Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lifestyle: Logistics of Climbing in Castle Hill, New Zealand

Lifestyle: Logistics of Climbing in Castle Hill, New Zealand

What more can be said of Castle Hill? It is truly a place that has to be experienced, and is without a doubt one of the premier climbing destinations of the world. Here I'll give you a snapshot of what myself and my friends did to manage it relatively cheaply, given the conditions and time we were there.

Season: Without a doubt wintertime is best in CH. Hardcore locals won't even seriously touch the rock there unless there is snow on the ground and cold temps. The limestone is merciless when heated by the sun and you will be sorely tested to send problems that you magically floated up when it was chillier.

That said, we climbed there at the very end of the season, during the month of November. If you find yourself in this situation, you are best served by getting up relatively early and climbing in the morning while the rock is still cold from the night. Then you can hang out during the noon portion of the day, and get back to business in the evening. Days were long during this time, and it was light outside until around 9:30pm, and is climbable until well after with headlamps.

Another note about climbing during this time: Flock Hill and Dry Valley are inaccessible during this period (until around December 15th or 25th depending for lambing. Don't even think about trying to sneak in, and the locals are adamant about obeying these rules strictly. As well they should be since there have been rumblings of access issues due to some unscrupulous climber-types. Don't worry though, Spittle Hill and Quantum Fields have over 4000 problems to unlock, and some of the best classics in CH are found in those 2 areas.

Accomodations: If you aren't really on a budget, there are several options around. Castle Hill Village has full-on cabins you can rent out for an average of NZ$100 a night. So, get 4-6 people together and that's about what you'd pay at a hostel. If you can stand that kind of proximity and lack of privacy.

Also, you could probably stay in Christchurch and commute the hour-ish ride out. Christchurch has more hostels than you can shake a stick at but we stayed at two that were excellent.

BASE Backpackers ( This is a chain establishment that has the business of sheltering travelers down to a science. Located in the center of Christchurch right at 56 Cathedral Square they are recognized by the large red X icon. They have everything you need; showers, dorm rooms (around NZ$26 a night for a dorm-style room), with fluctuating rates season-depending), laundry, downstairs bar (Heaven & Hell), and internet room. This is a busy place, full of younger travelers so expect the noise level to be on the high side. Phone: +64 982 2225

Foley Towers ( Our favorite spot. Located at 208 Kilmore just a few blocks from the center of town. All the amenities, and a decent rate (NZ$22 a night for a dorm-style room, even cheaper if you spring for the BBH Card, which you can purchase at the front desk). A bit calmer environment, with a peaceful courtyard, full kitchen for cooking needs, internet, dining room, etc. etc. It just has a great vibe there, and the travelers are mostly European (so way cooler than us loud-mouthed Americans).

Camping: For those who are interested in going on the cheap, we camped at Craigieburn Shelter for the duration of our stay. This spot is accessed by driving out from Christchurch (see Getting There below). Just drive about 10k past where the climbing is and you'll see a turnoff labled 'Craigieburn Shelter'. Everyone warns you not to leave your tents up, but we did. We were just careful to find a spot off the road at the shelter. The main reason for the warnings though is because of the resident Kea birds. We battled this destructive prankster with hard plastic food bins, but still endured early morning foraging, and some chewed up camp chairs. Check online for info on this dastardly parrot, but don't think about killing it; it's protected! You'll grow to love them as much as you hate them, the cheeky bastards. However, if you do get all your stuff stolen, I take no responsibility. This is a 'Do At Your Own Risk' option.

Nonetheless, it's free, and they have a toilet and the aforementioned shelter for hanging out in and cooking.

Shopping: If you are staying for at least a month or so you will be cooking to stay on a budget. Here are your best options:

Four Squares in Darfield: This small grocery is located between Christchurch and Castle Hill. If you don't fancy driving the whole way and only need a few things this place will serve you well. Look for 'Pams' label brand as this is the generic 'cheap' brand (Pams Nutella ripoff rules!). Additionally do NOT miss the Darfield Bakery for anything on their menu. Delicious and priced reasonably.

Pak N' Sav in Christchurch: The mega-shopping mart. There are actually 2 in Christchurch, but the easiest one to hit up is the one on Riccerton since that is the road you end up on when you go straight into Christchurch from Castle Hill. They have everything you need, including the aforementioned Pam's brand items. Don't forget to go on Tuesdays, as everything in Christchurch is cheaper on Tuesdays (well, most things, including the cinemas).

Getting There: Likely you will fly into Christchurch to get to Castle Hill. If you are renting a car and driving straight out from the airport you will head south on Russley Road (Rt 1) and then hang a right heading west on Yaldhurst, which becomes 73. You will reach Spittle and Quantum first in about an hour. Those crags are accessed easily by a pullout on the side of the road with a double gate area (there is an informational plaque there as well to read). Flock Hill and Dry Valley are accessed via the Cave Stream pullout about 3-4 more kilometers up the road on the right.

Well, that's about it for the bare-bones info. If anyone has anymore questions about going about climbing in Castle Hill that the vast powers of the Interweb can't solve, then feel free to post a comment and I'll include relevant info into the main body here.
So, this is a destination well worth checking out. The possibilities are endless and the climbing will both humble and titillate. One of the top 5 spots in the world I've been to, so go give it a go!



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