An Underground Adventure // Castle Hill & Cave Stream (NZ)

Welcome to the geological playground. Climb and explore the fascinating rock formations that litter Castle Hill, then embark on an underground adventure through Cave Stream. New Zealand local Ian Middleton is your guide for this quintessential and truly stunning part of the South Island.


This is my ‘go-to’ when people come to visit. I think it embodies everything New Zealand is famous for; mountain views, outdoor activities and adventure. Granted, The Lord of the Rings wasn’t shot here, but the Narnia film was, if that’s any consolation.

Highlights

  • Unique rock formations
  • Thousands of bouldering routes
  • Epic landscapes
  • Caving adventures through a 600m long tunnel.

castle hill, ian middleton, south island, new zealand, climbing, boulders

Hit The Rocks

I’m not really one for fantastical adjectives when it comes to descriptions. Some places are good. Some are awesome. Some are not so awesome.

However, the closest I’ve been to somewhere that invoked those ‘special feelings’ was Castle Hill. The interesting, smooth formations appear out of nowhere, as if a careless higher power left the rocks there to deal with at a late date and never got ’round to it.

You’re free to explore over, under and through the formations and despite its popularity with tourists and climbers, the area is large enough to provide a constant sense of discovery.

To jazz up the trip even further, bring along some climbing gear and get bouldering. Guide books do exist, but due to the size of the place, I’ve never been able to work out where I am, let alone determine a route that might be within my grade.

It’s far more entertaining to just mess around and challenge your mates to ridiculous problems. There are some bolted routes too for the sport climbers among you, but finding the anchors to set up top ropes provides a whole new set of issues.

Whether you’re bouldering, sport climbing or just having a picnic, it’s just an awesome place to be and spend some time. I’ll stop short of referring to it as a wondrous, spiritual refuge that brings you a step closer to being one with the universe – the grunting, topless boulderers have been known to kill the ambiance somewhat – but let’s just say it’s really good.

If you’re lucky you may even spot some slackliners perilously traversing between two of the huge pillars that greet you as you walk in from the car park.

cave stream, castle hill, ian middleton, south island, new zealand, caving, entrance

Head Down Under

If you feel the trip could still do with a bit more jazz, then pop over to Cave Stream, located five minutes down the road.

The Kiwis have never been overly imaginative with their naming system – e.g. North & South Island (and yes I am aware that they were named by British explores, but that fact undermines the proceeding joke), and Cave Stream is no different; it’s a stream, which runs through a cave.

Although the cave may not look overly inviting on first inspection, it provides a perfect level of excitement and adventure without having to leave your comfort zone. It usually takes less than an hour to amble your way through, and you conveniently emerge a five minute walk away from where you parked.

It’s a great example of the freedom New Zealand offers for budding explorers. There are no guides, no payment booths, and no velvet ropes restricting access. There is however a hazard warning board when you arrive. The rest is up to you.

Check the weather before you go, be mindful of the abilities within the group and go and have a great time.

cave stream, castle hill, ian middleton, south island, new zealand, caving

Essential Gear

  • Bouldering / Sport climbing gear
  • Strolling gear including food and water (there are toilets but no other services)
  • For Cave Stream – head torches, warm clothes, wet suits if it’s winter or autumn. The water level isn’t normally much deeper than waist level; however it can have some force behind it at times. Some climbing up and over things is also required.

How To Get There

From Christchurch, head towards the west coast via Route 73. Castle Hill will appear on the left not long after Porters Ski Field. Cave Stream is a little further on, just past Mt Cheeseman Ski Field.

Activities

  • Walking
  • Climbing
  • Caving

Skill Level

Strolling around Castle Hill: Low

Climbing at Castle Hill: Moderate

Cave Stream: Moderate


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