Walking with dinosaurs

Excellent short walks in the South Island, by Peter Janssen, published by New Holland, RRP $32.99
Excellent short walks in the South Island, by Peter Janssen, published by New Holland, RRP $32.99
North Otago features some of New Zealand’s most interesting geology and the area around Duntroon (on SH83 west of Oamaru) contains some fascinating rock formulations and fossils that are easily accessible from the road.

The Vanished World Centre in Duntroon is an excellent starting point to brush up on your geology, with a collection of impressive fossils up to 30million years old, including prehistoric penguins, whales and dolphins and some species yet to be classified.

North Otago and South Canterbury are also home to numerous Maori rock art sites, though many of them are rudimentary and difficult to reach. However, at Duntroon, there are two sites that are accessible and where the art is vivid and easy to discern.

A short loop drive from Duntroon covers the following walks and will take under two hours, including walking.


Elephant Rocks. Photo: Rebecca Ryan
Elephant Rocks. Photo: Rebecca Ryan
Grade: Easy

Time: Allow 30 minutes return

What: Primordial limestone rocks litter a fantasy-film landscape.

Directions: 6km from Duntroon on Island Cliff Rd, off Livingstone-Duntroon Rd.

Dating from the Oligocene period and subsequently shaped by water and wind, these huge weathered limestone rocks take their name from their grey colouring and their general elephantine shape.

What makes this landscape particularly appealing is that the rocks stand clear and stark amid the short grass.

Parts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were shot here.


Anatini whale fossil. Photo: David Thomson
Anatini whale fossil. Photo: David Thomson
Grade: Easy

Time: To the whale fossil: 10 minutes return; for the valley: 45 minutes

What: An excellent fossil specimen protected from the elements.

Directions: Directions: 7km from Duntroon on Island Cliff Rd, off the Livingstone- Duntroon Rd (1km from Elephant Rocks)

A short walk from the road through a stark rocky landscape leads to the fossil of a baleen whale. The fossil is very clear and is protected by Perspex from both the weather and prying fingers.

Very helpful to the amateur is an interpretive board explaining exactly which parts of the whale are visible.

If you have the time, it is worthwhile strolling down to the valley lined by ancient limestone rock formations.


Marawhenua Maori rock drawings. Photo: Dave Cannan
Marawhenua Maori rock drawings. Photo: Dave Cannan
Grade: Easy

Time: 10 minutes return

What: Accessible and sheltered rock drawing site including a post- European contact specimen. 

Directions: Just east of Duntroonon SH83, turn into Livingstone- Duntroon Rd and the drawings are 500m on the left.

More than 500 Maori rock drawing sites have been found in the South Island, and just over 100 in the North Island. It is possible that the art form was common throughout Aotearoa and that more drawings have survived in the Waitaki area because of the relatively dry climate and the location of the drawings in dry sheltered caves and overhangs.

Rock art can be either scratched into the surface or drawn and painted on. The paint was usually made from animal fat mixed with various other mediums such as soot or charcoal, kokowai and yellow ochre.

Maerewhenua is a substantial rock shelter lined with simple drawings.

This shelter was occupied over hundreds of years, but is unlikely to have been permanently occupied — this would have been a seasonal food-gathering area.

In addition to the drawings, there is evidence of cooking fires, bird bones and fishhooks. It appears that the drawings were added to, altered and improved over the years, and the subjects range from extinct birds such as moa and Te Pouakai (Haast Eagle) through to 19th-century sailing ships and names.

Located just above the road, the long shallow cave stretches over 30m. Many of the drawings are initially difficult to make out, but spend some time and gradually the scale of the drawings is revealed. To reach the site, there is a short, steep walk uphill from the road. Just north of Duntroon at Takiroa on SH83 is another easily accessible rock art site with startling red and black drawings.


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