Exploring the Banks Peninsula

I heard a dog bark.  I heard its humans laughing and chatting.  I opened my eyes and remembered that I was sleeping on a bridge, on a walking track, somewhere in suburbia.

The first 12 hours in New Zealand hadn’t exactly gone to plan.

We had touched down in Christchurch late on Christmas Eve.  Everything was closed.  We were hungry, we had no idea where we were supposed to collect our hire car or where we would sleep that night (more on that here).

Luckily the dog and its humans were on the opposite side of the valley to us and our impromptu bivvy.  Regardless, we decided it was time to pack up before we got trampled by a suburban mum on her morning run.

I’m happy to report that the next 48 hours unfolded much more smoothly.  We found much needed groceries and coffee in the town of Redcliffe. We explored the beach, then jumped back in the car, bound for the Banks Peninsula.

Aerial views of this place are awesome. I want to say that the whole thing is an extinct volcano.  Google tells me that the geology is a little more complicated than that, but there was definitely a lot of volcanic activity there a few million years ago and that’s enough for me.

Looking into an old volcano.  From a pub. With pizza and beer.

The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa is beautiful.  You wind through deep valleys that you can ski down in the winter then wander up through bright green farmland.  After lots of twisting and turning, the road finds its way to a place called the Hilltop Tavern.

This place serves local beer, tasty woodfired pizza and epic views.

While I was there, I made a new friend.  I ate pizza, he ate grass.  I scratched his ears, he stole my pizza. We took some selfies. We bonded.

From our table at the pub, we could see a skinny spit of land jutting out into the impossibly blue water.

“Wanna check it out?”
“Bye goat!”

We wound our way down the hill towards the Onawe peninsula and headed off along the rail.  Check out this trail and some other great day walks here.

We scrambled up and down the crumbly orange rocks.  We kept walking up and over the grassy hill that we had spied from the pub over lunch.  We wished we’d taken some sunscreen. When we reached the top of the hill,  an enormous cruise ship appeared on the horizon.  It was powering away from us on its way back to the sea.

We got back to the car and opened up our trusty climbing guidebook.  There was a crag called The Altar listed in there.  It seemed to have good views and a nice range of grades.  By the time we arrived, the sun was beating down.  I’m sure the hole in the ozone layer is even worse in NZ than it is here in Oz.

We reached the crag and realised that it was far too hot to climb anything.  We clipped the fly of our tent to the first bolts of a few overhanging climbs and settled in for a nap.

Things didn’t really cool down until the sun went down.  At that point we dismantled our makeshift sun shade, cooked dinner and enjoyed the sunset.

The crag is in the shade all morning, so we got a bunch of awesome climbing in.  The routes at this place are short, but they’re full of interesting moves.  Weird bridging, strenuous mantles and smeary slabby goodness are all squeezed into 10 or 12 metres.  The grades range from 17 to 32.

Our plans to climb as much of the crag  as possible took a big hit at one point in the morning.  While I was leading one of the 17s, I managed to get the leg loop on my harness caught through a quickdraw that I’d just clipped to the second or third bolt.  I swear this was the only blank section on an otherwise juggy climb, with good stances to clip from.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to untangle myself.  A very patient Dirtbagjens grinned up at me mischievously more than once and repeated ‘you’ll figure something out eventually’. Eventually logic prevailed over frustration and the urge to throw a tantrum of epic proportions.   I managed to lower myself onto my purcell prusik, adjusted it to the right length and deconstructed the leg-loop-quick-draw fiasco.

We powered up a few more routes.  The sun slowly crept up the valley toward us.

Climbing gave way to a bunch of swinging silhouette shenanigans.

The burning sun finally reached our little patch of rock. The time had come to open up the guidebook again and find a new crag somewhere further south.


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