Rock climbing in Wanaka

Posted by Patrick Lam on Wednesday, February 12, 2020

MP and I joined a NZAC Wellington club trip which was planned in two parts: Wanaka sport climbing and Darrans alpine granite. We only signed up for the sport climbing part. The granite part got rained out and people did more alpine objectives around Queenstown/Wanaka. Thanks to Derek for organizing!


We spent almost 0 time in Queenstown, driving directly to the Pak’N’Save grocery store just outside the airport and then to Wanaka over the Crown Range (highest main road in New Zealand!). On the way back we stopped at the “The Argonath on the Anduin River” (Lord of the Rings) and also apparently the birthplace of bungy jumping.


Somehow we ate $120 of groceries between the two of us over 5 days. I’m not sure how that happened when we had a lot of ramen (augmented with real food) for dinner.

Life at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp

Walking (tramping): Roy’s Peak (gallery)

Posted walking times seem calibrated to the average walker for a walk, e.g. we did Roy’s Peak and it said 5-6 hours and we were around that. That demographic skewed relatively young and fit for some reason. On walks where the demographic is less hardcore the times seem more inflated. And then there was the Putangirua Pinnacles segment that said 2 hours and it wouldn’t be 2hr except that everyone got lost and it took us and others 2 hours.

We decided to do an alpine start for this hike, setting an alarm for 4:00 (early checkout!) and reaching the trailhead at 4:48. To our surprise, the parking lot was already full of cars. We thought we’d be alone, but we found out that many Germans were aiming for the Instagram shot at sunrise. Our headlamps illuminated some mysterious white creatures which turned out to be sheep, and much less shy than the other sheep we saw. (Have you ever seen a sheep run? They are surprisingly fast.) MP also tells me that she spent some quality time with a big rabbit.

Sheep at night

We got to the Instagram spot at 7:00, in time for sunrise, and then to the summit at 8:00 (rated time 30 minutes and 300m elevation gain), where we ate breakfast and chatted with a visiting Australian engineering graduate from Melbourne. There were people already on the track when we were there but we saw lots more people coming up in the morning. The hike seems much less nice in the middle of the day when it’s hot and the light is worse. But that doesn’t require getting up at 4. We got back to the trailhead at 11:25.

Sheep at night The Instagram Shot Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka, Clouds and Islands Photographer at dawn Switchbacks
MP and plam Ridgeline That Wanaka Tree

Origins of people on the tramp: France (2 groups said “bonjour”), lots of Germans, some Chinese, a couple of Japanese, and I’m sure Australians, who blend in pretty well. (In Wanaka the previous day we encountered our first Quebecois on this trip, in the gift shop. Lots of French from France, no Quebecois.)

On our way back to the Queenstown airport we stopped at a public toilet in Wanaka which was very polite. It spoke: “Door is locked. Your maximum time is 10 minutes,” and then played birdsong for your consideration.


Bottom 375m
Top 1634m
Start 0448
Finish 1125

Wanaka Sport Climbing

Wanaka is a good place for a lot of volume on sport that feels kind of sandbagged especially at the easier grades (the holds are strange). Before I sprained my ankle I was onsighting easy 5.10s and it felt like I should be able to get up to easy 11s with a couple of goes. Here it was hard to onsight a 18, which is probably actually 5.9+, and a 21 (10c/d) was really hard on TR but it felt like I’d be able to get it after a few goes. The Ewbank 15s (5.7-5.8) were not as easy as one might expect them to be. I felt like I didn’t know how to use the holds in this schist.

The weather forecast was good for Feb 1 but then the rain might come in so we tried to get as much climbing as possible before it rained on us. In the end, we got 3 days of reasonable mileage on Wanaka sport routes before the torrential rain (50mm) came in on February 4, which was a good day for a rest day anyway.

Yes, we're at the right place! Climber at The Cutting.

On the first afternoon at Kai Whaka Pai (good beginner crag) I started with a 12, onsighted 15s, and did not onsight an 18. Instead I stick clipped the second bolt to avoid a ground fall onto, say, my ankle. The second day was a bit rainier at Roadside Attraction and Alcove, and I toproped to get to know the rock better. Mostly 19s which I did not climb clean. I was on The Army Route at Alcove when I heard thunder and decided I should get off ASAP. The third day was the high-volume day and I got back into leading 17s and 18s, which were fine (they should be!) but not easy. We went to Riverside beginners' slab, where Michi encountered some Japanese climbers she knew (small world!) and we climbed some slabs. It looked like it was going to rain but in the end it wasn’t that wet and we successfully climbed at Far Side (not actually that far).

Slabs galore: a 15 warmup and a thin crack.

Climbing volume:

Sat Feb 1 5
Sun Feb 2 6
Mon Feb 3 8
Tue Feb 4 rainy
Wed Feb 5 hiking

Walking: Mount Iron

While the others went to climb steep difficult routes at Mt. Iron in the rain on Feb 2, we went for a walk on the Mt. Iron track. This is a short walk and probably not worth it, but there were so many bunnies (and one cat).

Animals, and rain.

Logistics notes

One could viably fly to Queenstown on a Friday evening, climb all day Saturday and Sunday morning, and return to Wellington on Sunday afternoon. Flights aren’t too expensive: they can be under $120 round trip per person. Cheaper and faster than ferry + driving.

We’ve stayed in campground cabins twice in NZ now. It’s a thing that is rare in North America to my knowledge, although some state/provincial/national parks provide some Otentiks or the like. In this case at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp it was competitive with camping ($40 vs $75/night) for those of us who didn’t have tents, and we certainly stayed dry. The NZ campgrounds we’ve been to also provide full kitchen facilities (stoves/sinks/dining room) but no cooking gear. We used ramen bowls.