Underdogs: A celebration of Australia’s less celebrated climbing towns

Australia loves The Underdog. Just take a look at our most celebrated cultural icons… The Anzac’s fought a hopeless battle at Gallipoli, Ned Kelly was an outlaw who got shot and hanged, and the Eureka Stockade got proper smashed in less time than it takes to play a few overs of cricket. Even Vegemite, possibly the most Australian thing in the world, is despised by approximately 7.47 Billion people.

Our convict heritage probably has something to do with it, contributing to a lasting culture of antiestablishment and a latent distrust for authority. In summing up, it’s the constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe, and… no that’s it… it’s the vibe.

In the spirit of that vibe, let’s cast our gaze away from the usual strongholds of Australian climbing. Let us forget about Natimuk, Katoomba and (dare I say this?) Brisbane, and instead look to some less likely but surprisingly decent locations that climbers could, should, and do call home. I present them in alphabetical order:

Armidale

Gordo's Block Mt Yarrowyck

Benji on Gordo’s Block (V4) at Mt Yarrowyck. Photo by Todd Free

Somewhere between Brisbane and Sydney is the city of Armidale, right in the heart of New England. At an elevation of 980m, it’s higher than most Australian cities and has a unique climate which is mainly noted for being as cold as a brass monkey in winter. Of course, this means that on the flipside, summers are relatively mild.

Armidale is surrounded largely by agricultural land, but closer inspection reveals a diverse array of natural environments including a few World Heritage areas. As part of the Granite Belt, there are countless boulders strewn about, though many of these are on private land. The city makes a great base for such climbing areas as Mt Yarrowyck and Ebor Gorge, and is within a short drive of Glenreagh, Kaputar and Warrumbungles. There is also some excellent hiking and mountain biking nearby. Something for everyone, really.

Location:              New England, Northern New South Wales
Population:          24000
Character:            Rural/University town
Climbing Type:     All types! Granite bouldering, sandstone sport climbing and trachyte trad/adventure climbing.

 

That’s Good!
– Very little traffic (outside of school hours)
– Vast array of climbing variety
– Scotty Dog lives there so you can get your shoes re-soled in a jiffy!

That’s Bad! 
– Cold winters that don’t bring snow
– Poorly insulated houses in true Australian tradition
– Deep in the heartland of Rugby League territory, but in a state whose Origin team has a list of victories that reads like the appearance of Haley’s Comet.

Boonah

Al Reidel on Micron (17) at Frog Buttress. Photo by Luke Foley.

Editor’s Choice and probably the least surprising entry on this list. Boonah is a sleepy hamlet about an hour west of Brisbane which would probably have fallen off the map entirely if it hadn’t been for Frog Buttress. Arguably the best crag in Queensland, Frog is located on the northern slopes of Mt French, a mere 10 minute drive from the town. There are several other crags within a reasonable distance, but many of these are somewhat…. adventurous.

Being a bit of a hub for travellers and motorcyclists, Boonah has developed a pretty decent café scene. There’s also a decent little pub at Dugandan and the IGA has a sushi bar… but otherwise, it’s more or less what you’d expect from a small country town. Each season sees the Mt French car park turn into a miniature shanty town that boosts the local population by half a dozen or so, but climbers don’t tend to dwell here for very long otherwise. That said, I’ve lived here for a year now and have truly enjoyed the experience!

 


Location:             
Scenic Rim, South East Queensland
Population:          2500
Character:            Rural
Climbing Type:     Cracks for days. Rhyolite.

That’s Good!
– A mere stone’s throw from QLD’s best trad climbing
– Tons of hiking in remote wilderness settings
– Not too far from Brisbane

That’s Bad!
– Not much sport climbing around, but not unreasonable to drive to KP or Pages
– Can be a bit quiet and boring if you’re not a weird hermit like me. No jobs either.
– Not too far from Ipswich


Canberra

Integral Crack, Booroomba Rocks

Bonnie Zhang on Integral Crack (20) at Booroomba Rocks. Photo by Dane Evans.

