For Visiting Climbers

Adventure

 

Here is an account form a visiting climber describing his experiences in New Zealand, it's fairly typical of the feedback we get.

Kelly writes - “I've never been outside of the United States other than short trips to our friendly neighbours up north, Canada. To travel overseas for me was something I had dreamed of since childhood. As I got older became addicted to climbing (which I'm sure if you're reading this right now you are also hooked on it), my dream of travelling the world grew stronger and became more of a reality, as did my dream of climbing around the world.

I saved a little money for my trip working as a bartender during University. In the states, bartenders can make a reasonable amount of money in tips. Europeans shudder at the thought of this kind of work. I got a large glass jar from work, wrapped it with climbing tape and wrote the words "The Cause" in big black letters on the side. When I returned from work each night, I split a little cash from my tips and threw it in the jar saying all the while, "to the cause baby." "The Cause" became my dream to climb all over the world.

In order to get into climbing, I discovered I had to teach myself and seek out partners more experienced than me. Since I did not know too many people with substantial experience, it took me a few years to locate partners willing to teach me and climb with me. I was never surrounded by climbers growing up, and it wasn't until my roommate at school taught me his own basic knowledge of top roping at a local crag that I had the opportunity to pull on rock. I quickly became addicted. As I learned to climb on my own, it was time to learn to travel the world on my own!

Unaware how quickly it would take me to meet other climbers along the way, I packed my sport rack, harness, shoes, a few clothes, a camera and bought a ticket around the world thanks to three years devoted to "The Cause," and a little extra love from mom and dad.
First climbing destination, New Zealand. First stop, Auckland. As a climber, flying into Auckland can be intimidating. Auckland is New Zealand's largest city. Crowded and busy, it was like being right back in Seattle, but this time I was not a local. The huge hostel I checked into was an over-crowded shopping mall of backpackers' buying or selling cars, booking tour buses, or just passing through. So where do I start?

I went to four outdoor shops downtown Auckland hoping to pick up some gear and collect some beta on the climbing in New Zealand. As you can imagine at any outdoor store in the heart of a city, the sales lady didn't know the difference between a quick draw and a carabineer, let alone climbing spots or any other information about climbing.
Giving up on the stores, I headed to a local indoor gym hoping to meet fellow climbers who could point me in the right direction. I know what you're thinking - indoor gym in the middle of the city equals gym rats that get outside once or twice a century. Well you're right, and Auckland is no different. All the climbers I had talked to hadn't even been on the south island of their own country, but they guaranteed me there was great climbing on both islands.
I gave up on the indoor gym after a conversation with a strong looking middle aged man who had just flashed a tough overhung route.

"So where do you suggest I start a climbing trip around New Zealand?" I asked.
"There's great climbing on the north island and heaps of climbing on the south," he said.
"Could you recommend some good crags to start at?" I asked.
"Well I don't climb outside too often," he answered uncomfortably. "And I've never climbed on the south island." "Thanks!" I said on my way out the door with an annoyed tone. What now? Where do I go - north, south, east or west? Luckily at university I was an attentive journalism major with a focus in climbing, bars and all other stereotypical student behaviour, so I thought to do a little research before I left.

I ran across the "Climb New Zealand" web site browsing the Internet back home and began emailing Steve Riddell the diligent IT consultant/climber who works his ass off to keep the site updated. Steve had given me his phone number probably thinking I wouldn't call. Me being a determined climber, I called Steve right away and we quickly began talking like we had known each other for years, though we had never spoken to one another and only exchanged emails a few times. Let me backtrack here. Steve's reaction to a random guy from the states (probably the most disrespected country in the world) is just an example of the hospitality and friendliness of New Zealanders. Not only was he friendly to me (the random, pushy U.S. guy), he made a break in his schedule to meet me for lunch and picked up the tab. Steve fed me with the beta I had so desperately and frantically been looking for. When I asked where to start, he answered me with three words that began my most memorable and awesome New Zealand climbing trip, "Go to Bryce's!" 

Bryce's is a climbing hostel just two hours south of Auckland smack dab in the middle of the north island and some of New Zealand's best rock climbing crags. Steve told me Bryce had a nice hostel, indoor boulder cave with free guest use, full menu cafe and fully stocked gear shop all in all for only $15NZ pp per night. Perfect, I thought. I've got a destination. After lunch I thanked Steve and headed straight to Bryce's, more than happy to get away from the chaos of the city. 

I drove two hours through farmland and beautiful, green rolling hills. It seemed I had been warped into Bilbo Baggins' hometown of Hobbiton from the movie Lord of the Rings. In fact, I had, since the movie was filmed all over New Zealand and I discovered the actual Hobbiton was only an hour away. Go figure. I soon began to worry I was lost until I turned a blind corner and literally in the middle of nowhere stood the sign, "Bryce's Café".

As most rock climbers do, I arrived later than planned and the sign on the cafe door read "closed." While peering through the window, an overly energetic man with a rugged climber look leaped over the front counter, pulled the door open and flung his hand out in front of me to invite me in faster than I had a chance to say hello. I was shaking hands with a 54-year-old man with the body a 25-year-old climber dreams about. I had to catch my breath when I walked through the door. Two hours from any decent outdoor store, and on the walls in front of me hung more climbing gear, guides and accessories than I had ever seen in some of the states biggest climbing stores. Bryce has everything a climber could ever want and things most climbers have never seen. His competitive prices are incredible, and cheaper than Auckland. 

