Pakeho crag is closed

We are gutted to announce that Pakeho crag has been indefinitely closed for climbing. Pakeho is a beautiful limestone sport climbing area in the Waitomo district.

Climber on a limestone cliff above native bush at Pakeho crag

Pakeho crag, west of Te Kuiti, Waikato. Photo: Chris Hailey.

Pakeho was re-opened in 2017 with assistance from ACAT’s GM Edwin Sheppard and volunteer Michael Donovan (well before ACAT existed). Since then, thousands of climbers have enjoyed visiting the crag. We are feeling this loss keenly.

We have spoken with the landowners about why they have chosen to close access. This was not the fault of any one person, but rather a collective failure by the climbing community to adequately support the landowners.

The landowners have kindly provided a detailed explanation:

Reasons for closing access

1. Potential liability

“This has always been an issue, though we’ve been assured there is little likelihood that we’d be held responsible if someone was hurt. The rules keep changing though, and from our perspective it feels like there’s a lack of appetite from anyone within the climbing community to take on any of that responsibility (e.g. by taking over managing the crag). So the risks are fairly vague and unclear, but they’re all on us, and the onus is on us to ensure we keep up to date with changing legislation. As non-climbers we don’t have much motivation to do that.”

2. Time

“We run two businesses and we don’t have a lot of spare time. While it isn’t a huge deal (and we’ve been doing it for 7 years) managing a booking calendar for the crag and responding to access requests and other crag-related communication does take time. And again, we’ve not managed to find anyone in the climbing community willing to take on that responsibility.”

3. A general lack of support or help from the climbing community

“The broken carabiner I emailed about back in March is an example of that. As far as I’m aware it’s still not fixed, putting us in a position where we effectively have to tell everyone who enquires about climbing that there’s a known hazard, it’s been there for 6 months, but nobody has got around to fixing it. From a risk and liability perspective that doesn’t put us in a good place. As another example, we’ve been asking climbers for donations to help with pest control and our reforestation program. We’ve had about 10 donations in total, from the 1,000+ climbers who visit Pakeho each year, including some large organised groups who use the crag regularly. So we do appreciate those 10 people, and we don’t actually care about the money, but it doesn’t exactly make us feel like our efforts are highly valued by the climbing community.

“We do want to acknowledge that many of those in the climbing community we’ve dealt with, including yourselves, have been fantastic. Unfortunately though, whether true or not, our perception is that many think it’s their right to climb whenever and wherever they wish, for free, without taking on any of the responsibility or maintenance or risk. So at best it’s a wildly one-sided arrangement, where the landowner assumes all the risk and responsibility, spends all the time, does all the maintenance, etc., without any benefit.

“For what it’s worth, if an organisation like ACAT manages to resolve some of these issues we’re open to further discussion. As it stands though we think the best thing we can do is shut it down.”

Change is needed

This is a clear challenge for the North Island climbing community. Climbers travel from all over the island to climb at the Waikato crags, but too few are helping to look after them. We need to change this.   

ACAT does not currently have the capacity to directly manage crags like Pakeho, including managing bookings and crag maintenance. We would need more reliable funding plus keen volunteers.

You can help

Volunteer. Contact us if you’re psyched to get involved in crag care in the Waikato on an ongoing basis.

Join our community of supporters with a monthly or annual donation. We need support from everyone in the outdoor climbing community if we are going to overcome this challenge. You can donate using the donation box on this page or any other.