The Final Chapter

So, we have finally landed back in the UK after 10 months in Asia and Australasia. It feels like a lifetime ago that we were boarding the first flight from Gatwick airport, wondering what Mongolia was going to look like. We’ve met some incredible people, seen some beautiful places, and climbed a lot of rock!


  Arrival at London Heathrow airport – minus our bags, which were still in Kuala Lumpur!


Already we’ve been asked the question ‘what was your favourite place?’ quite a few times. We both loved New Zealand, and it was probably the place we most enjoyed being in, but it wasn’t exactly out of our comfort zone – we like to think of it as Scotland on steroids. Personally I loved Vietnam; the food was great, the people were friendly and a bit crazy, the history was fascinating, and it was made even more special for us as we had a visit from my brother, and then spent Christmas there. Charlottes favourite was Mongolia, with its beautiful open landscapes, the off-roading and wild camping, and the group we travelled with who we got to know and like. Getting engaged in Mongolia also made it particularly special for us both. We figured that if you can live in each other’s pockets for nearly a year, marriage should be a breeze!


We had mixed feelings about arriving back in the UK, and the impending return to work and normality. At some points we really looked forward to coming back, like at Christmas when we missed being with family, and those times when we were spending uncomfortable nights on buses, or staying in shabby hostel dorms. At other times we wished it would never end. By the end we felt ready to come back, and we are both looking forward to getting stuck into work again, and having a bit of structure in our lives. It will be nice to have more than 2 sets of clothes to choose from, to not permanently look like hikers, not to be living out of a bag, not to be carrying the aforementioned bags, to have a home, to be able to exercise and eat more healthily. The main thing we will miss is having so much time!


We feel like we are moving on and looking ahead to new projects, which is exciting – planning a wedding, buying a house, etc. We want to spend more time travelling closer to home, in the UK and Europe. Most Australians we met have seen more of the UK than either of us! I think spending time away from the UK and our regular lives has given us a bit of perspective, and we both have a slightly altered outlook on life, as well as some resolutions. One of these is spending more time with both our families – you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s not there!


Thanks so much to everyone who has read our blog over the past year, and shared the adventure with us.


Over and out.



The Final Countdown

After leaving the Blue Mountains we arrived in Sydney, where we were met by our friend Karin, who we travelled with in Mongolia at the very start of our trip nearly 10 months ago. It was great to catch up, and also really nice to be out of hostels for a few nights!


  The sights of Sydney


  City skyline


Sydney is one of the worlds major international cities and needs no introduction, though it is worth mentioning the bitter rivalry with Melbourne. Following Australian Federation in 1901, the two cities each argued that they should be the new capital, and with neither willing to budge they eventually built an entirely new capital city, Canberra, halfway between them. The enmity continues to this day, with Melburnians considering themselves the home of Australian art, fashion, sport and culture, whilst Sydney “has a nice bridge”.


We spent a couple of days exploring the city and seeing the sights, in particular the aforementioned Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Conveniently for the lazy tourist, these are located right next to each other. We caught up with a friend over lunch in Chinatown, and also spent a couple of hours on a guided city walking tour, where we learnt about the history of the city.


  The iconic sails of the Opera House


  A stroll through Hyde Park


  ‘Il Porcellino’ – guess which part you rub for good luck?


  In the Guylian chocolate cafe with Amy (we didn’t make it to the end of the city walking tour…)


Just beyond the city borders there are a number of beautiful natural areas. We spent a day in the Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney, which covers a large area of coastline and rugged moorland. The track we followed was stunning, over sandy beaches and along cliff tops, with a waterfall falling straight from the cliff into the sea at one point.


  Garie Beach, in the idyllic Royal National Park


  Cliff cascade


Our stay in Sydney coincided with the two week Vivid festival, an annual light show which takes place near the harbour. From 6pm, a number of buildings are lit up with video projections, including the white sails of the Opera House. There are plenty of arty light sculptures and loads of interactive displays, even one where you can take turns to control the light projections across the city skyline. It was a fantastic event and we had a great evening exploring the various installations.


  Vivid Festival 2015


  Animations on the Customs House


  Bright lights in the city


  Controlling the skyline lights


  Charlottes green and purple colour scheme


  Luminous trees framing the Harbour Bridge


  David Attenborough documentary under the bridge


After one last night bus, for old times sake, we made it back to Melbourne where we spent our final night of the trip. We are now in Melbourne airport waiting for our flight back to London in just a couple of hours.


