7 Bizarre Sights in the Waitaki Valley
A “Vanished World”.
Shark-toothed dolphins, whales, penguins and many more marine life used to swarm the Waitaki Valley millions of years ago. That was when the region was deep under the ocean. Now, the fossils of long-forgotten marine creatures can be found all over the region’s farmlands some 400 metres above sea level.
But these fossils are not the only natural wanders of the Waitaki Valley, which is situated just north of Oamaru. Huge pinnacles have been formed by ancient glaciers, while limestone outcrops are weathered into all shapes and sizes. Even New Zealand’s first settlers must have found this place fascinating as you can also view their Maori carvings in the limestone walls.
For sure, the Waitaki Valley is an awesome backpacking destination but also a geologist’s dream! You can visit each sight of interest by following the self-guided Vanished World Trail, which you can pick up at the Vanished World Centre, Duntroon. We’ve selected the highlights in our list below.
1. Clay Cliffs
These towering pinnacles are definitely worth the detour from the highway. There isn’t any marked walking track, so just enjoy exploring the area and getting some awesome photos of the braided Ahuriri River, complete with blooming lupines during the spring/summer. The private land requires a NZ$5 fee per car.
Location: 10km out of Omarama. Turn off the State Highway 83 onto Quailburn Road and then onto the unsealed Henburn Road.
2. MAEREWHENUA Rock Art Site
Carved into the limestone cliffs are historic Maori carvings, thought to be from the moa hunting period.
Location: Signposted just south of State Highway 83, along the Livingstone-Duntroon Road.
3. Elephant Rocks
Here lies a grassy field of unusual New Zealand farm animals: elephant rocks! The limestone outcrops come in different shapes – maybe some look like elephants with a lot of imagination – which makes climbing them hard to resist. The location was used during the filming of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the White Witch bowed before Aslan.
Location: Follow easy-to-spot signs on the Island Cliff-Duntroon Road.
4. Anatini Fossil Whale Site
Nearby the Elephant Rocks are the bones of a fossilised baleen whale. There are also more limestone outcrops to enjoy.
Location: Signposted near the Elephant Rocks.
The simple yet appropriately named Earthquakes shows sheer cliffs as they have risen from the ground in what we can only assume was an earthquake!
Location: At the north end of Duntroon turn on to Earthquakes Road. Earthquakes is signposted about 3km down the road.
6. Rattling Rocks
You may look a bit daft, but if you go to the Maerewhenua River and start shaking rocks from the river near your ear, you may find some that rattle!
Location: Maerewhenua River near Duntroon.
7. Fish, penguins, whales and shark-toothed dolphins
The Vanished World Centre holds all sorts of ancient marine creatures. Their fossils have been found all over the Waitaki Valley and displayed here at the centre in Duntroon. There is just a small entrance fee.
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