Some 25 million years ago Zealandia consisted of small islands and wide shallow seas. Dolphins with shark-like teeth swam in the large shallow waters where the Waitaki Valley now lies. Marine life included plants and animals, large and small, soft or with skeletons. Remains of sea life broke down after death to form white limey sand on the seafloor. As the sand was buried over time, it hardened, gradually forming the limestone that our landscapes are known for.
in THE VALLEY OF the whales
....with Gondwana, a southern supercontinent that broke apart into new lands before the end of the age of dinosaurs. One of these fragments was Zealandia - 'the 8th continent' and the foundation of modern Aotearoa New Zealand.
our story begins...
By five million years ago, an
active plate boundary had already developed, late in the history of Zealandia. The stunning Southern Alps rose, growing as fast as fingernails and supplying fresh sediment into our treasured braided rivers.
These same tectonic processes forced our fossil-rich limestone to the surface, with erosion carving it into sculptured wonders and impressive cliffs.
In the last two million years, southern glaciers carved into the majestic wilderness of our mountains, their retreat creating our stunning Lake Ōhau.
a land of moa hunters
oN a vanished world
Along An ancient super highway
Zealandia drifted from Gondwana into the Pacific, carrying with it some ancient lineages of flora and fauna that have survived to the present. Plesiosaurs, now extinct, patrolled the shores.
As Zealandia drifted, it was stretched and thinned by geological forces, so that it cooled and slowly submerged beneath the sea. Episodes of volcanic eruptions on the seafloor spanned some 38 - 32million years ago - the remnants forming headlands along the Pacific Ocean coast. This violent activity was interspersed with quiet periods where marine life thrived, eventually died, and formed limestone - the "Whitestone" of our region.
The mighty Waitaki River provided a natural seasonal route for Māori as they travelled back and forth between the vast resources of both the coast and inland areas of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) leaving a
A penguin paradise
Before humans arrived, diverse birds thrived on the mountains and plains, and in the grasslands and forests of Zealandia, just before humans arrived. Flightless birds include the kiwi, moa and adzebill. Flying birds ranged from tiny wrens to the mountain dwelling parrot, the kea, and the Haast’s Eagle. Our pre-human shores were a penguin paradise, home to the Kairuku penguin, almost as tall as a man.
The arrival of humans to our region over 700 years ago was to change the landscape forever. Our earliest settlers arrived on a landscape where enormous Haast's Eagles preyed upon moa, towering flightless birds.
The Waitaki River Mouth was the location of one of the largest ancient Māori settlements in New Zealand with evidence of extensive moa hunting and moa ovens.
The next wave of settlers from across the globe were enticed by the promise of gold in the East Otago hills. Settlers also
found fertile alluvial flatlands and pockets of rich volcanic soil, a land naturally suited to agriculture because vast areas were treeless and little clearing was required. Wheat initially brought prosperity to the region and the world's first frozen meat industry followed.
There are fossils in the limestone and other rocks. The challenge is to find them! Fossils have been extracted and examined by scientists to help understand the origins of modern species. Other important fossils now bear names from the local area. “In situ” fossils – the partial remains of whales - can be seen in the limestone at Anatini and Waipata/Earthquakes near Duntroon. These are stunning unique geological sites that take the viewer's imagination back through deep time.
A story without an end...
...the opportunities are there, and like the fossils, they are waiting to be discovered.
A city of whitestone
To get products to overseas markets required a town and a port. So grew Ōamaru – a unique Victorian town full of grand neo-classical limestone buildings. This was truly a Whitestone City in its heyday.
Why does this tiny town have so many grand limestone buildings? The choice was simple. There were few trees and the abundant limestone was easy to cut and shape and proved to be a durable building material.
A geological wonderland
The Waitaki region has diverse
geology - It is not all limestone!
Ōamaru town is built at the
base of a long-extinct
volcano. The Te Kaihīnaki/
Moeraki Boulders are massive
rock spheres eroding from a
coastal outcrop. At Ōmarāmā,
there are the eroding bad-lands
of “Clay Cliffs” while near Duntroon
are the huge limestone hummocks of
”Elephant Rocks”. Many interesting and varying geological features form a “trail” for you to see and explore.
The richest Earth
Diatomite is one of Waitaki's prehistoric jewels. Formed 35 million years ago when the area was under the sea, these deposits contain microscopic fossilised organisms called diatoms. In the late 1800s, Victorian era scientists and enthusiasts would extract the world famous Ōamaru microscopic diatoms and display them in exquisite arrangements on glass slides that could only be seen under a microscope.
Formed by fire and ice
Rock Art legacy on limestone outcrops. They would traverse inland to harvest weka, tuna (eels) and other resources that were found in abundance in Te Manahuna, the upper Waitaki, and make mokihi (water craft) from raupō to carry the preserved resources back to the coastal settlements.