  Last night drinks in Melbourne



Climbing in the Blueys

The Blue Mountains, or “Blueys” as it is affectionately known to climbers, is a vast sandstone plateau with eucalyptus filled valleys and towering red cliffs, a 2 hour drive west of Sydney and our final climbing destination. The name comes from the blue haze which blankets the mountains, supposedly due to the mix of eucalyptus oil droplets in the atmosphere mixed with water droplets and dust particles. With all the eucalyptus forests we had assumed that we would see wild koalas – unfortunately it turns out that koalas are fussy eaters, and the trees here are the wrong kind of eucalyptus.




  Katoomba Falls


  Eucalyptus forests in the valley


  Luke and The Three Sisters


  Cliff top lookout


Climbing isn’t the only sport which draws an international crowd, and for the past two years the Blueys has hosted one of the North Face ultra marathon events. Participants come to challenge themselves by running 50km or 100km, and that evening our hostel was full of athletic folk strutting around in running gear. Being mistaken a couple of times for runners made us feel flattered but lazy; instead of running we put all our efforts that day into cheering the real competitors over the finish line!


  A sight for sore legs


Unlike the Grampians, which boasts Australia’s finest trad routes, the Blueys is primarily known for its sport climbing. The access is easy, with no dirt roads and short walks to reach the cliffs. Each crag has hundreds of consistently high quality routes, however they don’t quite reach the standard of the very best Grampians routes. The Blueys does go some way to making up for this with spectacular scenery.


  Throwing shapes on ‘Radioactive Man’ (20 / 6b)


  Luke grappling with ‘Dragon’s Egg’ (23 / 6c+) at Porters Pass


  Knees up, hands down!


  Looking across the Megalong Valley (its real name) to Shipley


  ‘Loop the Loop’ (26 / 7b+), a Shipley Upper classic


  One of many log starts


  Charlotte projecting ‘Lardy Lady’s Lats’ (22 / 6c)


  Chalking up on ‘Dance Like a Mother’ (25 / 7b)


During our time here Luke tried as many of the harder classics as possible, and I tried to push my leading grade. We have had a great week in the Blueys, and it is with mixed feelings that we look ahead to our next climbing destination, Cheddar Gorge!


  Dorm life – we won’t miss sharing rooms with strangers!


With sore muscles and finger tips in tatters we move on to Sydney, and the final week of our trip.



Blissful Brisbane

As we boarded a train from Melbourne to Brisbane, a journey of over 1000 miles, we wondered what on earth had possessed us to do such a thing. Perhaps, when we booked the tickets back in the UK, we hadn’t grasped quite how big Australia is. Perhaps we harboured romantic notions of travelling overland and watching the scenery roll by. Perhaps we didn’t realise that you can fly from Melbourne to Brisbane in just 2 hours, for less than the cost of a train ticket.

And so it was that we arrived in Brisbane at 5am on a Sunday morning, 2 days after leaving Melbourne, and after 2 nights of trying (and failing) to find an adequate sleeping position in a train seat. Luckily my friend Ben was kind enough to offer us his spare room, and so we spent the remainder of the morning revelling in the luxury of horizontal slumber.


We had several days to explore the city, and we decided that the best way to do this was on two wheels. On the first day we headed out on a tandem which Ben had borrowed for us, and travelled along the excellent riverside cycle tracks and boardwalks. Although novel, the tandem weighed a tonne, making it impossible to ascend anything more than a slight incline, and so the next day we switched to two regular bikes. This made life a lot easier, though it was still a hard grind up to the city viewpoint of Mt Coot-tha, particularly with one of us on a fixie! Our efforts were rewarded with a superb view (and ice cream).


  The obligatory tandem selfie


  Our hot ride


  City panorama from Mt Coot-tha


Overall we had a really pleasant, relaxed time in Brisbane, after a fairly frantic couple of weeks. It was brilliant catching up with Ben, staying in a house rather than a hostel for once, and getting to know his lovely housemates. There are several good museums and art venues which we had the chance to visit, and we soaked in the city’s laid back atmosphere and plentiful sunshine. We also managed to catch up with some other old friends during our stay, which was really nice.


