Flock Hill Boulder Field
Leaving Golden Bay, our journey took us down the rugged west coast to the village of Punakaiki. The Tasman Sea on the west of New Zealand is wild and unpredictable, and swimming in the strong currents would be suicidal – a stark contrast to the peaceful, inviting waters of the Southern Ocean on the east.
As well as being a convenient stopping point on our journey towards the Southern Alps, Punakaiki is known for its Pancake Rocks and blowholes. The layering system which formed the rocks along this part of the coast is responsible for their pancake appearance, and the blow holes are a direct result of coastal erosion. When the tide is high you are able to watch and listen as the sea surges into caverns and booms menacingly through the blowholes. A 6.30am high tide ensured that we had the rocks to ourselves, and after watching the sun rise we left, just as the hordes were arriving.
We continued on to one of the major crossings of the Southern Alps; Arthur’s Pass, which connects Greymouth on the west with Christchurch on the east. The scenery through the pass is sensational, with majestic peaks bordering vast alpine meadows. It is along this pass that New Zealand’s only truly world class climbing areas are located; Castle Hill and Flock Hill. These are sprawling boulder fields, each with a breathtaking sea of bulbous limestone rocks. There are some bolted routes on the largest boulders, but most of the climbing here is bouldering; a discipline which requires no ropes or harnesses but instead involves solving reasonably short ‘problems’ with the protection of a soft mat.
Crossing Arthur’s Pass
Springfield – our base for Castle Hill bouldering
After a comfortable nights sleep in an upgraded apartment style room we woke to the sound of rain, a rare occurrence since arriving in New Zealand. Not willing to let it dampen our spirits, we decided to venture up Arthur’s Pass and check out the bouldering anyway. It turned out that this was the right thing to do; as we climbed out of the valley the clouds disappeared, and our optimism was rewarded by high quality dry rock.
We spent three great days exploring both Castle Hill and Flock Hill, and even though we only climbed a fraction of what’s on offer, we still managed to get a good taste of the climbing at each area. Overall our favourite was Flock Hill, which had more strongly featured rock with beautiful water runnels and scoops. This area is slightly further from the road, and being on private land needs advance permission, meaning that it is rare to see anyone else there.
On the slopes of Wuthering Heights (Castle Hill)
Getting to grips at Wuthering Heights
The walk in to Flock Hill
Flock Hill highball
Another great unknown problem
Reaching for ripples
Completing the remaining section of Arthur’s Pass, we arrived on the east coast and headed south to a small town called Oamaru. Oamaru is famous for two things – penguins and Steampunk. For most penguins need no explanation, but Steampunk may be unfamiliar. We now know that Steampunk is a quirky form of science fiction in which old, usually Victorian era steam-powered machinery is adapted into futuristic seeming gadgets. The whole town has taken to its description of New Zealand’s Steampunk capital and various contraptions can be found all over, even in the children’s play park.
Oamaru’s Steampunk HQ
Another futuristic contraption
As mentioned, the second reason to visit Oamaru is for a chance to see the rare yellow eyed penguins, only found on the south-eastern coast of the South Island. At nearby Moeraki lighthouse there is a conservation hide, and at dusk if you are patient you can watch as the penguins navigate their way to shore. After spending an hour gazing out at the breaking waves, we spotted our first yellow eyed penguin. It was funny watching them try to get out of the water only to be dragged back in, before eventually waddling and squawking up the sands. To have seen them in their own habitat was a real privilege.
The bizarre Moeraki boulders
Watch out for penguins
It is now off to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adrenaline capital. Here we plan on sampling some more climbing, as well as taking on another of New Zealand’s great walks, The Routeburn Track.