Adventure specialist Steve Dickinson has nearly done it all when it comes to outdoor activities, but a recent trip to the South Island provided him with a new favourite. Wanakabased Wild Wire has brought an ancient mode of climbing to NZ waterfalls, and it’s every bit as good as it sounds.
The story of WildWire goes something like this: Laurel, a glaciologist from Canada, met her adventuring Kiwi husband Mark on a trip to Antarctica. She was doing her masters in glaciology and he was working for Antarctica New Zealand as a safety guide. When the two met, Mark was travelling with Sir Edmund Hillary’s entourage, who were commemorating Hillary’s South Pole expedition. Their mutual love and appreciation of the outdoors, and particularly rock climbing, led Laurel and Mark to the idea of developing a via ferrata (a protected climbing route) in their now hometown of Wanaka – and Mark had found the perfect place. The Twin Falls are two side by side waterfalls that cascade 450m vertically down through canyons and crevasses on the outskirts of Mt Aspiring National Park, 20 minutes from Wanaka. It was while Mark was abseiling the multi-pitched falls that he realised they would be perfect for a via ferrata, so he took Lauren “bush crashing” to show her the spot and their dream became a reality.
Laurel informed me that via (as in direction) ferrata (iron) literally translates to the iron road. The iron, in this case, is the bolts and footholds (over 2000 of them) placed on the cliff face to enable almost anyone with a thirst for adventure the chance to experience what it’s like to climb a rockface. Protected climbing routes and paths have been used for centuries, with villages in the Alps using them to connect to neighbouring settlements. In WW1 they were used to help transport troops across steep mountain ranges.
“The modern via ferrata,” Laurel explains, “typically involves a steel cable which runs along a route and is periodically fixed to the rock. This allows climbers to secure themselves to the cable and climb using iron rungs, pegs, bridges and ladders. This allows those with no climbing experience to reach remote locations and enjoy places and sights that they might not otherwise be able to experience.”
Overall there are over 2600 rungs at Wild Wire, and over 1000+ metres of cable. There are seven bridges, and two wire bridges. Wild Wire offers three levels of climbs:
Level 1: “Go Wild” takes you to the top of the first waterfall, 150 vertical metres above the start point, crosses four bridges and takes around three hours to complete (approx. one hour of climbing).
Level 2: “Wild Thing” carries on another 170 vertical metres further and takes approximately five hours, adding in another two bridges and a three-wire bridge with a 60m drop below (approx. three hours
Level 3: “Lord of the Rungs” is for the more experienced climber. It takes you to the very top of the waterfall, 450 vertical metres above ground, over all seven bridges, as well as two wire bridges, and finishes with a helicopter ride back down to the beginning (approx. seven hours to complete).
On our trip down to Wanaka, we chose to take on “Wild Thing”. Looking up from the bottom, it seemed impossible to think it would take over three hours of actual climbing to reach our destination. Still, as Laurel explained, it may only be 320 vertical metres to the end of the Level 2 experience, but there was over 750m of climbing needed to reach that point and looks can be deceptive.
After a briefing at the practice boulder, we set out on our climb. Safety was obviously high on the list, and unlike other via ferrata we’ve been on, Wild Wire have added a third carabiner called a ‘shorty’ that you clip in whenever moving your main crab claws (one at a time) so you are always linked to the wire by either two or three clips. We also found throughout the day that the layout of the rungs was challenging enough for us all, without being too daunting.
What first impressed me first was that it was all on within minutes of leaving the start point. We were clipped into the line, and before long, we were hanging off the side of a sheer cliff, climbing our way towards the first bridge. Those in our group who knew that “fear was a factor” for them gained confidence on those early pitches. Laurel encouraged them to test the safety of their equipment while they were still close to the ground by sitting back in their harness and relying on the carabiners and safety ropes to hold them in place. For anyone slightly scared of heights, this goes against all instincts, but it was incredible watching the faces of my friends as they realised they could really do this. As the climb continued and the distance underneath our feet increased, the solid metal rungs gave everyone the reassurance they needed.
As we climbed through the hidden pools and over suspension bridges, we stopped numerous times to take photos. Never far from the cascading waterfall, we found ourselves transfixed by the noise and the spray, and exhilarated from being a long way off the ground – or with “plenty of air under your feet,” as Laurel would say.
After approximately an hour of climbing, Laurel pointed out the exit point for Level One. I was surprised by how much you would still get to see and experience just by completing this level. However, we were destined for higher things, and after a short break, we continued upwards. Although I know we were safely clipped in at all times and the rungs offered us a huge advantage that most rockclimbers don’t have, it still felt like we were really climbing. The higher we climbed, the more challenging the experience became. As we continued, Laurel encouraged us to use the rungs as much or as little as we liked and the more experienced among us could still enjoy the climb as a result.
My only regret is that it came to an end. Before having this experience, I would have thought you could do it once and it would be ticked off your bucket list. That’s definitely not the case. It was unbelievably fun, and such a fantastic mixture of adventure and sightseeing that I would go again next week.
I am fortunate enough to have done a lot of these adventure-based experiences, and we have done them in some of the most amazing places on earth, but this would absolutely be at the top of my list. From the location and challenge, to being Kiwi owned and operated, I loved everything about it. If you do not do anything else while the borders are closed, make sure you experience Wild Wire.
Check them out at https://www.wildwire.co.nz