Newcastle & Hunter Rock Climbing – an interview with Tim Haasnoot

Vertical Life speaks to guidebook author Tim Haasnoot about releasing the long-awaited second edition of the Newcastle & Hunter Rock Climbing guide

Can you tell us a little bit about climbing around Newcastle and the Hunter Valley?
Climbing in the Hunter is quite diverse. It has mountainous sandstone cliffs in the Watagans, fine seaside granite at Port Stephens with plenty of good trad climbing, and Bulahdelah to the north with a wide range of sport climbing on some very interesting rhyolite rock. All the crags are roughly within one hour’s drive from Newcastle, with a few areas right in the heart of the township.

Double Shot 23

Long-time Newcastle-area developer John Wilde climbing Double Shot (23), Bulahdelah. Image by Justin Jefferson

What does climbing in the Hunter mean to you?
Heading out to the local with a few mates, a short drive and generally you have the place to yourself with some magnificent views and wildlife.

Do you have a favourite area?
Climbing in Bulahdelah Cave or bouldering at the Docks; tough decision.

Putting together a guidebook is a massive labour of love, why did you do it?
The reward you get is when you see people out enjoying themselves, exploring different areas away from the more well-known climbing areas in NSW. Many climbers won’t venture out to a new crag unless they have a guidebook in their hands. Hopefully this guide can bring climbers to the region and share the great areas that we have to offer.

This is the second edition of the guide, can you tell us what are the major additions since the first edition?
The first edition is now more than 10 years old and was printed in black and white. It was a little rushed at the time but it got people out there. Following its release, there has been an influx of interest and bolting in the region. This edition has double the number of climbs, and has a few new features like deep water soloing (DWS) and slacklining, plus much better topos and photos, and is all in full colour. Digital cameras have come a long way in 10 years! Bulahdelah has really taken off, with only a handful of routes in the first edition, people got out there and saw the potential.

Can you tell us about the DWS in the area?
Port Stephens is where the DWS is at, with its pristine aqua blue seas, a spot of dolphin and whale watching while climbing on some awesome rock. It can be very condition dependant, but on a calm summers day the potential is almost endless. The quality of the rock close to the ocean is super and generally well featured. I have included a couple of the main areas in the guide. Fishermans Bay and the Safety Ramp are both great for beginners new to DWS and also have a few harder classics. Nothing really over 10m high but still plenty of challenging climbs for all climbers, just watch the sharks!!

Here at Vertical Life we know very little about climbing around Newcastle, what are the crags that we should know about?
If you come to the region, Bulahdelah is definitely worth a visit. Some of the routes are very unique, with some very different rock features to the sandstone of the Blue Mountains and Nowra.

Tim climbing his own route, On the Prow (27), Bulahdelah. Image by Jason Piper

Tim climbing his own route, On the Prow (27), Bulahdelah. Image by Jason Piper

Can you tell us a little more about Bulahdelah? And what are some of your favourite routes?
Bulahdelah is a small town right on the Pacific Highway, one hour north of Newcastle. The Alum Mountain is only a two-minute drive off the main street, and is quite visible to the east as you drive through town. The rock is rhyolite, similar to that of Fredericks Peak in Townsville. It is very white in places, which makes ticking holds up with chalk almost useless. Finding holds can be a problem, with lots of hidden features and small pockets you will often find yourself ‘window washing’ your way up the route feeling for the best holds.

Billy Woods (23) is a classic climb on the mountain. You will be struggling to find a good hold when all of a sudden, a pocket just appears from nowhere – usually once you have fallen off. The moves involve lots of body position and thinking with no real crux, just a long consistent climb. Often said that no move on it is harder than 21, just that every move is 21!

Black Leg Miner (25) is another classic. This long roof climb in Hoppy’s Cave is a must for anyone who love steep stuff. The route is almost 25m long, with all of it predominantly roof. Loads of pockets, knee bars and a tough finish all make for a classic climb.

I might be a little biased with this one, but the hanging prow of On The Prow (27) is impressive in itself. It goes out a horizontal roof for six or so metres, then up a steep prow-arête with a big dyno to a sloper halfway up!

Can you tell us who are some of the main developers in the region and a little bit about some of them?
Dave Gray was one of the main developers early on in the Hunter’s climbing journey. He established many areas out in the Watagans with help from his brother Darrin. After many years away from Newcastle, Dave has recently returned to the area and has continued to establish routes in the region. John Wilde (along with his son, Daniel Wilde) has been another major developer. He established plenty of hard and bold routes on the Tomaree Headland over many years. John has also contributed substantially to the development of Bulahdelah. He has established plenty of classic climbs on the mountain over the past 25 years, and his name is quite common throughout the guide. Vanessa Wills is also a prolific climber in the region and with a background in mountaineering she has established loads of first ascents in the Port Stephens and Bulahdelah regions. Vanessa loves a first ascent and can often be seen bolting a new line or working on her latest project.

Kate Bartlett on Pete's 2 (20, Paradise Beach. Image by Tim Haasnoot

Kate Bartlett on Pete’s 2 (20, Paradise Beach. Image by Tim Haasnoot

From what we gather there are some access issues with regards climbing in Port Stephens, particularly at the Zawn, is the area still closed?
Just about all the climbing areas in Port Stephens are in the Tomaree National Park. In 2006 Parks wanted to completely ban all climbing in the park. But with the local climbers fighting the plan and writing submissions, we managed to get climbing permitted in all of the park EXCEPT for the Tomaree headland. The Tomaree headland is the main peak next to Shoal Bay, which the Zawn and Dolphin Walls lie on. This was a bit of a disappointment to the climbing community as this is the biggest and most spectacular climbing area in the park, with cliffs up to 130m. There would be over 160 routes just on this headland! This edition of the guide book has a small selection of routes on the headland included to give people a bit of an idea of what the climbing was like for historical purposes. Some climbers still go there but this may be at the risk of jeopardising any future attempts to get the area opened again to climbers.

Where can people purchase the guide?
You can purchase the guide in Newcastle from Pulse Climbing indoor gym, Adventure 195 and Mountain Designs. It will be available online through Climbing Anchors ( and through It will soon be in stock in many of the Sydney outdoor shops like Mountain Equipment and Mountain Designs.

Thanks Tim!

Newcastle & Hunter Rock Climbing by Tim Haasnoot retails for $44.95.


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