The power of geological mass movement
The cliffs here expose sediments that were deposited on the seafloor 23 -29 million years ago when much of the continent of Te Riu-a-Māui/Zealandia was under the sea. The creamy-yellow Otekaike Limestone overlies the darker, greener Kokoamu Greensand.
The graben (valley) here was formed by mass earth movement called a block slide. This resulted in the exposure of the large cliff face and the formation of concealed fissures (deep cracks) in the graben floor. Scattered on the ground are large limestone blocks broken off from the cliff face.
Diagram of the possible failure mechanism and origin of the graben here, with A showing premovement and B showing post-movement (LS: Limestone, GS: Greensand, M: Marl) © Michael Crozier
Testimony to ancient marine life
Here you can see in-situ an ancient baleen whale fossil. The fossilised bones are in a block of Otekaike Limestone that has fallen from the cliff. This whale was identified by its lower jaws. The jaw fragments are toothless and oval in cross section - similar to the lower jaws in living baleen whales.
After death, this whale sank to the bottom of the seafloor. It was buried by sand moving in gentle water currents. Generally, in the Waitaki Valley, ancient animal remains that are recovered consist of only a few fossil bones. Partial skeletons as seen here are less common.
Life on the rocks
The distinctive geology of limestone provides a wide range of habitats. There are multitudes of specialised plants unique to these ecosystems. Most New Zealand limestone plants are rare and many at high risk of extinction. The Waitaki Valley is home to rare limestone plants that are found nowhere else in New Zealand. This site is home to at least seven different species of rare native plants. Native animal species are also lurking in these limestone castles. From skinks, to miniature snails, to tiger beetles and large trapdoor spiders!
The baleen whale may have looked like this. Original art by C. Gaskin - Geology Museum, University of Otago
Gentianella calcis subspecies calcis, one of the rare native species found at this site © Department of Conservation
The name ‘Earthquakes’ came about when it was thought the large boulders were dislodged by past earthquakes.
It took two days to extract and preserve this fossil.
152 native plant species have been identified in limestone ecosystems across New Zealand.
Visitors to this site must follow the management directive displayed on DOCs sign at this site.
Please be aware the following hazards include: uneven ground, hidden caves/sinkholes, slippery surface when wet, surface fissures, block / landslide, rock and debris fall from above.
Latitude: -44:52:27.575 Longitude: 170:37:24.545
Scenic views & Photo opportunities
To get the from the north end of Duntroon turn on to Earthquakes Road near the limestone church. Earthquakes is signposted about 3km down the road.
Park at the information sign. Caution! Rocks still fall, and the ground is creviced. Earthquakes is managed by the Department of Conservation.
Waipata / Earthquakes Scientific Reserve is managed by the
Department for Conservation. Visitors to this site must follow the
management directive displayed on the DOC sign. We ask you to
treat this site with respect, do not remove anything from this site and
preserve it for our future generations.
The very rare limestone plants at this site are especially fragile and
hard to spot. Please watch your step and be careful not to damage
plants or their habitat. Stay away from cliff edges, faces and fallen
rock, for your own safety as well as the safety of the plants.