Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Kiwi 'Kewa by Karen Varga

Beach 1.5 hours drive from Mangaokewa crag
I love New Zealand, but unfortunately I gotta say, don't live on the North Island if you're a sport climber! From what I've heard and researched, the South Island is the better spot to be climbing. The North Island has a few crags, mostly dotted around the centre, with some interesting climbing, but I think if I lived here I would run out of stuff to do pretty quickly.

I gathered some crag advice off the forum, with a few locals giving me key bits of info regarding rock type and accommodation/camping. They also pointed me to an awesome online crag guide site ( which has free downloadable PDF files for pretty much all the north island sport crags!

Our plan was to first try out the crags around Wharepapa South for a few days, and then head over to Mangaokewa crag for a couple more days (unfortunately we didn't all have that much time, hence not getting down to the South Island either).

"The Colosseum" sector, Mangaokewa
Wharepapa South is situated fairly central, about 2 hours drive south of Auckland. The rock is described by locals to be very sharp, but we never got to sample it ourselves.  Contrary to the details given on their website (… your hosts Bryce and Wendy Martin will make you feel at home and their knowledge of this premium climbing area is second to none …), we found Bryce to be rather off-ish and very vague with his information. The campsite turned out to be a small corner of grass on the school grounds, with the facilities less than desirable. The thought of waking up to a school yard full of kids was not quite our idea of enjoyable camping so we ditched that idea. There was the option of wild camping closer to the crag, but unfortunately there was no drinking water supply nearby and we only had two 1 litre bottles with us so it wasn't possible for us to do that either. In the end we decided this place just wasn't speaking to us and we jumped back in the car and continued on south for another hour to Mangaokewa.

'Kewa campsite
Quite the opposite of Wharepapa South, we were immediately smitten with Mangaokewa campsite. It's nestled in a small valley with low lying hills all around and a stream running through. It's a beautifully kept campsite with lots of grassy flat sites, trees, wooden table and chairs and BBQs, and it's totally free! There are no showers, but there are toilets and sink which are cleaned every day, and there is the stream for washing in :)

Washing in the stream :)

Enjoying the morning sunrays
The limestone tuffa'd rock peeks out of the trees along one hillside but it turned out that all of the decent climbing is actually on a lower tier hidden from view behind the trees. We went to the upper tier one day but the rock was extremely crumbly and I didn't have much confidence in the bolts holding.

The majority of the climbing on the lower tier is vert, or just slightly off vertical (20-30 degrees) with small slopey crimps. Since vert and slopers are my biggest weaknesses this crag certainly turned out to be a challenge for me. There are a few roof-overhung routes which are good fun, but literally just a handful of them.  Nevertheless, 'Kewa is the main (one and only) overhanging rock crag on the North Island.  The routes are pretty short, averaging about 6-8 meters, with very hard bouldery moves. The number of routes was limited - the guide book shows a lot more but many of them, especially those in the lower grade range, are overgrown, dirty and very clearly haven't been climbed in a long time. The routes that are climbed were all very enjoyable, some of them definitely top scorers. But after 4 days I had pretty much done all the climbable (non-dodgy/clean) routes below 7a, and I could count on my fingers the number of routes above 7a. The highest grade route is a 7c+.

Fire every night!
On the weekend lots of locals (mostly Aucklanders but also a few from other spots) joined us and were very friendly. The town Te Kuiti is only 5 mins drive from the campsite and has everything you need to stock up (supermarket and liquor store :).  I'd certainly recommend 'Kewa if you're in the area, especially if you climbing around 7b-7c as then you'll have enough variety to keep you entertained for a week or so (however if you're flashing or onsighting these grades then you'll probably run out of stuff within a matter of days).

Unfortunately we didn't get to sample any of the other North Island crags, but there is good info on the freeclimb website, and the locals on the forum of were super helpful.

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