  Ok, so we don’t know what this is either…


  The Powerhouse – Brisbane’s Tate Modern


  New Zealander Michael Parekowhai’s exhibition at the Queensland GOMA


  Leafy South Bank


  A quaint church in the heart of the city


From Brisbane we are moving south to the Blue Mountains, a world famous climbing area near to Sydney. Unfortunately we won’t be travelling by train this time, so will have to make do with just one hour of passing scenery, 30,000ft below us.




Tasmania, an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, is known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas, largely protected within parks and reserves. Tasmania is slightly larger than Ireland, and with almost half of the population residing in Hobart, large regions of the island are virtually uninhabited.


  Wineglass Bay


With just 6 days in Tasmania, we designed a circuit which took us through the two largest towns, the famed Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair National Park and also the Freycinet and Tasman national parks. The easiest way to see Tasmania’s stunning scenery is on foot, and with so many national parks there is a plethora of walks to choose from. Our favourite was a tricky scramble up beautiful pink granite slabs to the top of Mt Amos. From the summit you are rewarded with stunning views over Wineglass Bay, generally assumed to have been named due to its shape. We later discovered that the name actually derives from the time when this was a whaling station, and the blood stained sands made the bay look like a glass filling up with red wine. We were really lucky to manage any walks at all in the Freycinet National Park, as on arrival the area was experiencing high winds, torrential rain and power cuts; I felt like I had been transported back to my homeland of North Yorkshire!


  Rocky coastline in the Tasman National Park


  Meandering boardwalk near Lake St Clair




 Wineglass Bay, regularly hailed as one of the world’s top ten beaches

  Driftwood on Hazard’s Beach


  Streaked pink granite on Mt Amos


  Definitely a scramble!


Hobart and Launceston are the main settlements on Tasmania, and were the two urban stops on our loop. Launceston reminded us of Bristol with a gorge running through it, however with kangaroos and pademelons on the path that is where the similarity ended. The water was also a beautiful blue, in stark contrast to the sluggish brown of the Avon. In Hobart our time was spent visiting the museums and galleries, and exploring the pristine botanic gardens.


  Hobart Bridge


  Botanic gardens


  A dose of culture in Launceston


  Cataract Gorge – much prettier than its Bristolian cousin




Tasmania is bursting with the usual strange Australian wildlife, including some animals not found even on the mainland. The most famous is the Tasmanian devil, which until recently was a common sight in the wild. However a facial tumour disease, first identified in the 1990’s, has since wiped out 85% of the population. The best way to see a Tassie devil is by making a visit to one of the wildlife reserves which play a vital role in protecting native species.


Not so long ago Tasmania lost one of its iconic native species – the thylacine, more commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger. These resemble large dogs with distinctive tiger stripes above their tails, but have strange marsupial features such as a backward facing pouch to carry their young. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, and the last thylacine died in captivity at Hobart Zoo in 1933.


On our final day we paid a visit to Bonorong wildlife reserve on the outskirts of Hobart, where we saw Tassie devils, wombats, koalas, a 100 year old sulphur-crested cockatoo, and hand fed some of the kangaroos roaming the park! It was markedly different from a zoo, and we felt like our entry fee was going towards an important cause.


  Tasmanian devil!


  Feeding the roos


  Joey on board


  Making friends with ‘the least intelligent member of the marsupial family’


After a whirlwind tour around the island we are now back for an overnight stop in Melbourne, before heading up to sunny Brisbane.




Red rock, blue sky

After a few days in Melbourne we left the city and hit the open road, heading west to the Grampians National Park. This is a vast area of sprawling bush and red sandstone hills, which contain some of the best climbing cliffs in Australia. It is a wild and beautiful place, and we were lucky to have two weeks here to explore.

  Welcome to the Grampians!
  The long approach

Whilst in the Grampians we stayed in the ‘Eco Lodge’ YHA in Hall’s Gap, the main tourist village in the national park, with lots of guesthouses, eateries and craft shops. The hostel was actually pretty good, with big comfortable lounges in front of open fires, and a garden opening out onto the bush. As with all hostels in Australia and New Zealand, it also came equipped with a huge gas barbecue. Having access to a barbie is pretty much a human right here – even public parks are equipped with communal barbecues! Needless to say we made good use of this facility, and had our first taste of kangaroo sausages.


