By tombelgrano, 15 October 2010
Mangaokewa first appeared to me on my local gym’s notice board as a collection of promising but ill-defined photos ofoutrageous, steep lines captioned as ‘The Paynes Ford of the North Island’. Twoyears on after an amazing effort of development, both of access and routes, the only change is the sharper definition, an abbreviated name and that auspicious tagline rings dangerously close to the truth.
Returning briefly to the development effort, at my count, around 115 lines have gone up at Kewa, given just over two years that works out to a route per week of sustained cleaning, bolting and first ascents. Besides the ‘task’ of putting up lines on virgin rock, the Kewa crew have secured access, built tracks and platforms, tumbled rocks, fixed access lines and written a guide book (available at freeclimb.co.nz), cheers! Routes range from the Tom John’s classic 15, French Ethics to Matt Natti’s celebrated roof climb, Prokarstination, 22 to Ivan Vostinar’s amazing line, Ikarus, 29. The best thing is walking past steep, grubby lines and realising how much great climbing has yet to go up at this place!
Mangaokewa’s steep faces, big holds, bricky face work, all-weather, roof sheltered routes and colossal flowstone formations are all the product of its geology: Limestone. Much of New Zealand’s limestone, inclusive of Mangaotaki’s mixed multi-pitch outings, the Airstrip and Castle Hill’s stunted yet distilled climbs, as well as Takaka’s infamous, sporty offerings are the product of New Zealand’s inundation during the Oligocene,approximately thirty million years ago. During this rather damp time enough calcareous sediment filled our basins to give us limestone units hundreds of metres thick. Excellent. Like most of New Zealand’s crags, plate tectonics provided the vertical component and weathering and erosion exposed climbable faces at Kewa.The soluble nature of limestone, in a relatively short time resulted in somebits of stone being moved to other bits and reappearing as stalactites and such.
Trimester 2 Rockcraft started with the inevitable and musically mottled drive up from Wellington, playing Matt Natti’s game, ‘You can come on my camping trip’, I’d learnt holed up in the Cragieburn shelter a few summers back. Luckily everyone brought apples, spoons and the Mississippi river so there were no problems.
At this point its worth describing the camping, its free, there are flush toilets, a river, BBQs, awesome, but its also a hangout for some of Te Kuiti’s more questionable inhabitants, generally harmless, but there has been at least one incident of car vandalism and theft (from the cars, not of the cars). Keep an ear out for your car alarm while climbing and have a phone handy, hint: you can survey the carpark from the top of Punk Rockers.
The crag is roughly split into two tiers, the second, upper tier being generally steep and well featured, providing aroof over the easier angled routes of the lower tier. Some climbs are done in pitches, but a few routes or small via ferratas access most of the upper tier climbs.
Our group of eleven ranged from beginner top ropers to leaders climbing moderate grades outside. Some more experienced climbers ogled the guide, paired off and skipped to the warm up routes while Itook the newbies and ran through double bolt belay skills and at the excellent practice bolts at the bottom of Skolzinseshin in the Colesseum. The day was spent in the vicinity toproping Skolzinseshin, 15, French Ethics, 15 and Dogomatrix 17, all enjoyable for the beginner with a few gym routes of similar grades under their belt and always all dry. A few of the stronger climbers aimed for the nice looking moderate routes, both Jukka and I climbed a great 23 called Moonshine, a great,bouldery, somewhat soft route for the grade. Charli managed to redpoint When Cavers Go Climbing, 21, a great, dry route in the Colesseum, with an even better extension at the same grade into the roof finishing on a gigantic, rather phallic, curved stalactite.
As the light faded, home brews were brought up to the 2nd tier and Me, Jukka, Charli and Stewart had a play on Prokarstination, 22, a super classic juggy roof-blocky headwall combination. No pressure, just trying to get some good shots, having a laugh, Jukka sporting aroguish moustache and braces. This relaxed atmosphere saw everyone climbing much harder than they expected for the final climb of the day; I whipped after throwing for the final jug, and Jukka got almost as close! The combination of the sunset, lack of commitment due to the fixed draws, great rock, and no expectations to send made for an amazing experience that would rank as one of my best in climbing. The yummy albeit fizzy pilsner after lowering off made it all the sweeter.
An exciting descent to the car park withone torch between four reinforced the ‘always bring your head torch’ adage butdid afford us some special moments with the local glow worms and a shriekingmorepork down valley. The evening brought copious amounts of macaroni cheese,nachos and once the billies were clean, some tasty, spicy, warming gluwein,Dankeschön Deutschen.
After rehydrating till I felt like Aquaman (but not to the point of total uselessness), the next day went much the same, except it was exciting to see new climbers try leading their top rope successes from the day before, nothing like having to do it right to learn how to do it right. Some of the stronger climbers got in ascents such as Bolting 101, 20, a boulder problem up a sharp arête, One, Two Skip a Few, 21 a great intro to the grade for more powerful climbers, Angry American, 18, a great, depending how you look at it, flowstone climb. I had a go on Teonactal, 23 at the end of the day, finding some truly awesome moves on unique features, my pick of the Crag.
We packed up the car in the blazing sunshine listening to some Ice Cube, sinking back some more home brew (not thedriver), and set off for the pleasant drive home. I managed to trick to my self into thinking it was Summer and the next crag, the next projects, awaited the end of thedrive; having to avert my eyes from the Interislander when we pulled around into Port Nicholson. From my sofa on Tinakori Road I can still see that boat and daydream about the greener grass, but now I do so with a little comfort that the grass ain’t so bad in my own back yard. Between Whakapapa, Kewa and Lake Taupo’s crags we actually have a lot of bitchin’ climbing! But for now, Kewa is my destination of choice, what are you waiting for?