Long-Delayed Trip Report: Queen's Birthday Weekend in Charleston

Posted by Patrick Lam on Thursday, September 10, 2020

Table Of Contents

May 2020, in New Zealand:

me: “I just think it might be irresponsible to go on this trip…”

Elliott: “I think it’s safe to go now, COVID seems under control…”

me: “No, I have paper deadlines in June!”

COVID was indeed eliminated at that point in time. Some of those papers got in. Five months later, I’m working on a paper that didn’t. New Zealand is hopefully stamping out the Auckland cluster.

The Plan

The plan, then, was to get in some climbing on granite in Charleston for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Side note: In Canada [except Quebec], Victoria Day is the Queen’s Birthday (unofficial start to summer), scheduled for the last Monday preceding May 25, while in NZ, it’s the first Monday in June. Close but not quite, and the weather is different. Kind of like many things in NZ. It’s a different country.

Outbound Travel Day, May 30 (gallery)

Elliott picked me up at 7AM. We’d take the first ferry to Picton, and then drive to Charleston. Being three weeks before the winter solstice, sunset was at 5pm. So, basically we’d get there in the dark. Charleston is on the NZ “West Coast”. It takes a day to get there, so it’s not really viable for a short weekend, and only barely on a winter-ish long weekend, since travel time exceeds activity time.

This was my first trip on the InterIslander ferry. This ferry met expectations; I appreciated the great views approaching the South Island. There’s signage about birds one might see, but mostly it’s seagulls.

More prescriptive signs; Ward Island

The Wahine disaster came up in conversation today; today’s 3 hour ferries running at about 20 knots are way faster than that overnight trip, although there used to be a faster one which went extinct the same way the Concorde did (well, minus crashes, but rather being high-environmental-impact and uneconomical to run). I also notice that the Interislander page about ferries does mention the Wahine but not quite up-front.

We stopped in Blenheim, grabbing groceries and lunch. Lunch in particular was a quick stop just before the cafe closed, but it was level 2, so perhaps not a great time to dally anyway. One of life’s mysteries: at our stop at Rotoiti St-Arnaud, why were people taking a boat trip carrying mountaineering gear? We didn’t really think there was snow yet.

We failed to buy coffee in Murchison but we did stop in the Four Square where, for the second week in a row, Elliott encountered someone he knew. We took one more scenery stop at the Kilkenny Lookout, before reaching our destination, the Charleston Motor Camp.

People of the Charleston Motor Camp

The most hopping place in all of Charleston that Saturday night was likely the communal kitchen at the Charleston Motor Camp. The Canterbury Caving Group has a big meet in Charleston for the Queen’s Birthday weekend and the cavers had arrived from their Saturday in the caves. It was crowded and at that point the government COVID Tracer app wasn’t so popular, but I figured that the campground owners had complete records for contact tracing should it be necessary.

  • Transitive co-author! While cooking I figured out that there were a bunch of Christchurch academics on the caving trip (many of whom were also climbers), and one of them was in Recreation and Leisure Studies. Turns out that he had co-authored a paper with someone who I’d also submitted a paper with. Fortunately that paper is now published. I sent Garrett a picture of me and Chris…

  • There was a slightly older Thai couple who had been in a small village during the lockdown and were touring New Zealand now that it had opened up again.

Climbing, May 31 (gallery)

Since we just had the one day, we got up just before sunrise and drove 2 minutes to the crag.

It’s always tricky to get oriented at a first visit to the crag. The approach from the carpark is indeed on the order of 5 minutes, and we found the Sun Slabs soon enough (good for the morning). Elliott started with Cruisin’ (the FA was solo, but the grade is 8); we thought it was something harder, but it really wasn’t. Blame it on the Weather was more reasonable as actually a climb although there was some climbing on grass at the top, which may have been the crux. We worked our way over to the Usher’s Rock face once it got more sun and climbed 3 routes on the face. Looked at White Punks on Chalk on toprope but the swing looked gnarly.

Morning at Charleston Motor Camp (📷 Elliott O'Brien); coastline; dolphins; Elliott topping out; Usher's Rock

Looking at it now, the route names do suggest dolphins (“Dolphin Spotting”, “Dunked again”, etc). And we did indeed see dolphins as promised!

We finished up with two of the long routes on the Wonder Wall. I onsighted a cross between Wild Horses in the Sun and Stinger, both 3*, doing what I think was the finger crack crux of Wild Horses (oof!) but then crossing to Stinger above to better protect; the line in the picture on ClimbNZ looks hard to protect and it didn’t look easier when I was up there. That route was sustained and hard for me. Glad to get the onsight; at the top I had a little lie-down before bringing Elliott up. We then rapped down again and Elliott onsighted Racing in the Streets.

Wild Horses in the Sun (📷 Elliott); me looking at Sharks Breakfast (up and out of frame); Elliott preparing to climb

Golden Hour having definitely arrived, we took pictures and headed back to Charleston Motor Camp, in preparation for the trip back tomorrow.

Elliott after climbing Racing in the Streets; another party chilling on Sunset Rib; more sunset (📷 Elliott)

Back to Wellington, June 1 (gallery)

In principle tenting is fine. But maybe I’m getting old. This trip prompted me to buy an inflatable pillow after sleeping funny—took a few days for my neck to recover. Of course I got the lightest possible one: Aeros™ Ultralight Pillow (not an affiliate link), which they claim is the best 2.1oz you’ll ever add to your pack. NZ retail being what it is, I had to get the boring gray one instead of the more exciting green or blue ones.

This time we stopped in Murchison again and managed to successfully eat at the Rivers Cafe, also populated by bikers going on a long weekend road-trip and rearranging their ferry tickets on their cellphones. I saw some huge portions going by but we got normal-sized food. Also stopped at Hope Saddle and in Havelock for lunch (grilled mussels, looked better than they tasted). (That is, they were not bad, but I wouldn’t write home about them either.)

Rivers Cafe; Hope Saddle; Havelock

The travel day was once again leaving just around sunrise and back home after sunset. A lot of travel, but it was good to see that part of New Zealand. Thanks Elliott! The saying is that it’s hard to best the West Coast on a nice day. Soon enough, MP and I would be back to some of the same places a month later for the Heaphy Track.