Like many parts of the country, the wildlife to be found in the Grampians is astonishing, and mostly unique to Australia. Kangaroos are a common sight, and we thought they were actually very weird creatures up close – like huge, deformed bunny rabbits with claws. They are also a major traffic hazard, with the general advice being to avoid driving near dusk or dawn, as this is when kangaroos are at their most suicidal. I actually hit one on our second day, luckily only going at about 20 mph along a dirt road. It shot out from the side of the road, rebounded off the bumper and then careered away on the other side of the road, looking injured but alive. Fortunately I had a chance to redeem myself a few days later, when we drove past a kangaroo lying on the ground with legs tangled in a wire fence. I managed to extricate it from the fence, and after falling on its face a few times it regained control of its legs and hopped off into the distance. My kangaroo karma was back to zero!

  A visitor at our window
  Emus in the undergrowth
  Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree…
  Bobtail skink

The Grampians is a remote, wild area, and getting around takes time. There’s only a handful of tarmac roads in the park, and access to many of the climbing areas is by dirt roads of varying quality. As a result, the climbing areas often feel remote and isolated – a typical approach would be an hour’s drive on quiet roads, then twenty minutes along deserted dirt tracks, and finally a half hour walk through bush to the crag. Although we enjoyed seeing most of the local wildlife, there were certain creatures we didn’t want to meet, including virtually all of the world’s most venomous snakes. To this end, each day we walked to the cliffs talking loudly and banging rocks together, with the aim of scaring off any snakes which may be basking on the path.

  The ‘highly venomous’ red bellied black snake – luckily this one was viewed from the safety of a car!
  Monday morning rush hour
  Getting wet legs on the walk up to The Gallery

In terms of the climbing, the Grampians is absolutely incredible. It is known as the trad climbing centre of Australia (trad or ‘traditional’ climbing is where you place specialist gear into the rock as you climb, as opposed to ‘sport’ climbing where you clip your rope to bolts already drilled into the rock). This was slightly limiting for us as we are travelling light (not that light!) and only have gear for sport climbing; however amongst the trad there are some amazing sport climbs, which were more than enough to keep us occupied. 


Charlotte continued her good form, and managed to lead another 6c, as well as climbing more confidently and taking some falls. I climbed reasonably well, onsighting quite a few low 7’s, and coming very close on a 7c at the awesome ‘Gallery’. This is a steep orange cave littered with chalky holds, high on a hill side. We’ve been climbing outside a lot, but are both noticing a lack of strength due to the absence of indoor training. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the beans for this one!

  ‘Sprung’, 22 / 6c
  ‘Conflict of Interest’, 20 / 6b
  Onsighting the bizarre ‘Struck Twice’, 24 / 7a/+
  Redpoint antics on ‘Chasin’ the Shadow’, 27 / 7c
  ‘Chasin’ the Shadow’ at the incredible outdoor gym of The Gallery
  Bouldering at Venus Baths with Lizzie
  Topping out

My highlight was climbing a route on the iconic Taipan Wall, described in the climbing guidebook as ‘the cliff which put Australia on the map’. Taipan is an enormous leaning wall set on the slopes of Mt Stapylton, bullet hard orange sandstone with beautiful grey water streaks. I tried the classic 30 metre ‘The Invisible Fist’, the Taipan entrance exam, being the easiest sport climb on the main face at a paltry 7b+! The route was intimidating, amazing and varied – up a slab, over a roof, slopers up an overhang, around a big flake and finally a dyno (a jump!) in a wild position to the huge hold next to the anchor. After a failed onsight attempt, I managed to fight my way up it second go, and lowered off grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

  Taipan Wall
  Questing up ‘The Invisible Fist’, 26 / 7b+

Between climbing days we had a few rest days, and used these to explore the local area. There are a lot of good walks and lookouts to visit, with the Pinnacles being our favourite. This walk takes you through a canyon, and then a narrow gorge to emerge on the summit of the hill, with a great view over Hall’s Gap and the valley. We also took a fascinating tour around ‘J Ward’ in Ararat, a 19th century prison and later an asylum for the criminally insane, which only closed down in 1991.

