Who knew that hanging off the side of a cliff, under a waterfall with Lake Wānaka below could be terrifying and equally therapeutic. I never thought that climbing my way up a mountain putting my life’s worth and trust in a single carabiner clip would bring me so much calm, but it did and I will tell you why.
It started at the bottom of a 60m high waterfall nestled in the hillside on route to Mount Aspiring National Park. If you are a frequent visitor to Wānaka or Treble Cone you might have noticed said waterfall on the route. It was here we met Mark, the owner, operator, lead guide, and creator of Wildwire.
Wildwire is a via ferrata. It comes from the Italian words “via” meaning “way or path” and “ferrata” meaning “iron”. Put together, you have an iron pathway. It’s a climbing path up the rock face. You follow a well-marked and planned route, clipping yourself onto the cables provided and using the metal rungs, pegs, and ladders to ascend the face to the very top. I highly recommend heading into Level 3, it’s wild and worth it. The mountain is pretty deceiving, what you can’t see is the slight lean back and the pools of water formed by the cascading waterfalls when standing at the base. One can’t grasp a real sense of size and grandeur until standing at the top of the experience, but more on that later.
“Wildwire is more than an adventure, it’s a feeling.”
Plucked right from the horse’s mouth, and I couldn’t agree more. I have never felt so physically and mentally challenged, exhilarated, pumped, and accomplished after any tourism activity before and even in the days after Wildwire, as I put words on paper I feel proud of our efforts. Maybe it was the team bonding and morale or the constant support, ‘yeows’ and high fives from our guide, plus the aching muscles days after reminding me of our challenge. Whatever it is, it was worth every clip, climb, and step.
We practiced on a small boulder; clip 1, 2, 3, 4, move on. The via ferrata process was drilled into us in order to keep us safe while climbing the rock face. I distinctly remember saying “oh wow this is already pretty high” as I scrambled around the practice boulder. That thought came into my head again as I swung my legs over the overhang in Level 3, the gnarliest bit of the climb. It was also in this moment that I was grateful for Mark’s strength and patient nature as he helped me navigate completely new and foreign terrain.
Practice done we hit the hill. A short walk up leads you to the door into the Wildwire experience. An actual physical door, yes. Clamber through, clip-on and we were away. Five hours of climbing and pushing our physical limits awaited. The first level was easy, for us anyway. Enough height and manoeuvring to get your heart pumping, but relatively easy in terms of what was about to come. We peaked at Level 2 after crossing a three-wire bridge and shuffling our way up towards the waterfall. It was here we took a break and a breather. An overwhelming sense of calm washed over us all, we had nothing else to think about. Just clip 1, 2, 3, 4 and move on. That, and don’t look down.
Unclipped and unharnessed, we enjoyed the waterfall. You can take a dip if you like and soak in the epic views below. The higher you climb the better the views. We could see straight through the mountains into Wānaka, Glendhu Bay, and down into Mt Aspiring National Park.
It was time for Level 3. We were prepped, prepared, and aware of the challenges we would face, but oh so ready. First up, the easy part. Just a few iron rungs up to the boardwalk. It is here that you shuffle along, behind a waterfall, and start the overhang. It was at this moment that I reminded myself not to look down and to crack on through because the reward would be worth it. Under Mark’s careful instruction and a helping hand (thank the Lord) I made it through the ‘grunty’ part. When I say overhang, I mean a huge overhanging rock that one must scramble up and over. I peeked down to check Robbie was following suit and I couldn’t see him. That was until his hand appeared over the rock and I saw his beaming face, equally as stoked to have tackled the overhang – on his own I might add with zero assistance.
We powered on through. The end was nigh. I could feel it. The views are still epic, the challenge ongoing and my legs most certainly turning to jelly. It was a blissful moment when Mark led us up the last rungs and we double high-fived to celebrate. We had landed at the top of the Wildwire experience and what an incredible experience it was. A small gap in the rocks allowed us a view down to the ground and Lake Wānaka looking even tinier in the distance. We stood under a canopy of trees as a river flowed beside us. It was like stepping into a woodland fantasy movie scene, simply stunning and otherworldly. So wild to think hours earlier we were hauling ourselves up a rockface and now at the summit all I felt was calm.
The day wasn’t over yet though, we still had to get back down. To everyone’s delight, we would not be clip climbing back down the iron rungs. Mark and his team have created a path back down to the ground. We set off, single file, still clipping into the guide ropes for safety and appreciating the gentle breeze pulsing through the valley. I was watching the girl’s legs in front of me, shaking at every step down the mountain, mine following suit.
An hour later, we hit the ground after hiking down the newly dug-out path. The whole way is surrounded by beautiful mountains and epic views. Our feet touched the ground with our harnesses and we again congratulated each other on our achievements. Looking back up the rock face I couldn’t quite believe it, we did it, we climbed that, and I’m back on the ground safely ready to tell anyone who will listen to me about how epic it was.
It’s a strong call but I am going to make it. Wildwire may be the best tourism activity we have ever done on the South Island.
Don’t just take my word for it, check it out here and get yourself booked in with Mark and his team. I promise you won’t regret it.