Pancake Rocks & Castle Hill: Week 85

After two weeks of farm work, Barret and I were ready to rest our rash-covered forearms and what better way to relax than by looking at rocks? They’re certainly easier on the eyes than severed lamb tails. The South Island has lots of rocks, so make sure you pick the best when you’re ready for some vacation time.

The first site worth visiting is not only 30 million years old, but it also has ocean front property. The spectacular Pancake Rocks look even better than they sound (and probably better than they taste too). The namesake layered appearance is due alternating soft and hard layers, however that works. Apparently a detailed explanation was too long for the informational sign. What I do know is that the blowholes make the limestone rocks even cooler. If your visit coincides with high tide, huge spurts burst out of the rocks as if a whale were trapped below.

Since Barret and I didn’t wake up by 6AM, we missed the most active time. However, as we walked down a staircase fit for a life-size sandcastle, we saw an explosion of white foamy mist. It was the last big burst of the morning and, just before it dissipated, it looked like a bridal veil suspended in the breeze.

Further inland is Castle Hill, which as you might guess, sits upon a hill. Not even a king could have picked a more beautiful location though. The group of enormous boulders overlook a vast tussock and pasture-covered valley. With the exception of a few homes and working farms, the terrain was as open as the sky.

The tertiary limestone boulders are not only a habitat for some of the rarest plants in Canterbury, but they are popular for rock climbers. Equipment rental shops offering cushioned pads are just a short drive to the south. The large thick mats are carried like a backpack, which kind of made the climbers look like bipedal turtles.

Barret and I were in hardcore relaxation mode, however, so there would be no clambering. In fact the fastest pace we reached was due to a gust of wind. And you know what, some days that just feels right.

How to get to the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes: State Highway 6, Punakaiki, New Zealand

How to get to Castle Hill: West Coast Road 73, Castle Hill, Canterbury, New Zealand

Vertical Rock: Week 78

“Your arms are so tiny!”

“They’re not that tiny.”

“Yes they are, like a little baby! Baby Steph. I can’t believe my arms used to be as small as yours,” my sister Nan said as we looked in the mirror.

Most women don’t react with such enthusiasm when comparing bicep girths, but then again most women aren’t firefighters. Since Nan first started training she has gained some serious muscle. We hadn’t seen each other in two years, so she was excited to remember where she had started- the same muscle tone as me.

“Look at how much more developed my forearm is. And I’m tanner than you.”


Nan had also recently started a new part-time job at a rock climbing gym and she wanted to show me the ropes. Since I didn’t want to look like the only bumbling idiot, I decided to take my brother. Like our sister, Kyle works out but I would say his muscles were less functional. More like trophy muscles.

I had never done any rock climbing, so I didn’t want to go first. Kyle didn’t like looking stupid, so he didn’t want to go first either. It was only after we saw little kids scale the bouldering wall like spiders that we decided to give it a go. He and I tried all the same routes and after a few runs Kyle’s toe started ‘hurting.’ So we sat and waited for Nan to help us use the harnesses and climb the big walls.

“You go first, show me your skills,” I taunted my brother.

“Steph, stop it. My toe is still hurting,” Kyle replied as he gingerly cupped his foot.

“Come on, use those stupid muscles of yours. I saw you lifting heavy weights last night while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“You’re being stupid.”

“No you are.”

“No you are.”

“No you are.”

“I’ll take photos of you climbing,” my brother finally offered.


I felt confident as I began the climb (No, the above photo is not me). My route was the lowest difficulty level so all the hand holds were pronounced and evenly spaced all the way up. I shouldn’t have looked down though. I was just at the halfway point when I realized how far away the ground was. It didn’t seem very comforting that only a thin rope, anchored to a wedgie-inducing harness, could save me from catastrophe.

As I neared the top my pace slowed and my legs became more wobbly. When at last my hands touched the final stone my sister yelled out her next instructions.

“I’ve got you, let go!”

“Uh,” I called down whilst staring at the wall, “are you sure?”

“Yes! Let go, I’ve got the rope.”

I took one foot off, but none of my other appendages followed.

Just let go!”

It felt so counter-intuitive to release my firm grasp, but I convinced myself to trust my sister. It was at that moment, when I didn’t plummet to the ground, that I felt grateful for Nan having stronger arms than me.

How to get to Vertical Rock: 10225 Nokesville Road, Manassas VA

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