Bryce's also has a full menu cafe with an inviting feel to it. The large wooden deck and eye pleasing wood panelled floor present a relaxed, welcoming environment. If you're on a real holiday (basically, willing to spend extra money) sitting on the large front deck in the morning sun with a breakfast and espresso menu that competes with any big city restaurant will get the fast pace city out of you. I watch people stroll through the cafe browsing the climbing accessories (indoor holds, clothes, ropes, guides, etc), and they all seem to stop at the wall in the back corner. The wall is filled with pictures featuring Bryce himself during the past 30 years leading 25 (5.12b) traditional routes. Next to the collage of pictures is Bryce's personal and donated gear museum with retired pieces from the 60's and 70's. Hell, looking at some of the shit they were using as pros back then freaks me out. I'm talking about hollow metal pipes they drilled holes in themselves, and wrapped slings through to place in cracks - ya, dodgy. I had not just entered any hospitable and cozy hostel, but a climbing museum run by a local legend.

Eyes wide open staring at gear paradise thinking this place couldn't get any better; I followed Bryce to the next surprise. He led me through the cafe, and we passed through a large wooden door. I immediately felt like a kid let loose in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory! In the back of the cafe attached to the hostels spacious kitchen and lounge area is a two car garage sized boulder cave. The cave is blanketed with quality holds with some type of mark next to them labelling a route or problem. Immediately I could tell these are serious problems set by strong and keen climbers. 

Let me break down this cave for you real quick. You could spend a year in this cave and not have all the routes dialled in, unless you're Chris Sharma or David Graham. And I'm not talking about three to four move problems. Each problem starts on a new corner of the cave and circles around the room, heads up the overhang, and ends on the ceiling with some crazy two-handed dead hang. And if you're a freak dyno person, he's even got a set-up to rate, compete and extend vertical dynos; usually others will put on their helmets and strap boulder mates to their chest in order to protect you and themselves.

But moving on. Though the cave is great, I wasn't here to pull on plastic. I wanted to get on some real rock. No problem! Bryce's personal knowledge of New Zealand climbing extends back 30 years. The next day, Bryce personally escorted my partner and I to the recently developed crag Waipapa. It is surrounded by beautiful bush, which offers good protection from the hot sun and cooling river to jump into after a full day on the rock. Within three days, I had climbed my fingers raw and muscles torn. As I sat down for dinner, I browsed through a choice of climbing magazines dating back ten to twenty years piled on the shelves in the lounge then made my way to the usual hostel visitors comment books. It was no surprise to me to read inserts like the one form Meghan Beriault of Squamish Canada who said, "Fantastic climbing, hospitality, generosity, and good company. Thanks for everything - and most of all the laughter and fun! Come visit us and climb Squamish."

Reading through many other similar comments from past climbers, I looked around the room and began to feel just what Meghan must have felt. I became close with five other over seas climbers also staying at Bryce's within three days, who I continued my climbing adventure with throughout the rest of New Zealand. Byrce himself, his family and his shop made the transition to New Zealand Climbing fun, realizing and easy.

While staying with Bryce, you have great access to the local guide books, from five minutes to an hour away. If you've been climbing hard for a few days straight and your body is demanding a rest day, you can find plenty to do close by. The backpacker towns of Rotorua and Taupo are only an hour away, and the always adventuresome Black Water Rafting is just 20 minutes away. If surfing is a side hobby, then Raglan, one of the world's best surf beaches is also only an hour away. "Only an hour away," becomes the common phrase among visitors. Bryce's is strategically placed within spitting distance of the North Island's best climbs and an hour away from civilization and tourist activities. You can leave and do these trip in a couple of days returning to Bryce's to climb and prepare for your next adventure, or you can make most trips in one day and return to Bryce's of the usual late night bouldering and beers.

Bryce's makes for a great base and start for a climbing trip around New Zealand. If you decide to take an excursion around the islands but plan on returning, Bryce will happily hold packages and faxes for you, and the cafe also has access to Internet and email. 
If you're "that guy or girl" travelling by yourself, you'll have no problem finding others to climb with, hitch a ride with and crack a beer with at the end of a day. The amount of overseas climbers passing through Bryce's gives you a chance to meet people from all over the world and locals, and you'll have no problem getting up to date beta for climbing all over New Zealand. 
Easy bus access can be found from Auckland to Te Awamutu, which is only 15 minutes from Bryce's. From Te Awamutu, you can easily hitchhike, especially if you sport your climbing shoes and/or rope on your pack. If hitchhiking isn't your thing, which is a bit strange if you're a climber, give Bryce a call and he'll be glad to pick you up - unless he's in the middle of a bouldering sesson witht the other guests. 

Also, an exciting new development of routes and crags around Bryce's are springing up in the area and has local climbers excited about the area. The serene wooded walls of Waipapa offer long, hard sport routes only a few meters from sustained cracks, which take bomber pro. This past summer, a number of local climbers have been spending a considerable amount of time rebolting, cleaning and setting new routes. Bryce himself has a few surprises hidden up his sleeve.
And with that, I suggest when planning a climbing trip to New Zealand, to heed the simple words of Steve Riddell, "GO TO BRYCE'S!"

 

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Ó Copyright Steven Riddell 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 & 2003.