This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
A few days after the festival I climbed 'Friday's Fool' a fantastic four pitch mixed route with Rauri. Rauri had just won New Zealand alpinist of the year, so I had a wonderfully accomplished climbing partner! The giant, week - long high was still hanging over Otago, but the clouds were starting to look dark and it was clear that the weather would turn soon.
We headed up towards the route. Queen's drive seemed so quiet without all the festival climbers everywhere. We were the only people there.
The first pitch was actually the most challenging, it was mixed and the ice was slick along with steep rock sections. Rauri led amazingly here. The views were absolutely stunning and there was plenty of variety all the way.
Somewhat awkwardly I got a phone call as I was belaying Rauri up an ice pitch on the second pitch, obviously I wasn't going to take it, but the sound of my phone jingle in my pocket echoed around the icy cliffs, gave us a bit of a laugh. Later on when we were back safe and I could check my phone I had found out it was just a cold call, although I did wonder if it was an important phone call.
There was a lot of variety on the route, some mixed sections, some thick, solid ice, and some snow gulleys.
I particularly loved the last pitch which involved dry tooling up a fantastic crack. It is definitely a fantastic climb and it was great to have such a wonderful climbing partner as well! A great climb and great company.
I headed down to Queenstown from Auckland on a very affordable Jetstar flight on a Tuesday. It was a bit earlier than I really needed to be there, but the flight was such a good price and Queenstown was such a great place to visit, I thought I might as well.
Literally hours after landing, the announcement was made that Auckland was going into a level 3 lockdown again and that the rest of the country was going into level 2! I definitely felt rather fortunate not to be locked down again!
Highlights from a long weekend of ice and mixed climbing were leading a dry tool route, soloing a route - (sure was quicker than climbing it roped - tee hee!), and leading up Single cone on the Remarkables, with sweeping views of the mountains around and Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
There was a giant weather high for days on end and it was amazing just enjoying the beautiful weather.
Craig and Alex gave me plenty of (much welcomed!) encouragement to lead a dry tool route up a fantastic crack near the start of Queen's drive. I was pretty delighted to have lead this dry tool route, but had placed my tool so firmly on the last placement, just before a mantle and I built an anchor - it took a lot of maneuvering to get it out. Definitely a solid placement though!
Although the sun was hot the air temperature was super cold, so I had piled on the layers to keep warm. As the morning wore on it did warm up however.
Single cone, Remarkables
The next day, bright and early, we woke to yet another gorgeous day. We headed up the snow field to climb Single cone.
The snow conditions were absolutely perfect, the avalanche conditions were very low due to the fact that the snow pack was settled, but it was crisp enough to provide for great cramponing. The snow slope steepened, and we found the bolts for the first anchor for the first pitch. I led this, the snow had buried all the bolts for me to clip on the way, but the snow conditions were so perfect, I felt completely fine running it out the whole way, and clipped in at the bolts at the top of the pitch.
Alex zoomed up next, and Craig soloed up afterwards. From the top of the first pitch, there was a great view down the South side of the Remarkables visible by peeping over the side. We then climbed the second pitch and had a lovely lunch on the sizable flat ridge on top of Single cone. Some lovely people coming from the other direction had lunch with us too - and later sent me some photos of me clambering up to the top. At one point as we had been climbing a helicopter flew past, but I think we got just as good a view as the people on the guided flight. I wonder if they saw us!
A favourite spot of mine, at a particular time of year (the start of winter), is a waterfall called Margaret's leap which freezes to form a great place for ice climbing. There are a couple of fantastic little club huts only about 20 minutes walk away that are great to stay in. While most of Ruapehu is absolutely bustling with skiers during winter, the Eastern side of Ruapehu sees few visitors, in a large part due to the bumpy 4WD track and non-commercial nature of the area, which is sometimes referred to as 'the wild side'. These are all things I like about the Eastern side of Ruapehu. Things were getting colder and so I decided to organise a group to go Ice climbing.
We had a great time. We set up an anchor at the top of the waterfall and I rappelled over to set it up at the base.
New Zealand's 2020 lockdown had included asking people not to partake in (most) outdoor activities, including things like surfing and rockclimbing - due to the possibility that someone might get injured and that hospital bed might have been needed for a hospital patient. So it was great to get out rock climbing once again.
Lockdown being over, and life having returned to normal, my friend and I headed off to Ti point, which is a beautiful place for climbing, about a drive of hour and a half North of Auckland. The sea crashes underneath the climbs and the whole area is surrounded by salt spray. You can see all the way across to Hauturu / Little Barrier Island. We mainly did some sport climbs, although we did one trad climb which was fun. It's really gorgeous there and we had a great day!
Our country had happily crushed COVID-19. New Zealand had emerged triumphant from what, in retrospect was a very short lockdown. Community transmission of the virus had been eliminated and now we could happily go back to normal life. While the borders were closed and only returning citizens were allowed back (and had to go through strict quarantine and testing), life was largely back to normal.
