New Zealand’s South Island is a vast and varied place. I was based predominantly from Wanaka for the summer season, a sprawling town on the edge of the mountains and on the shore of Lake Wanaka. With its varied landscape and ease of access to the hills, I found that I could be paragliding in the morning, climbing all afternoon and downhill biking in the evening.
With such a varied array of adventure sports on offer, it's difficult to concentrate on just one, but I was here to enjoy the climbing and mountaineering above all else. Whilst New Zealand's climbing is something of a poor brother to that found in neighbouring Australia, there are still some excellent routes to be found, and what it lacks in quality it certainly makes up for in adventure. The alpine rock is generally loose and adventurous, but down in the Darran mountains the granite is pristine, though often difficult to access.
For a country that sees its population almost double every summer from tourism, it’s surprising just how quiet the mountains are. Mount Cook village, around which the highest mountains are concentrated, is a tourist hub, but away from the main treks and glacial lakes, the mountains are quiet. Aoraki, at 3,724m, is the highest mountain in New Zealand and it was one of the turning points for Sir Edmund Hillary’s career as a mountaineer. Alpinists nowadays have a slightly shorter journey to its summit than Sir Ed after a 1991 rockfall and subsequent thaw saw the mountain lose 30m in height!
One of the reasons for how quiet the mountains are is their inaccessibility. Travel into the heart of the mountains has become increasingly difficult due to rapid glacial recession. The lower section of some glaciers have become impassable, whilst the boulder-strewn moraine slopes can be too unstable and steep to bypass. It has become the norm for teams to use a short helicopter flight to access the mountains and un-manned mountains huts – costing both money and adding to a sense of commitment if the weather prevents the return helicopter journey as planned. Adding to this is the lack of phone signal; for communication from the mountains, you'll need to carry either a satellite phone or an emergency beacon.