Back to all Back

Trip Report – South Island Road Tripping

Michael Donovan

By Michael Donovan

Source: CNI Section Newsletter (March 2017)

After seven years of university I was informed it was time I got out and get a ‘real job’. But a French mate, Romain Albert had a better idea; let’s go on a six-week road trip around the South Island climbing sport, trad, boulders and alpine, with a spot of caving thrown in for good measure. I’d never been to the South Island in summer, nor had I really done much climbing in summer over the last few years with work and study commitments. So, we booked our ferry tickets and at 2am on Boxing Day started driving to the South Island, reaching Hangdog Camp, Takaka at 9pm the same day. There was a plan of where were going to go when, but of course that didn’t survive the first few nights. Glossing over Takaka (Payne’s Ford isn’t really my style, both physically and socially), we climbed a few sport routes (mostly novelty routes involving cracks and offwidths), we drunk a lot, and we ran two trips through Harwoods Hole to keep the beer supply up. 10 days later, with me sufficiently refreshed after 5 rest days, and with a German-Tasmanian, Mal Te, and a dirt bag ex-Nelson, Leo in tow, we headed down the West Coast to the sea cliffs of Charleston.

Michael Donovan

First belay of Sharks Breakfast

Charleston is mostly trad, and quite adventurous trad at that. The mega-classic Shark’s Breakfast was first up, and after a quick round of paper scissors rock with rain and swell not looking promising, I was on lead with the comforting feeling of a rack trying to drag me off the wall. Mal Te and I cruised despite the slime and odd wave lapping at our feet. Romain and Leo were up next, with Romain finding the waves getting a little too close for comfort at times. The next two days were spent putting most of the easy stuff to rest as we suffered through intermittent rain. On the third day the front itself finally arrived and we bailed south, hunting for either alpine routes or bouldering.

After being shut down attempting a one day attempt at the Sunglasses Route on Mt Damfool, we found ourselves in Castle Hill, dealing with high winds and extreme temperatures. Mal Te bailed back to the promising conditions of Tasmania, and Leo to the comfort of Christchurch. After ticking many crack (and Romain many off-width) problems and failing at Ocean (V6) a few hundred times we decided enough was enough and made our way to Christchurch.

Not to climb of course, but to buy wine and cheese and decide whether Mt Somers was worth the trip. Leo re-joined us and to Mt Somers we marched. And was it a march. In to the hut was relatively relaxed, but from the hut to the upper walls was brutal, with heat, wind, and rain all doing its best to beat us into submission. Over five days we slowly came to get the style (albeit with a few injuries starting to surface), at least Romain and I did. Leo ripped the crags from his copy of Rock Deluxe South and sat in the hut swearing never to return to the place.

Michael Donovan

Kiwispotting on Ocean at Castle Hill

Eventually the lack of alcohol got to us, (having left ours in the car to pack in as much food, climbing, and camera equipment as possible) so we departed. After an aborted trip to Mt Horrible in Timaru, and Mt Cook, we regrouped in Wanaka with warm showers and plenty of tourists for Romain to chase. Mt Aspiring and Taniwha (24) were the two main goals of the stop. But the weather gods had really had enough of us, and the lack of summer was finally starting to destroy our morale. Our attempt on Taniwha ended with us not reaching the base, instead bailing off tree roots on the approach as the weather shut us down. Mt Aspiring was never more than a pipe dream as we found ourselves at Mt Iron again and again. We soon moved to Queenstown, experiencing a repeat of Wanaka as the weather proved as unpredictable as it was shit. We did however manage all but one pitch of the Ravages of Time (20) watching the rain get closer and closer before we finally started abseiling in the rain.

After almost a week in Queenstown, we traded Leo for Hamilton based wannabe dirt bag Rafael and turned South for what would be the last time on the trip. The Darrans were calling out to us, and despite the horrible forecast we saw a 24-hour window appearing where Metservice didn’t and decided to gamble it. While the window did appear (giving us enough time to get on the East Ridge of Mt Talbot), it was the end of the good weather for the trip and for the next 10 days we were subjected to endless games of Risk and Go, while reading everything in Homer Hut. As the days left until we all had to return home ticked down, a window started to appear and with it other climbers. But nothing of note would be achieved by us, as we had to pull the pin right as the window opened.

Posted: 08/03/17

Posted By: Narina Sutherland