  Enjoying the view from The Balconies
  Walking down from The Pinnacles
  The main cell block at J Ward
  Tasty homemade waffle cones!

We’ve really enjoyed our time in the Grampians, but we are also excited to hit the road tomorrow and see more of Australia!



G’day Melbourne!

Melbourne is the second most populous city in Australia and the capital of the State of Victoria. Unlike New Zealand, where cities feel more like towns, Melbourne is definitely a city. Home to a vast multicultural population the city is dynamic and cosmopolitan, as well as boasting many of Australia’s oldest cultural institutions.

  A bridge over the river Yarra
  The grand Victoria State Library
  Melbourne’s free tram network
  The Shrine of Remembrance

Sport is a crucial part of the fabric of Melbourne. The city hosts the annual F1 Grand Prix, contains Australia’s most famous cricket stadium, the M.C.G., which recently hosted the Cricket World Cup final, which is next to the Rod Laver Arena, home of the Australian Grand Slam tennis tournament, and both are just a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park. We decided to take a guided tour around the Rod Laver Arena, which was fascinating. It was interesting to snoop around the locker room, and take a stroll down the ‘Walk of Champions’, the corridor to the main court which is lined with huge photos of previous winners.

  Home of the Australian Open
  Roger’s locker at the 2015 tournament
  The Walk of Champions
  The main court, currently set up for a music gig
  This is what they do with the signatures on the TV cameras

 The men’s singles trophy

Melbourne is often referred to as Australia’s cultural capital and during our visit the city was hosting its 29th annual International Comedy Festival. Whilst enjoying the free internet available at the Victoria State Library we were gifted a couple of tickets from a lady who was unable to attend a show later that day. Throughout our stay in Melbourne Luke managed to suffer his first illness of the trip, but as the saying goes “laughter is the best medicine” and the evening with comedian Hannah Gadsby proved a satisfactory treatment (almost). It took a few more days before he was back up to full health.

On our final morning in the city we met up with an old friend of Luke’s for brunch; a very ‘Melbourne’ thing to do, with countless cafes and restaurants offering quirky menus. We then picked up a hire car, this time a stylish Toyota Yaris, and excitedly headed west the Grampians National Park, one of the world’s most famous climbing areas.


Sweet As!

Dunedin is the South Island’s second largest city, founded in 1848 at the site of an earlier whaling port. The first settlers were mostly Scottish (the name is derived from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, ‘Dùn Èideann’) and the city was deliberately built to emulate its namesake. The city’s surveyor, Charles Kettle, laid out grand plans to mimic the streets and buildings of Edinburgh, and these were carried out with mixed success on the challenging landscape. Most notable is the iconic railway station, built from black basalt with white stone facings to give a distinctive light and dark pattern, which is repeated throughout the city.
  Rev. Thomas Burns, nephew of the famous Scottish poet, was one of the first settlers

  Dunedin Railway Station

Out of town on the Otago Peninsula is the Royal Albatross Centre. This is the site of the only mainland breeding colony in the world, and so is a rare opportunity to see these majestic birds. On a windy day, they soar over the waves and round the headland, looking almost like gliders with their massive 3 metre wingspan. They spend most of their lives at sea, travelling an estimated 190,000 km each year between feeding grounds. We were lucky to visit on a sufficiently gusty day, and stood in awe watching the albatrosses circle above us.
  Spot the albatross

We were in Dunedin over Easter weekend, and it was pretty strange to spend this time of year in the Southern Hemisphere. Forget lambs and daffodils – the leaves were brown, the sheep were old, and pumpkins were lining the grocery shelves. Luckily, Easter eggs can still be found in abundance, and so we managed to preserve some of the usual tradition by stuffing our faces with chocolate.

From Dunedin we set off north to visit my cousin Matt, who lives near the town of Rakaia. We had planned to arrive in the late afternoon and stay for one night before moving on; however the journey took longer than expected, and following some ‘navigational challenges’ it was dark by the time we arrived. It was great to see Matt and have a catch up, and the next morning we came down to the farm to see the cows being milked, before heading off.
  Dramatic skies over Hanging Rock, near Timaru

  Hanging out with my cousin Matt

  Calves at the farm

Whilst in New Zealand we wanted to challenge ourselves with an adventurous activity, something we wouldn’t normally do at home (like climbing, hiking or cycling). With this in mind we had booked a whitewater rafting trip, and setting off from Matt’s we stopped at a pay phone to give the rafting centre a call and check river conditions were ok. We were pretty gutted to learn that in fact the river had risen to the highest level in months, and it was too dangerous to run a trip. We provisionally moved our booking to the following day, which would be our last chance before leaving the country. After a quick prayer to the river gods, we turned the car round and headed to Christchurch instead.

