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valley of the whales


Can you imagine being under the sea?


The cliffs exposed in this section of the Awamoko valley (known as the Valley of the Whales) showcase a thick sequence of sediments. These sediments accumulated on the seafloor 23 -29 million years ago. At that time much of Te Riu-a-Māui/Zealandia, the continent New Zealand is part of, was still submerged beneath a warm shallow sea.

The Otekaike Limestone can be seen in the upper layers of these cliffs. The limestone is grey in colour where it has been weathered. It is creamy in colour where recent rock falls expose fresh surfaces. The older Kokoamu Greensand outcrops towards the base of the cliffs. The green colour is due to the mineral glauconite. Glauconite forms in some marine environments where there is little to no sediment input.

GNS map.jpg

This map shows a reconstruction of New Zealand’s landmass when the limestone here was formed. Check out how little land was above the water.

© GNS Science

Penguin Gaskin recon (2).tif

Ancient marine life preserved


The limestone and greensand exposed in the cliffs here, once formed a continuous sheet across the width of the valley. The Awamoko Stream has eroded down through these to form this valley. The sediments in the cliffs expose a cross section through time. The fossils preserved within them give us a glimpse back at the past life that once occupied our ancient seas. Such fossils include the teeth of an extinct white shark, the partial skeleton of the extinct ‘giant’ penguin Kairuku and extinct baleen whale skulls.

To learn more about these ancient creatures visit the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon. At Vanished World you can view casts and original fossils.

The Kairuku penguin stood 1.3 metres tall, weighed about 60kg and might have looked like this. © Original art by C.  Gaskin - Geology Museum, University of Otago


The baleen whales may have looked like this © Original art by C. Gaskin - Geology Museum,  University of Otago

Fast facts


  • Fossils from the marine sediments here are between 23 - 29 million years old.

  • The lines you see in the cliff are original sea beds from when layers of sediment were deposited.

  • This site is part of the area known as Maerewhenua to Kāi Tahu Whānui and was once treasured for its abundance of mahika kai.

Please be aware the following hazards include: Flood prone

Latitude: --44:55:24.882  Longitude: 170:40:55.012

Scenic views  & Photo opportunities


To get to Valley of the whales, head south from Duntroon on SH83, turn right onto Livingston-Duntroon Rd. Follow the road for 5km, turn onto Island Cliff-Duntroon Rd. Follow the road for 3.5km and park your vehicle at the parking bay with a Vanished World Trail sign.



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. 

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