|Our Really Big Adventure|
Golden Bay - Takaka
Hang Dog A Camp for Climbers
At 5 foot 8 with a deep lined face, pasty skin and long unkempt grey hair, Willie doesnt look like a climbing legend. But beneath the darting eyes and distracted gaze lies a passion for the vertical that has brought him all the way across the world from grey-skied Ireland to little known but aptly named Golden Bay in New Zealand. Once a back water of climbing, Willie has been key in creating what is now a climbing Mecca, not only new routing, but bolting, rebolting, and running a campsite solely for those that have come to sample the classics. Willie is as much a part of the climbing folklore of the region as its overhanging behemoths.
To call Hang Dog a camp would be like calling your home a house, because that is what Hang Dog is a home, a home for climbers. Despite being $US2 shy of free, the facilities were great, flushing toilet with paper, refrigerator, showers, cooking area, shelter from the rain and the most amazing swimming hole across the road in the river. In summers the Hang Dog Camp is full to overflowing, and desperate cashless climbers bivvy down by the river waiting for one of the 20 bunk beds or 30 tent sites to free up. Not being summer we were the only campers with another 4 in the bunkhouse.
The Swimming Hole
Spring isnt the ideal time for the swimming hole either, but brimming with enthusiasm after our first days climbing I let Sean (a fellow Hang Dog resident) convince me. Barbara decided it was too cold for a swim but shed bring along her suit just in case. Down by the river Sean quickly waded, trousers rolled to his knees, to a ledge lining our side of the river. The ledge was wet and slippery and had a roof at waist height. Looking at Sean crawling barefoot across it and his occasional slips averted by lightening climbing reflexes I decided that perhaps it would be a better idea to change into my togs before attempting the traverse.
Leaving Barbara behind I waded into the Baltic waters and started crawling along the slime-covered ledge with my now numb feet. It certainly felt precarious and only luck saved me from an early dip. After five minutes of pushing my luck the ledge widened and heightened and there was Sean doing Tarzan impressions out over the river on a rope swing. It was absolutely idyllic, but the current seemed a bit fast, not to mention cold, for safe swimming. I reckon its best if we leave it today, he shouted at me while swinging out over the river, The rains of the last few days have swollen it too much. I eagerly agreed.
Suddenly we heard a shriek from behind us and we crouched down to look back along the ledge. Barbara was in the water, arms flailing with great splashes. She had decided to follow us and had slipped on the slime, falling unceremoniously into the water. The freezing water seized her muscles and, much to our amusement, each effort to clamber back onto the ledge resulted in failure. Eventually, almost paralysed with cold and laughing hysterically, she gave up and waded back to the bank. She was less than impressed when we came back bone dry.
The Mussel Inn
If there is one thing that New Zealand doesnt excel in its pubs, and we had been in some truly awful swill houses. Excuse our snobbery but we simply dont find fluorescent lit, characterless square rooms with pokies blaring in the corner the most pleasant places to enjoy the company of friends. So it was with some degree of delight that we learnt that New Zealands best pub, the Mussel Inn, was just 30 kilometres out of town. Eager to wallow in every climbers right of exaggerated tales of might, we designated a driver and headed out for the night.
Possums may be endangered in their native Australia but as a predatorless introduced species in New Zealand they have run rampant, destroying crops and all but wiping out New Zealands native flightless birds. Anti-possum feeling runs high but it still came as a surprise to us when the first thing we noticed in the Mussel Inn was the black board, which read Free beer with every possum tail! Underlined and in bolder chalk was Tails must be fresh.
Later that night as our designated driver drove us home two tiny cats eyes appeared in the middle of road, where no cat eyes should have been, quickly followed by a sickening crunch and an even more sickening feeling that if only this had happened on the way to the pub wed either be 4 dollars better off or one beer drunker.
Takaka has something for every climber and like most of literally minded New Zealand the names tell the tale. Not being the strongest we were keener on the more timidly named areas such as Little Lost Wall than the more brutish Wall of Thugs. However, the last few days rain and subsequent seepage meant that Cathedral Rock by the sea was our best bet for dry cliff.
The climbing was superb and one day easily led into another. Our original short visit to Golden Bay was extended and then extended again until the inflexibility of ferry tickets to the North Island forced departure. Long routes at our grade meant we quickly returned to the best of our form and we were thrilled with our progress. After 6 days on the rock I was climbing a full two grades above when I arrived and Barbara was back to leading with some degree of confidence. We finished our time on Takaka dreaming of buying a holiday home nestled among rocks just a stones throw from the sea.