Christchurch was founded at a similar time to Dunedin, but with mostly English rather than Scottish settlers the intention was to build a city around a cathedral and college, following the model of Christ Church in Oxford. Christchurch soon gained a reputation as the most English of New Zealand cities, which certainly feels the case as you wander along the leafy banks of the River Avon.

On Saturday 4th September 2010, Christchurch was struck by an earthquake registering a magnitude of 7.1 on the Richter scale. There were no resulting fatalities, but a number of buildings were seriously damaged. Just 5 months later, on 22nd February 2011, a second earthquake earthquake rocked Christchurch and wiped out large areas of the city. The magnitude was slightly lower than the first earthquake, but with the epicentre right underneath the city the impact was catastrophic, with the intensity and violence of the ground shaking being amongst the highest ever recorded in an urban area. The famous cathedral lost its spire, many buildings collapsed, and 185 people were killed.

Visiting the city 4 years later, the aftermath of the disaster on the city is starkly visible, and not just on its physical structures. Walking through the streets, there is still a tangible feeling of shock and sadness. However, resilient Christchurchers have picked themsleves up, and there are a number of transitional projects and installations whilst the city is being rebuilt. Amongst these are the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, a temporary location whilst the fate of the original building is decided, and Re:START, an innovative shopping centre composed of a jumble of brightly painted shipping containers, housing everything from clothes shops to banks.
  Christchurch Cathedral

  The temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’

  Visiting the Rose Garden at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

  Autumnal hues

  The Re:START shopping complex

After a day in Christchurch it was our last chance at rafting, and we were thrilled to find out that river conditions were good, meaning our trip was on! The usually crystal clear Rangitata River was a steely grey after the heavy rainfall, and the grade 5 rapids were running at an excitingly high level. Rafting is different from other adventure activities, in the sense that you are part of the crew rather than just a passenger – if you don’t follow instructions and paddle hard, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be going down the rapids alongside the raft, not in it! We had a good team, and after running the biggest sections, we deliberately flipped the raft while surfing a wave and took a swim. It was a fantastic day, and after a hot shower and a barbecue, we drove back to Christchurch tired and happy.
   The dream team

  In the thick of the grade 5 rapids


  Charlotte relishing the view from the front seat

This morning we had a quick catch up over coffee with an old school friend, parted ways with our trusty Nissan Tiida, and are now in the airport waiting for our flight to Melbourne. We’ve had an incredible time here, and although we’re excited about Australia we are sad to be leaving.

Thanks New Zealand – it’s been sweet as!


The Lost World

Arriving in Milford Sound, you could be forgiven for thinking you have entered the Lost World. Jagged misty peaks carpeted in green forests tower high above you, while lower down the area is awash with beautiful mosses and lush bush; seeing a pterodactyl in flight wouldn’t seem out of place here. 

  Milford Sound 

During the high season Milford Sound receives thousands of visitors; many are day trippers who arrive on crowded buses to board various boat cruises. Few visitors choose to linger, and even fewer choose to explore the wealth of climbing available. With some of New Zealand’s hardest sport routes on offer you would expect the area to be more popular, however with 8 metres of annual rainfall, distributed evenly through the year, it isn’t hard to see why the cliffs in this remote valley are rarely busy.

Despite being one of the wettest places on earth, we optimistically booked a 4 night stay. During our time we explored 2 of the crags – Little Babylon and The Chasm. Little Babylon is situated high up a steep mountain face, and to reach the climbing you need to clamber up a steep track of tree roots and boulders. The Chasm is an atmospheric granite wall nearer the road, conveniently capped by an overhanging roof, which means rainwater pours off the lip of the crag and the rock stays permanently dry. Of the two our favourite was The Chasm – great routes on superb quality rock, with water cascading down behind you; a unique climbing experience.

