Elephants eroded from limestone
Can you see a herd of elephants? These ‘elephants’ are the remains of an ancient seabed. Uplift of the land by tectonic processes, changes in sea level and erosion have exposed this limestone. When first exposed, the limestone was in large unbroken sheets. Over time, weathering by rain, ice and wind eroded the limestone, leaving behind isolated ‘elephants’. Softer sediments erode more readily, especially at joints.
Limestone weathering © NERC based on P551762
A prehistoric seafloor
If you were standing here 25 million years ago you’d be under the water! This area was part of a warm, wide, shallow sea that covered much of the continent of Te Riu-a-Māui/Zealandia (the continent New Zealand is part of). Many animals and plants lived and died on this prehistoric seafloor. Over a few million years, shell fragments from these creatures compacted to become large flat areas of limestone (Otekaike Limestone).
Signs of the past
The Maerewhenua River is well-known for the many rock art sites located in the limestone outcrops which flank its course upstream from its union with the Waitaki River. Black and red pigments were painted on the shelter walls and feature images of people, birds, dogs and taniwha. Sailing ships and sentences written in te reo Māori are also present, reflecting the span of occupation in the area. Rāwiri Te Māmaru and other Kāi Tahu kaumātua recorded Maerewhenua as a kāika mahika kai (food-gathering place) where weka, pūrau (‘Māori onion’), kueo, and tutu were gathered.
Please be aware the following hazards include: traffic, slippery surface when wet, uneven surface, fall hazards, and farming activities.
Waipatia (dolphin with shark-like teeth), along with giant penguins and baleen whales swam here millions of years ago.
Māori rock art found in this area.
This area was once under the sea but is now 220 metres above sea level.
This site is part of the area known as Maerewhenua to Kāi Tahu Whānui and was once treasured for its abundance of mahika kai.
The Elephant Rocks area was used as a filming location for the first Chronicles of Narnia movie in 2005.
Latitude: -44:53:36.131 Longitude: 170:39:22.355
Scenic views & Photo opportunities
The field is part of a private farm and sheep may be present. Entry by donation! Please respect the land and the animals. Public access is permitted via a 5-minute walk across the farmland. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail passes this site.
Elephant Rocks is signposted
Protection and guardianship are at the heart of the Geopark philosophy. We ask you to treat this site with respect, do not remove anything from this site and preserve it for our future generations.
Check out the Elephant Rocks Facebook page, run by the proud landowner.