily with some clearings and some sun at the end of the day, we could spot the red hut in the distance, a wonderful landmark after those hours being lost. We reached the hut around 8pm. It was a 13h day of hiking. It should have been a 6h day...
- Saturday 6th, alarm clock at 3am to head to the summit. However, some very very strong wind (we learned later up to 100km/h) outside made us stay in bed, as well as the other guides, clients and hikers in the hut. We all had a slow morning, contemplating the summit through the window, while listening to the wind whipping on the hut. The rain being planned for midday the next day (info we got thanks to the daily radio call in the hut), we weighted the pros of cons of doing an afternoon start that day or a very early morning start the day after, and couldn’t find the right answer.
Although at some point in the early afternoon, a group of 3 guys -Sam, George and Ben (sorry if not the right name)- decided to go for the summit and we figured it would be a great opportunity. Even if they were way too fast for us, it was awesome to follow them in the distance, having an idea where to meander. The route, the North West Ridge, was awesome, following a rocky ridge/arete all the way to the top, where a snow/ice cap was covering the summit. It took us a bit less that 3h25 to reach the summit in total, which is quite fast compared to the info we got.
We hiked down in the sunset, which was perfect and very special, and reached the hut just when it got dark, so we didn't even have to hike with the headlamps. We entered the hut around 9.30pm, everybody was asleep but our 3 friends who already came back from their summit and had prepared some boiled water for us (it was so kind of them). Josh and I ate diner quietly, enjoying the peaceful moment while looking at the summit disappearing in the dark night by the window.
- Sunday 7th, alarm at 7am to head back down to the valley and the carpark. We left around 9 and crossed the glacier to reach Bevan Col. It was super sunny, so we were in tank tops while walking in the snow, which was much more enjoyable than on our way in.
We also went through the right path by the Bevan Col and by what they call “the slabs” : it was much easier, shorter and more obvious than what we did on the way up. After talking with different hikers used to the area, we actually might have been a first. We hiked all the way down with our new "homie" that we met in the hut, which made the 9h (yes, 9 hours !!!) of hiking back to the car more enjoyable.
We find it always a bit hard to "reconnect" after some mountaineering. Life up in the mountain - emotions, epics, beauty, physical effort, cold, sweat, encounter, being remote, hut life - is very special.
What we saw the most in NZ, besides the sheeps, it is Waterfalls. We saw them everywhere, of any forms and they were even bigger and cooler after some rain (good thing it rains a lot down there!)
NZ being two islands, we saw a lot of beaches. There were wild and beautiful, sometimes Black sand, sometimes white sands, sometimes even pebble beaches. Near Haast, there is a neat “attraction” : for many years drivers have stopped by the beach and grab a rock, writing their name on it and making a pile of it. The pile is huge now, and we added our little rock to the construction. He really liked the beach towns Hokitika (West Coast) and Oamaru (East Coast).
New Zealand is green, very green! They are a lot of forests, and we were really mesmerized by what we called the “Enchanted forest”, which were thick and had a lot of varieties that we mostly didn’t know like some huge ferns.
Moeraki boulders/Fleurs Place
On our drive on the east coast, it rained unexpectedly and our sleeping gear got all wet, so we decided to stop and rent a cabin in a campground for the night. Luckily enough, we ended up in Moeraki were we had a WONDERFUL diner at Fleurs place, a cute restaurant on the port. After this evening and night, we even went back to Fleurs for breakfast. On the drive back, we stopped in a special attraction, the Moeraki boulders, which are big rounded rocks in the middle on the beach. It was pretty neat, and we almost wished they were bigger boulders!
We spent almost two weeks down in the Fjords and we loved it. We felt remote (which we were!) and tiny, in the middle of those 1000-2000m very steep hills, sometimes diving directly in the water. While in Milford Sound, we actually took a ferry to go to the Tasman Sea, and it was a 2h roundtrip of this landscape, dotted with a lot of waterfalls which were big because it has been raining for a while.
Above the town Glacier Fox is a glacier of the same name. It’s reached through a easy open tourist hike, which leads a few hundred meters below the glacier, giving a good sight on it.
In the same area, just at the exit of town going south, there is a little path on the left. We went there by night and saw a lot of glowworms; it was magical, just like a lot of stars.
While being so down South after the Fjords, we figured it could be fun to do a 3h detour to the Southern point of NZ, being also the most South we’ve ever been. This place was called “Slope Point” and it was interesting to see that we were much closer to the South Pole than to the Equator. It doesn’t happen that often.
We saw quite a lot of wildlife, and even if we missed out of some of them (like penguins or kiwis), we were delighted with a lot of different species.
Sheep (alright, not so rare, but there were A LOT of them)
New Zealand treated us well. We did a lot, as far as climbing, driving and sightseeing. It was a big advantage to be nomad so we can change plans easily and drive around. To be honest, it was also exhausting, having to live off of a car, packing/ unpacking every day, find electricity to be able to work the way we needed. We would do it again for sure, but not for a month and a half, maybe only a week here and there.
NZ was wild, green and pure, it was an incredible feeling to be in the wilderness most of the time, away from the city life. Once again, the climbing community has been very welcoming and we can’t say “Thank you” enough to Derek for all the good betas and help while we were there. Will we come back? We definitively have a lot more to do, like taking more advantage of Flock, climbing around Wanaka, hiking more, sending some harder projects in the Darrans, and even bolt in the northern part of the South Island… Yes, if our path comes around this continent, we might do a detour down in NZ again!
Tick list :
- Interstellar overdrive, V10, J - a must do while here!
- Jet stream, V9, J
- Captain Nemo, V8, C
- Velociraptor, V8, J (flash)
- Classic, V6, C
- The flutes, V4, C
- Split Apple Dyno, V4, C and J
- General Mayhem, V10 flash, J
- Obelisk, V9, J
- Monster Society of Evil, V9, C and J
- Captain sassy pants, V8, J
- Disconnect extra, V8, C and J
- Green Hornet, V9, C and J (favorite one!)
Aratika, 7a – C and J
Leviathan, 8a+ - C and J
Bish Bosh Bash, 7a+ - C, J / 7c+ - J
International Turkey Patrol, 7b - C, J
Solitude, 7b - C, J
Jugular, 7b - C, J
Moses, 7c - C
Hercules, 8a - C, J (this one felt more like 8a+)
No country for old men, 8a - C, J
Tantalus, 8a - C, J (double flash)
Xerxes, 8a+ - J
Cyrus the great, 8a+ - C, J
The giving tree, 8b - C
Colossus, 8c - C, J
Nothing very unusual, just like in Australia, although we will note the amount of fish thanks to the proximity of the sea and ocean all around. The specialty of the island is the Fish and Chips, which has to be tried once because it’s yummy, but it’s very very greasy (it’s fried) so you might not go back for it (we didn’t).