  Making our way up to Little Babylon

  Little Babylon


Roaming Worrior (25 / 7a+/b)

On our final morning, we joined the tourists on a boat cruise through the fiord (misleadingly named as a sound) towards the Tasman Sea. According to Maori Legend, Milford Sound was created by Tu-te-raki-whanoa, a god-like ancestor who used a digging stick to carve the fiord. In fact this isn’t far from the modern geological version, which explains that the deep valley was gouged out by successive glaciers, and subsequently flooded by the sea.

As you cruise through the fiord, it is easy to imagine its depth by the sheer cliffs which plunge below the waterline. Far below the surface the angle of the rock faces ease and a rounded valley floor forms the bottom, 400 metres at its deepest point. In contrast, where the fiord meets the sea the depth is only 40 metres, due to a built up barrier of glacial deposits.

The constant rainfall, in conjunction with the restricted water movement by the glacial deposits barrier, results in a 10 metre freshwater layer which floats on top of the saltwater. This top layer of freshwater is stained brown by the various leaf litter it has passed on the way to the fiord. Consequently, it is very dark just 30 metres below the surface, mimicking deep sea conditions. Because of this, Milford Sound harbours a host of corals and sea life which are usually only found deep beneath the ocean.

  Cruising Milford Sound


Panorama from Mitre Peak to Mt Pembroke

  Lady Bowen Falls (162m) 

  Stirling Falls (155m)

  Beware the mountain parrot!

Leaving Milford Sound we drove to the lakeside town of Te Anau, located at the end of the long and lonely Milford road. This is 118km away, and the last place you can find either fuel or food. We stayed out of town in a beautiful wooden chalet, situated on a deer farm overlooking the valleys of central Southland. This was a pleasant improvement to our usual digs, and provided a perfect base for a well deserved rest day.


 A view from Rainbow Reach, part of the Kepler Track

Moving onwards and upwards we headed to Wanaka, Queenstown’s quiet little brother. Well known on the skiing circuit, during the off season the glacial worn schist provides some of the South Islands most popular rock climbs. The featureless faces are scattered around the hillside, and the horizontal quartz provides small, sharp fingertip edges to pull on.

With a lot of crags it’s hard to decide what to get your teeth stuck into, and we spent several days trying out the different areas. Annoyingly the last crag we visited (‘Riverside’) turned out to be the best one, and we didn’t have enough time to give it justice. Luke tried a 3 star route called Lollapalooza (25 / 7a+/b), and with a bit of a fight managed to climb to the anchor on his first go. Frustratingly, after lowering off we spotted another bolt higher up, and it soon transpired that the route finished a few metres above. With tired arms and a sinking sun the second attempt didn’t go so well, and we had to accept defeat and leave the route for another trip.


 Looking over Wanaka from the slopes of Roy’s Peak

  Rusty Pins (18 / 6a)

  Lollapalooza (25 / 7a+/b)

  A lunchtime swing

Next stop is Dunedin, as we make our way towards Christchurch, our final destination in New Zealand. 


The Routeburn Track, or There And Back Again

As we drove south from Oamaru to Queenstown, the landscape around us grew more and more impressive. Before arriving in New Zealand, we’d heard from other travellers that the South Island is more rugged and naturally beautiful than the North Island. Whilst on the North Island we wondered if this could be true, and since arriving on the South Island we’ve debated this question several times. However, the further south we have travelled the more sublime the landscapes have become, and we have to admit there is some truth to the commonly held opinion.


  A clear indication that we were reaching the outskirts of Queenstown

We stopped in Queenstown for a couple of nights, spending a great day climbing on the Schist walls of Wye Creek, before departing for the Routeburn Track. This is one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’, starting at the Routeburn Shelter, an hour’s drive from Queenstown. The trail climbs through mossy forest to alpine terrain, and crosses a mountain pass before descending a different valley to ‘The Divide’.

  Wye Creek cragging

  A hostel with a view

As we soon learned, the area is remarkable for its native wildlife. It’s many rare species include the Kea, the world’s only mountain parrot and one of the most intelligent members of the bird family, as well as the New Zealand Robin, a friendly and curious little creature.

