If the best thing about living in Sydney is the ocean then Martijn van Eijkelenborg is doing it right when he thumbs his nose at grimey Sydney blocs and instead opts for new sends by the scenic seaside
WORDS: Martijn van Eijkelenborg, IMAGES: Richard McGibbon
Sitting at the mouth of Botany Bay and pounded by powerful Pacific Ocean swells, Cape Banks is a new bouldering area for those who love their blocs with a heavy dose of sea spray and fresh ocean breeze. Just one kilometre directly south of Bondi Beach, the crooked-finger of the Cape Banks peninsula offers bouldering for those who don’t mind a bit of nature – the odd rogue wave, marauding seagulls and whales – thrown in with their bouldering.
Cape Banks is secluded, with scenic views of exposed sandstone headlands and rock platforms overlooking the Tasman Sea to the east, and clear turquoise water in the cove on the west, surrounded by native scrub covered sand hills that contrast with the perfectly manicured lawns of the New South Wales Golf Course. Hit it on the right afternoon and as you walk out of the peninsula an orchestra of frogs will serenade you as the final rays of the setting sun make the tiny shell beach near the shipwreck glow magically pink.
Whilst bouldering at popular Sydney crags is often a very social event, at Cape Banks you boulder mostly alone, in between the crabs and the seagulls. There’s no brushing off layers of chalk or tick marks, no scraping off moss and dirt before a first ascent; these boulders are cleaned regularly by pounding ocean waves, leaving nothing but solid rock and a sprinkle of salt.
But the blocs of Banks do come with a price. You will find out that seawater is very efficient at corroding your phone, that wet shoes don’t climb so well anymore, that carrying a waterlogged crash pad is only fun in mid summer and that the park gates close at 8.30pm. The conditions here are never optimal; humidity is always high and the sun hits most of the boulders. And whilst the majority remain dry even in high tide, the unpredictable swell plays a bigger role than the tides in determining whether or not you will be able to pull on.
As to the bouldering, in the last six months 142 brand-spanking-new boulders have been added. The best problems are found at Cape Banks and the nearby Cemetery sector. Look out for Across The Great Divide, a V3 with large moves on large pockets above a divided landing, BRAD BRAD, a V4 sloper heel-hook fest with a punchy lock-off move, Block Buster (V4) on the overhanging side of a huge boulder on a sea platform that can only be reached by a terrifying fisherman’s descent, or Pyramid Scheme, a three-move V5 on the overhanging face of a triangular block.
Despite their obvious attractiveness, most boulders at Cape Banks have not seen more than a couple of ascents yet. Maybe the crowds are kept away by the ingrained belief that all ocean-side rock is unreliable, with fridge-size chunks breaking off on every ascent, or maybe the lack of pumpy roof climbing makes it uninteresting to the typically-thuggy Sydney boulderer. Either way, some of the most scenic ocean-front bouldering can now be found only 30 minutes drive from the Harbour Bridge. Try some of the listed climbs, add a first ascent of your own then drop into the ocean for a swim and soak up the atmosphere; Cape Banks will not disappoint.
CAPE BANKS – THE BETA
Access: Drive into Botany Bay National Park and park at the Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter Base. After a short walk to the coast and ignoring an ominous ‘Four deaths in this area’ sign, you will see Cape Banks down the hill to the south. Where the track meets the golf course, cross the footbridge to the rocky peninsula. Stay up high as you walk to the ramp at the southern tip to get you down to the boulders.
The areas: The first sector you get to is the Big Straight Wall with ten boulders of V0 to V2 that are up to 6m in height. The adjacent Suncorp Block has eight shorter, steeper problems up to V3.
The various other sectors on either side of the Cape are easily accessed by walking around on the ocean-level platforms, provided it’s not high tide or high swell. Only the Big Straight Wall and BRAD sectors remain dry and accessible at all times.
Around the corner on the ocean side is the Cape Town sector with steep undercut starts and slopey top outs at V2 to V5. Further towards the bay side of the Cape are the sectors BRAD, with some good sloper action up to V6, The Banks and Sunny Side. There is potential for further development at most sectors.
Grade range: V0 to V6, with the best quality in the V3 to V4 range.
Weather & Tides: in hot weather the ocean breeze and the post-boulder swim at the footbridge can be refreshing. In cold weather the sunny sheltered sectors can be very pleasant. But the best would be an early July visit as you are sure to spot whales migrating past. Check Willy Weather for local tides and swells, as these can affect what areas you can climb.