Summer had turned into autumn, time passes strangely in a lockdown. And there is nothing like a lockdown to remind a person how much they want to see other people! I just couldn't wait to see friends - in person after the lockdown ended.
I did a whole bunch of lovely walks in the Waitakeres with my friends. It's an amazing area, full of gorgeous Kauri trees, twisted Pohutukawa, wild beaches and black sand. Much more fun with a friend to chat to though with of course!
The lockdown in New Zealand started dizzying fast in late March. It carried on through April, throughout the month of April 2020, New Zealand was at it's strictest level of isolation. Everyone had to stay in their bubbles. Luckily for me my extended bubble included Piha beach, so I would wander along the beach and see the rare sight of the Piha beach with no-one on it except me! The lockdown was an incredible success because community spread was reduced to zero.
On the shores of Lake Taupo there is a beautiful bay called Kawakawa Bay, and my friend Korbi and I headed down for some climbing at this amazing spot. There is some beautiful rock there, rising up out of the forest. The lake is clean and super clear, at night, by the light of a head torch, you can see tiny freshwater crayfish scuttling around.
We made sure to climb the famous Captain Caveman. I accidentally went slightly the wrong way as I was leading the first pitch, but we sorted it out and had lunch in the cave, which had a stunning view, as you can see.
Korbi led the second pitch with ease, which I was glad for, as it is definitely 'airy' although it goes through a kind of chimney, especially at some points you can definitely feel the exposure of hanging out in space.
After climbing through the vertical cave tunnel, you can pop out onto a tiny ledge and really take in the gorgeous views. We also climbed some other sport routes and got in some trad climbing, although I don't really have such good photos of that. We got to watch the sun setting over the lake at the top of Gecko groove, one of the fantastic crack climbs there.
Amazingly, despite the wonderful weather, there was nearly no-one else there. We saw some people heading out on Friday, and we had glimpsed some people higher up on a climb on Saturday, but that was pretty much it. On the walk back to the cars we ran into Dan, one of the developers of the crag who was happy to see us climbing. I hope more people get out and climb there because it is such a beautiful place with really top quality climbing!
I headed down to Mt Cook National park for a bit of an adventure. The forecast wasn't perfect the whole time, but there were some good days, so that was great.
Mt Edgar Thomson
Not too far from Unwin hut, at the Northernmost corner of the Ohau range, is Mt Edgar Thomson. The first recorded climb of this peak was in 1915 when Jane Thomson and Conrad Kain climbed it. Climber Jane Thomson named it after her son, Edgar who had tragically died young of a Rugby injury.
We got a nice early start and headed up the stream bank.
We found the South ridge and kept climbing and started to get really fantastic views across the park.
As we climbed up the vegetation started to change from alpine scrub and herb fields, with those interesting little alpine crickets that jump everywhere, to tussock with black alpine butterflies fluttering past, small alpine plants amongst the rocks, and then just rock and snow.
On the way back we had a bit of a bush bash to get to the car as we got slightly off route on the way back, and our ice axes on the outside of our packs got stuck in supple jack at one point which was a bit of a laugh.
Up the Hooker valley
I headed off up the Hooker valley for a bit of an adventure after this. I had entertained plans of heading over Ball pass from this side (the now recommended route due to the erosion of the Tasman glacier). Unfortunately the weather was super bad overnight and the wind blew like crazy and it bucketed with rain. Fortunately my little alpine tent is built to withstand this kind of thing, so it did just fine, although at one point I did have to bail a bit of water which pooled near the entrance of my tent. I decided it was time to retreat so packed up and headed out the way I had arrived, it was still a fun little adventure though, and on the way back there was a super pretty rainbow over the Mueller range at one point.
An amazing place for climbing over summer is Payne's Ford near Takaka. A whole lot of limestone crags rise up out of the forest, and there is also an amazing turquoise blue stream nearby.
The weather was amazing, although for about a week the sun was at times obscured behind a haze which was caused by ash blowing over from Australia. Some of the other climbers were from Australia and talked about their friends, rural volunteer firefighters, doing an amazing job to rescue people.
It was time to head back to New Zealand. The weather was cold and rainy in the United Kingdom but it was getting hot in New Zealand, so it seemed like a good time to head back. I flew back on a very long flight from London through China and then on to Auckland. It was a great price. Off I flew - at an obscure hour the plane took off, and I had a little nap, and awoke to the sight below of the Gobi desert of Mongolia, far below.
The plane landed in Beijing and then I had a fairly brutal 20 hour layover. There wasn't really anywhere to nap, just some uncomfortable chairs. There was one slightly less busy corner of the airport with plenty of chairs, but there was some kind of strange alarm going off at the time. My circadian rhythm was already thoroughly confused by this point. This was worsened by the fact that the flight to Auckland left at 2am. All I wanted to do was sleep, but had to keep my eyes open to board my flight. Then when I was on the flight I couldn't sleep! Anyway, I got back to Auckland in one piece! Recovering from the jetlag was a pretty long process - it took about 2 weeks!
The weather was balmy and warm. I could go for walks through the balmy subtropical rainforest and see family and friends for Christmas!
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!