Before Pacific Islanders first reached the shores of New Zealand around 1000 years ago, becoming the first Maori, no human had ever set foot on the islands. There were no animals, only birds and insects, the majority of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Early European explorers who sailed through the sounds wrote of the deafening sound of birdsong. Consequently all animals found here today are non-native, and preventing the introduction of foreign species is an important national issue, as anyone who has ever passed through New Zealand customs can attest to.

In the 19th century, the newly settled European gentry wanted animals to hunt for sport, and as there were no animals they brought across rabbits. With no predators and lots of grass, the rabbits bred like, well, rabbits, until populations reached plague proportions. To solve the problem of too many rabbits, the authorities decided to introduce weasels, ferrets and stoats (against the stern advice of bird experts). The native birds were far less effort to catch than the rabbits, many of them being flightless and not instinctively running away, never having had predators. Under these conditions stoats in particular flourished, and have now spread to every part of New Zealand and decimated native bird populations.

In an attempt to save the last of the endangered bird species, the Department of Conservation has installed a large number of traps along the Routeburn Track (as well as many other places), with the aim of reducing stoat populations. This project is already achieving noticeable success, and bird numbers are on the rise. With continued effort, it is hoped that over the coming years this will reverse the trend, and the forests of New Zealand will once again resound with birdsong.

  The New Zealand robin

The Routeburn Track is a multi-day walk, with overnight stays in basic mountain huts along the route. These can only accommodate a limited number of people, and so are often booked up months in advance. Hearing this, we booked 2 nights in the huts before we left the UK. However, in our enthusiasm at the time of booking, we failed to spot two flaws in the plan – firstly that the track starts and finishes in a different place, and secondly that the entire route is only 32 km (20 miles). To avoid the time and expense of arranging transport to the start and end points, and to ensure that we would be going for more than just a gentle stroll each day, we concocted a cunning plan; to walk the track ‘there and back’ over the course of 3 days.


With our first nights hut only 9 km into the route, Day 1 was rather leisurely. We set off from the car park in the early afternoon under sunshine and blue skies, and ambled at a steady pace through woodland, arriving at the Routeburn Falls hut 3 hours later. After a cold pasta dinner and a few card games we were ready to retire to our bunks, and drift off to a symphony of snores.

  The Route(burn)

  Fresh faced and bushy tailed

  Routeburn Flats

  The end of Day 1 at the Routeburn Falls Hut

Our hut for the second night was conveniently situated about halfway to the end point. However, with our new ‘return plan’, this meant for a big day – climbing to the high point of the route, descending all the way to the end, then turning around and climbing back up to the hut, a total of 35 km. In the morning we were the first to leave the hut, armed with headtorches in the pre-dawn darkness. As day broke the views were hampered by drizzle and cloud, but luckily we didn’t have any heavy rain all day. We crossed Harris Saddle, traversed down the enormous Hollyford Valley, then gradually descended to The Divide, passing the enormous wisp of Earlsdam Falls (174m) on the way. We turned around, and 10 hours after setting off we threw down our rucksacks at Mackenzie Hut, our home for the night. Needless to say, even the heaviest snorer couldn’t keep us from sleep tonight.

  Dawn breaking through the clouds on Day 2

  Enjoying the view from The Orchard

  Under the mighty Earlsdam Falls (174m)

  Hut life

Day 3 was a reasonable 20 km back to our start point, but this felt like a long way on our weary legs (and Charlotte’s blistered feet). We trudged into the car park in the early afternoon, and after tearing off our walking boots we sat back and tucked into the last of our food.

  Clouds above and below in the Hollyford Valley

  Lakeland scenery

  An island of green

  On the final swing bridge

  Not so fresh

We were glad to have done the Routeburn Track in this style, and it was certainly convenient to start and end in the same place. Even though the trail is only 32 km long, the distance between the start and finish points is approximately 320 km by road, a journey of around 5 hours! Our only change would be to alter our overnight stops, in order to balance out the walking distance on each day. The scenery throughout was splendid (though unfortunately obscured at times), staying in the huts was a good experience, and it was a great chance to see some of the native flora and fauna.

  Post-Routeburn refuelling! Domino’s is great value in New Zealand – all this cost just £7

  Trying out some local produce

Upon returning to Queenstown, we hobbled into town to sample some local wines, a well deserved treat. Tomorrow we move on to Milford Sound, 4 hours from Queenstown yet ironically only a short drive from The Divide!