Endless BouldersThe Castle Hill Basin is located in the Canterbury high country of New Zealand’s South Island at an altitude of some 700m, between the Torlesse and Craigieburn mountain ranges, approximately 90km northwest of Christchurch. It is home to an otherworldly landscape of perfect limestone cliffs and boulders, which as you might guess, are something of an attraction for climbers and boulderers. The area is home to enough high quality, interesting routes and problems to last several lifetimes, and it’s probably safe to say that to climb here is an experience like no other. The rock faces are intriguingly Spartan and as such, smears, slopers, mantles and balancy climbing are de rigour. Owing to the nature of the rock, protection by conventional means is largely impossible, so most routes have been bolted to varying degrees of quality.
As if the sheer quantity and quality of the climbing weren’t enough, the basin also has what must be one of the best micro-climates in the world – it almost never rains here and it’s almost entirely sheltered from the prevailing winds. Climbing therefore, takes place throughout the year; in summer it gets very hot and the friction is slightly reduced, winters are cold but the friction is to die for, while spring and autumn offer a happy medium between the two. Whatever time of year you go, it isn’t hard to tailor your day to local conditions; in summer find somewhere shady to hang out and avoid being out around midday, and in winter, get up later and seek the sun. Just remember to pack the Factor 30; this is an ozone free zone you know.
To aid legibility, the basin has been split into several different subareas – Spittle Hill, The Quantum Field, The Dark Castle and Wuthering Heights are all centred around the Castle Hill Station, and the main car park. A little further up the valley is Flock Hill and The Dry Valley, which are centred around the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve car park. With the exception of a small area around the car park, which is owned by the Department of Conservation, access is currently banned from the latter two areas. It is hoped that in the near future this situation will change. Of these subareas, the Quantum Field is by far the most popular and exploration to date has yielded over 3,000 routes and problems, with no sign of letting up just yet. The New Zealand Alpine Club has produced a couple of guidebooks that cover the basin with varying degrees of detail while more specific guides are available locally. Christchurch has a number of outdoor shops with good stocks of guidebooks on sale.
Staying in the area is reasonably inexpensive. Camping at Castle Hill itself is not permitted, but there is free camping available in the forest a little further up the road. Those wanting a few more facilities will find camping, a bunkhouse and motel type accommodation at the Flock Hill Resort and there are a few B&Bs in Castle Hill Village. If you run out of food, Flock Hill Resort also has a small bar and restaurant. There aren’t any fuel stations in the area so make sure you fill up before embarking on your journey.
Unfortunately I only got to spend a day in this wonderful area and so didn’t get to explore it as much as I would have liked. Therefore, I’m not able to create a descent mountain/rock type page for SP, but leave you with this more basic album instead. Finally, I’d like to recommend a couple of routes; check out On Some Faraway Beach (16) on the western edge of the Quantum Field, and Tales from the Riverbank (17) at Spittle Hill, both are fun and varied mid-grade routes, which well deserve their classic three star status.
If you have any of your own Castle Hill photos please share them with us by attaching them to this album.