New Zealand offers a wide variety of rock climbing opportunities and experiences, on a range of rock types in stunning and uncrowded settings.
From bouldering to seacliffs, city crags to mountain walls, trad and sport climbing, there is something for every climber—from beginner to hero.
New Zealand Rock
New Zealand is a geologically diverse land. Active volcanic regions in the North Island offer a unique style of slabby pocketed climbing on ignimbrite and rhyolite. You’ll also find solid, often columnular, basalt here and on the east coast of the South Island. The Southern Alps are mostly composed of incredibly compact shattered greywacke sandstone, which sometimes also provides good edgy bouldering in coastal areas.
Most of the limestone in New Zealand is relatively young, so is too soft for climbing. But scattered amongst the great swathes of moss and choss are some beautiful bands of compact grey rock offering superb sport climbs. The Castle Hill Basin in Canterbury is an anomaly, it’s limestone bouldering, but not what you would expect!
The best rock for route climbing in New Zealand is the granite, gneiss and diorite found on the west coast of the South Island. The textured slopers, edges and jugs on the crags in the Cleddau valley feel as though they were made just for climbing.
Despite New Zealand’s geographical isolation, the climbers have developed the areas somewhat in line with global trends. Rock climbing development began in the 70s with moderate trad routes and multi-pitch adventure crags across the country. Through the 80s climbers were influenced by the bold, hard climbing ethic of the UK, which produced some scary and classic routes at places like Whanganui Bay and the Port Hills. The Kiwi climbers of the 90s subscribed somewhat to the sport climbing revolution, seeking out the limestone cragging opportunities in South Canterbury and Golden Bay. The turn of the century saw the golden era of bouldering at Castle Hill. Most recently there has been a focus on the high-quality rock in the Darran Mountains and surrounds, for both sport and trad climbing.
What this all adds up to is a varied climbing experience for locals and visiting climbers alike. Whether you want to clip bolts, wiggle in wires, slap slopers or punch it for a summit, there’s something here for you.
Plan your trip
NZAC publish and sell a range of print guides to New Zealand rock climbing areas. For the visiting climber, the select guides to each island are the best option. For the South Island check out Rock Deluxe, and for the North Island you have Rock Deluxe North. For the full range head to the rock guidebooks shop.
NZAC’s online route database, climbnz.org.nz, is a community-generated resource for climbing information. It covers thousands of routes, crags and areas, and is constantly being updated to provide up-to-date information.
Give it a try
NZAC run trips, meets and instruction courses across the country through local sections. A great way to meet new climbing partners and get outdoors on the rock is to check out what’s happening in your region.
New Zealand rock climbing areas
The following is a selection of some of the most popular and quality climbing areas in New Zealand.
Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island, is one of Aotearoa’s finest summer holiday destinations. Sunshine, slopers, swimming holes and hippies form the basis of an existential cosmic harmony in the Bay.
The main climbing area is Payne’s Ford, New Zealand’s premier limestone sport climbing destination.Read More
Castle Hill Basin
The South Island’s Castle Hill Basin, in Canterbury, is New Zealand’s showpiece bouldering area.
Thousands of limestone boulders lie in grassy alpine meadows across the basin. The climbing style is very unique—there is very little friction, and even less in the way of conventional hand or foot holds. To be successful at Castle Hill, you don’t pull on the slopers … you climb them.Read More
The Darran Mountains and Cleddau valley, near the famous Milford Sound in south-western New Zealand, contain the best rock in the country. The valley crags are steep sculpted bowls of perfect stone, and are suited well to hard sport climbing. The diorite walls above the snowline are generally coarser grained and slabby with few cracks—your classic Darrans multi-pitch route will include some healthy run-outs on both smears and edges.Read More
Central North Island
Lake Taupo has the North Island’s two best climbing areas: on the western side of the lake is Whanganui Bay, and to the north is Kawakawa Bay. Both offer a combination of sport and trad routes, on mostly vertical or less-than-vertical walls, aretes and corners. Whanganui Bay has a broader range of high-quality routes, while Kawakawa has more good routes in the lower end of the grade range.
Further north at Wharepapa South, in the Waikato, you’ll find a number of sport crags with bolted routes on rural crags. The rock can sometimes be sharp, and the routes short, but the dense concentration of amenably bolted climbs ensures this area’s remains enduringly popular.More Info Coming Soon