© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Discovering the Vanished World in the Waitaki Valley

© NZPocketGuide.com

182 Days on the Road

Let’s take you on a journey to the Vanished World – a journey to unusual rock formations, ancient Maori art, and fossils from a world long forgotten. Today, we are travelling up the Waitaki Valley.

So it’s our last morning watching the sunrise from the gorgeous sun room of the Oamaru Backpackers and enjoying the free breakfast (including fresh eggs)! But we just have one small thing today before leaving the quirky Victorian-themed town and heading up the Waitaki Valley.

Mad for lollies!

On the way out of town, we scout for the Rainbow Confectionery Factory Shop – a factory outlet sweet/candy (or lolly as they say in New Zealand) shop. Robin has an unhealthy obsession with lollies, so he is ecstatic when he sees the rainbow-coloured building with giant sweets sticking out of its walls. We leave with 2kg of lollies…

Ok, so we have been to the Victorian Fete, stepped into a sci-fi world at Steampunk HQ, seen little blue penguins, sheared a sheep, tasted amazing cheese, and now, bought ourselves 2kg of lollies… Now, we can leave Oamaru!

Seeing a piece of Maori history

Our first stop along the Waitaki Valley is to see some old Maori rock art. You can easily miss the sign along the Duntroon-Livingston Road and the pouwhenua (carved poles) hidden among the flax. Our beady eyes spy the place, which is just a super short walk up some steps to a caged-off limestone overhang. Inside the overhang are all these black drawings. They are simple drawings, which is pretty surprising when you have seen the detail of Maori carvings, but we are stoked to be looking at a piece of Maori history right here. We’ve only ever seen one other Maori historical site back in Taranaki at Koru Pa, so finding jewels like this is unfortunately rare.

Information boards try to tell the story of these paintings with different theories but the answer is they just don’t know! We interpret people dancing with whales, dolphins and birds around them.

Elephant Rocks

Now, we are heading onto the next free attraction along the Vanished World Trail, as they call it. We see the hue rocky outcrops sticking out of green sheep fields from the roadside. These must be the Elephant Rocks!

A barely-there trail in the grass leads down to a shallow valley filled with weathered limestone rocks. It’s a climber’s paradise! We aren’t exactly climbers, but we can’t deny that we do enjoy fumbling up the smaller rocks for some fun photo opportunities. We leave the bouldering to a German guy that we meet who is studying a book before attempting a huge boulder.

Sheep and weird shapes

Sheep use the boulders for some shade from the burning hot sun we are having today. (We have the sunscreen on!) And birds appear to have made their nests in the holes and weaknesses in the rocks.

Other than climbing all over these things, we have a walk around these crazy rock formations and notice two boulders seen one in front of the other look like a man peering over a bed… Disappointingly, we don’t see one shaped like an elephant.

The labyrinth of the Elephant Rocks

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The Vanished World Centre

There are heaps more amazing natural wonders along this road of the Vanished World Trail, but unfortunately we just don’t have time to see them all. Instead, we backtrack down to the tiny town of Duntroon to visit the Vanished World Centre.

The huge sign outside the centre saying: “FOSSILS” indicates that, indeed, we are going to see a lot of fossils. The Vanished World Centre is a collection of amazing finds from the Waitaki Valley and elsewhere in New Zealand. It is an example of how much natural history is hidden under New Zealand’s surface.

Shark-toothed dolphins and prehistoric penguins

John, one of the volunteers of the Vanished World Centre, shows us around the impressive collection of fossils from species that used to occupy the ocean. In a glass case is the skull of the shark-toothed dolphin that used to once swim in the waters of Kaikoura – far from the cute and cuddly dusky dolphins that you can now swim with in Kaikoura.

John also shows us the fossils of a prehistoric penguin which was almost as tall as Laura! We’re not sure we would want to get too close to those guys and watch them return from fishing at the end of the day like we have done with the little blue penguins. We would be more afraid of them!

Rattling rocks and giant moa bones

Next, we enter “The Rock Room” – an impressive collection of different types of rock, fossils, small boulders and rattling rocks. these rock have another rock rattling away inside them, eroding from the inside to make a larger gap inside the rock and a louder rattle. Once broken in half, John demonstrated that the rock makes a good whistle!

The gem of the rock room in our eyes is not the rocks themselves, but the bones of a giant moa – another huge species from long ago (or not so long ago compared to the rest of the species we are seeing today) that got wiped out on New Zealand after humans migrated to the country.

The unusual town of Duntroon

You could really spend a long time in the Vanished World Centre looking at fossils and even microscopic fossils within fossils, but we do have to hit the road and get to Omarama. Before we leave Duntroon, we have a quick look around the town with a couple of mannequin scenes set up, such as the Duntroon Gaol and the blacksmiths. We also find some scrap metal artwork of the giant moa, a bit like what we saw at the Steampunk HQ, as well as the entrance to an underwater cave that spans underneath the town.

A stunning drive through the Waitaki Valley

Although windy as hell, the drive through the Waitaki Valley to Omarama is nothing short of stunning. In the distance, we can see the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps. We are surrounded by green mountains and the turquoise blue waters of lakes formed by several huge dams we see along the way.

Finally, we arrive at the Omarama Top 10 Holiday Park where we soak in the sun, playing one of Robin’s crappy op-shop boardgame purchases. Tomorrow, we are going to be doing a section of the Alps to Ocean bike trail. Join us then!

Looking at all the weird and wonderful bones and fossils of the Vanished World Centre

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See you tomorrow!


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