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!

 

L

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.

C

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


  Brace!


  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!

L

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. 

C