Off the beaten track: Duntroon’s fossil feast

IMG_0760In the Waitaki valley, close to the seaside town of Oamaru, lies the tiny town Duntroon. It has a café, church and some other buildings and the vanished world trail. Once upon a time the whole area here was covered by the sea and the remnants of that are still visible in the landscape.

So I became geek for a day and went in search for fossils, rocks and history. Close to town is an area called Earthquakes, named so because they used to think all these cool rocks are here because of earthquakes. Now we know that this used to be the bottom of the sea. The area is beautiful, but on private land, so you can’t go very far. Star of the place is an ancient whale. This whale died about 25 million years ago, got buried on the ocean floor, and has recently been exposed again. Where you usually find small fragments of bones, this whale is intact for a big part, which is pretty special.

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Another amazing natural feature is Elephant Rocks, which consists of dozens of limestone formations. This site has been used in the films of the Narnia Chronicles and portrays Aslan’s camp. Just walking around you can immediately tell why they chose this location. It’s incredibly scenic and it looks like a fantasy or dreamscape. A bit further along the road is another film location; Anatini. This is where the white witch bowed for Aslan. At Anatini you can also have a look at more baleen whale fossils. Here, they’re just fragments though. To save them from vandalism they are protected by a layer of plastic.

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Besides rocks, there is also some Maori rock art in the area. To make it convenient for tourist, they are right beside the road and hard to miss. The drawings were made with fat, charcoal and red ochre. Most of them have faded a lot and some are missing. Years ago they tried to extract the drawings so they could put them in a museum. In a lot of cases this didn’t work and drawings got ruined. What is left on the walls are black and red pictures of ships and people.

So, is this geeky enough? I must admit that it was pretty cool to see the fossils, but I was mostly impressed by the landscape. The Waitaki valley is absolutely stunning! The landscape was so green, with rolling hills, snowy mountains in the background, lakes, limestone formations… If you want to be a geek that’s fine, but any other tourist can just come to enjoy the view.

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