Climber on crack climb above lake

Crag of the Month - Whanganui Bay

Whanganui Bay is the jewel in the crown of North Island cragging. As John Palmer wrote in his introduction to the area in Rock Deluxe North

The tangata whenua, or people of the land, at Whanganui Bay are guardians of a beautiful and enriching place. All around the crescent-shaped pumice beach that delimits the bay, majestic volcanic pillars and walls rise through the lush canopy of surrounding bush. For climbers, those walls are a central part of history, the ore from which a small group of pioneers forged a pathway for the sport of climbing and, along the way, an identity for themselves. In its heyday, people travelled from far and wide to sample the unique climbing experience to be had here. Time may have moved on and development may have slowed but the things that make Whanganui Bay a special place remain. Some say that there is no other crag in New Zealand that combines such a rich heritage, outstanding natural environment, climbing atmosphere and multiplicity of climbing sensations.

Access to Whanganui Bay is currently restricted to a winter season, which is the best time of year to climb there. For more access details, check here and always register and pay before your visit to keep this access viable. This year's season ends on 1-12-23, so if you want to visit then the next month or so is the time.

Climber on big cliff
Jana Wold dwarfed by the scale of Whekenui while climbing Bizarete (22). photo: Tom Hoyle

The classic Whanganui Bay experience and the original climbing is situated on Whekenui, accessed straight from the beach and above the water. There are too many classics here to mention one route as the ultimate must-do, but Kester Brown's Zen (23) on the Tibia Pinnacle is a virtuoso blend of position, rock quality and climbing sequence. There's a bit of admin involved in getting to the belay position on this one, but it's worth it.

If sequencey pocketed sport routes is your thing, there are many other great options here, such as the stupendous Drive In Bank (25), the best-titled route going On Patrol In The Ruins Of Your Body (23), the long and engaging Sister Europe (22) or the great feature of Bizarete (22).

Climber on ignimbrite
Richard Thomson entering the business on Zen (23). Photo: Tom Hoyle

Traditionally-protected climbing is also an underrated strength of Whanganui Bay climbing. While the ignimbrite might not be as reassuring for your pro as granite, there are some fantastic crack features at Whekenui that simply have to be climbed and many of these were the original inspiration for climbing here and date back to the '70s. Some of the best are the original Graeme Dingle classic from the first visit on 1971 Moss Corner (18, and still a John Palmer favourite), the gear-gobbling Sayonara (17), the aesthetic Eternity Road (22), an added level of spice on New Horizons (22, as pictured above) or Hanged Man (22), or the fearsome Black Scorpion (24).

If you think Paines Ford has the 'best low 20s graded climbing in New Zealand' title all sewn up and you haven't been to Whanganui Bay, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.

We'll be visiting other sectors of Whanganui Bay over the next month, so keep an eye out here for more recommendations and highlights of the area.