Think of Canberra and you probably think about politicians, roundabouts and the Australian War Memorial. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is all that there is to our nation’s capital… and you’d be right. It’s not exactly thrilling.

But the ACT is a bit of a dark horse when it comes to climbing, housing more than 3000 routes in a small geographical area. Granite bouldering and trad climbing is the order of the day, but there is a smattering of rhyolite as well. The real bonus is that Canberra’s central location puts it within striking distance of many other national and world class crags – Blue Mountains, Bungonia and Point Perp to name a few, as well as Kosciusko National Park and the Snowy Mountains.

Location:              Australian Capital Territory
Population:          400,000
Character:            Inland city
Climbing Type:     Primarily trad and bouldering on granite

That’s Good!
– Lots of climbing in a compact area, and close to other world famous crags
– Legal fireworks (Edit: My sources have revealed this was repealed 5 years ago… ALAS!)
– BONUS ROUND!! Close to ski fields – a bit of a novelty in Oz!
That’s Bad!
– It’s Canberra
– All the inconveniences of city life with none of the excitement
– Freezing in winter, sweltering in summer


Launceston

Free Passage, Cataract Gorge

Mitch Crowden on Free Passage (22) at Cataract Gorge. Photo by Scott Godwin.

If you like your city to have a little bit of olde worlde charme, Launceston might be right up your alley. Founded in 1806, “Lonnie” is one of Australia’s oldest cities and retains a sense of timeless elegance with its heritage buildings and leafy parks. But who gives a shit about old buildings? What is the climbing like?!

Quite good, as it turns out. Nearby Cataract Gorge is a treasure trove of dolerite trad climbs with something like 500 routes. Ben Lomond has some of the best cracks in the country and even develops ice lines and skiable snow some winters. Freycinet hosts world-class granite sea cliffs and a relatively hospitable climate. And honestly, Tassie is not that big – any number of adventures lie within reasonable distance, from the Overland Track to the Totem Pole and everything in between. This one might just be the pick of the litter.

Location:              Northern Tasmania
Population:          90,000
Character:            Small, quiet city
Climbing Type:     Everything you could dream of

 

That’s Good!
– More climbing than you can poke a stick at
– Access to vast, pristine, World Heritage wilderness
– Skiing and ice climbing are genuine possibilities

That’s Bad!
– A bit touristy
– Pretty miserable in winter
– Actually… very miserable in winter


Nowra

Tenere, Point Perpendicular

Tenere (20) at Point Perpendicular. Photo by Rene Provis.

Are you a mountain person, or a beach person? It’s basically like asking if you like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, or if you like your peanut butter crunchy or smooth. It’s usually a Boolean variable, a binary choice… but if you’re one of those oddities who likes it both ways, maybe Nowra is your cup of tea.

The Shoalhaven region is known for its pristine white sand beaches, a perfect location for swimming, surfing and some sort of pointless nonsense they call stand up paddleboarding. It’s also home to an impressive collection of steep, powerful sport routes on an array of easily accessible cliffs. Not far away, you have the incredibly scenic sandstone seacliffs at Point Perpendicular. If scary trad climbing with fantastic views and a truly epic position is your jam, you could probably do a lot worse.

Location:              South Coast, New South Wales
Population:          36,000
Character:            Coastal
Climbing Type:     Hard sport, bouldering, trad. Sandstone.

 

 

That’s Good!
– Super accessible climbing in an urban setting
– Diverse landscape… you could be cragging in the morning and taking a dip in the ocean in the arvo
– Scenic AF
That’s Bad!
– Not many jobs on offer in the region
– Apparently can be a bit dodgy in parts
– Point Perp can be off limits due to high winds or naval bombardment… legit.


It’s a short list, so what did I miss? How does your town stack up? Or where would you consider moving to in order to get a bit more climbing done? Also, this page is optimised for PC and I apologise for any weird formatting on mobile devices…

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
August 2017

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?