Picture yourself on a cliff edge about to abseil down a 15-metre limestone rock drop towards the sea and you’ve a fair idea of what Raglan Rock — an adrenaline-pumping new foray into adventure tourism — is all about.
It’s challenging and a bit scary but certainly makes for a different kind of day out across the harbour, as I discovered last Saturday when I entrusted what felt like my very life to local rock-climber Gareth Jones in an adventure the braver among us might say is to die for.
Gareth’s spent hours over the past few years at a secluded limestone rock, tree-clad patch of paradise on private farmland discovering and naming various top-rope climbs to suit anyone from the rank novice to the dare-devil.
There’s ‘stupid fat hobbit’ for starters, a warm-up climb wearing safety goggles along with the compulsory helmet because, Gareth explains, “you go up a wee canyon and you feel like Gollum”.
Even so it’s not as easy as it looks for a beginner like me, finding footholds and handholds in the narrow crack or gully of the rock and wearing unfamiliar climbing shoes. But a harness which is attached to Gareth at ground level via a secure network of rope through a belay offers a foolproof safety system, Gareth assures me.
“You’re only going to fall the stretch of the rope, like a mini-bungy (jump).” And I did.
Once the first climb’s mastered, and you’ve gained some confidence and perhaps even paused at the top to admire the view back to Raglan, it’s on to an adjacent rock-face climb called ‘Emerald Viking’ in homage to Gareth’s half-Norwegian heritage. It’s got awesome underclings, I’m told, for leverage with hands turned upside-down.
And, guess what, it works.
Then there’s the abseil which isn’t half scary. Yes, we’re on top of the world, facing Mt Karioi seemingly suspended in the sky, but it looks a long way down to the blue-green sea below with jagged rocks jutting out. OMG!
Gareth mentioned later he could feel my heart pounding as we hugged at the top for the quick photo-shoot to prove we really were there and about to plummet downwards. It was breathless stuff all right, and nothing to do with human attraction. This was feeling the fear.
“Lean back, legs wide and straight, walk backwards, bend knees, jump out” — the instructions came thick and fast from above and, surprisingly, in no time at all I was on terra firma.
There’s ‘Elemental Kingdom’ still to tackle and, if time permits, what Gareth calls the piece-de-resistance — his ‘Rags to Riches’ climb with quartz crystals embedded in the ancient limestone rock. I backed off pleading old age, infirmity and anything else that came to mind — but the rest of our party saw the adventure through.
Even with my truncated version Raglan Rock’s a real adventure-and-a-half, taking a full afternoon by the time you’ve paddled a kayak courtesy of Raglan Backpackers across harbour and back (local skipper Ian Hardie is available to ferry those not so keen on the kayak trip).
Gareth’s a guide with seemingly endless patience and ingenuity. The former steel erector turned personal trainer — who climbed in Thailand, Majorca and America well before settling in Raglan eight years ago and taking work at Raglan Gym — talks his clients through their adventure and is passionate about “growing the seed”.
“I think this is going to be really big (for Raglan),” he says of Raglan Rock. He’s convinced such a tourist town needs more “adrenaline-pumping stuff” for backpackers and the like.
Gareth’s done some bush-crashing on site and made steps on slippery, leaf-strewn slopes to help tourists — and mad-keen locals — as they gamely tackle three if not four climbs up the ancient limestone formations, better known as pancake rocks.
He talks of the pastime as a liberating, non-competitive experience in which one gets a feel for the landforms. And while quite physical, it’s also mentally rewarding.
In fact rock-climbing is a “metaphor of life”, says the ever-enthusiastic Gareth, in that obstacles are overcome with perseverance. “It’s a great leveller.”
And there’s only two rules. “Try not to tread on your rope,” he says, “and have fun.” That we certainly did, even if my sore muscles say otherwise.