Visiting A Vanished World

At the end of the last post, we headed up the east coast of the South Island to a delightful free campground at All Day Bay. En route, we noticed a large information board by the roadside and discovered more previously unknown wonders to visit! It’s truly amazing having only a loose agenda as ‘digital nomads‘, with the ability to alter our itinerary depending on what attractions appear.

The Vanished World Trail and Vanished World Centre sounded incredibly appealing and soon became a planned destination!

The first evening at the campground, we were treated to a stunning sunset. We’d left the West Coast behind long ago, but that didn’t seem to matter too much.

All Day Bay is opposite a large estuary teeming with birds. Sadly it’s on private land making it mostly inaccessible, though that’s probably better for the wildlife! Even with our binoculars, it was challenging to identify the numerous avian varieties.

The facilities for campers were excellent, with rubbish bins and flushing toilets. A short stroll to a sweeping beach; part of the Vanished World Trail. Thank you Waitaki District Council.

We spent two days sitting still, while I worked and Barry edited his photos.

A Brief Visit To Ōamaru

On Thursday 22nd April, we set off for Ōamaru. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived without any clear plan of what to see or where to go! We had a walk around the harbour and spotted the Alps to Ocean sign – yet another cycle trail here on the South Island. We’d be seeing a lot more of that breathtaking route in the days to come. But not by bike! Maybe one day …

“The Cycle Trail starts at the base of the majestic Aoraki Mt Cook in the National Park or alternatively at Tekapo, with both routes meeting on the shores of the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki.  From there the Trail takes in Twizel and the shoreline of Lake Ohau before climbing to the highest point on the Trail where you view the magnificence of the Mackenzie basin before dropping down to Omarama. The Waitaki Valley delivers a geo-park of wonders, you meander past more lakes and rivers, ride through vineyards and experience ever changing vistas on you way towards the Pacific coast.  Your final destination is Oamaru, a town famous for its neo classical ‘Oamaru Stone’ Victorian buildings, art galleries and the little blue penguins.”

Victorian Buildings and Steampunk

We also discovered the famous Victorian buildings. Built during 1865 – 1885 from locally quarried limestone, these are the most complete Victorian commercial buildings streetscape in New Zealand. Ōamaru stone is limestone, a sedimentary rock comprising fossilised skeletal remains of organic marine particles, giving the stone a rich texture. This cream coloured stone is made into all manner of things in New Zealand, such as sculptures and buildings. Ōamaru Stone is seen in almost every town and city in New Zealand. The Auckland High Court (where Barry’s great grandfather carved the heads), Government House, the Christchurch Arts Centre, and Otago University are all built from it.  And of course, Ōamaru’s main street also showcases many magnificent limestone buildings. You’ll find some fabulous photos in Barry’s slideshow at the end.

Another treat was the Steampunk HQ. Founded in 2011, it’s contained in the Grain Elevator, an 1883 Oamaru stone building located at Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct entrance. I had no real knowledge of what Steampunk is – though Barry did. In case you’re interested it’s:

“… a quirky and fun genre of science fiction that features steam-powered technology. It is often set in an alternate, futuristic version of 19th century Victorian England steam-powered devices – the ‘world gone mad’ as Victorian people may have imagined it. Examples are machines like those in the writing of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne and in television shows such as Dr Who.”

We didn’t start at the Steampunk HQ, but finished there. After 4pm! So we saved ourselves $20 but didn’t get to experience the labyrinth of art, sculpture, film and the Portal.

There weren’t any free campgrounds in Oamaru, so we parked up at the A and P Showground overnight which costs NZMCA members $3 each. It seemed to be a popular spot, with some vans looking like they’d settled in for the autumn.

Then we continued along the Vanished World Trail on Friday 23rd April.

Amazed By Anatini

Our first stopping point was a place called Anatini in the Whitestone Aspiring Global Geopark. If we hadn’t read an informative leaflet from Tourism Waitaki, it’s unlikely that we’d have spotted this. There’s a small sign at the side of the road and a tiny parking place. The road adjacent to it is private land, as are the rocks. What remarkable rock formations. We were so glad we found them. Here limestone features have been exposed and eroded over many years, with fossils of ancient whales protruding from the rock. There’s also one of only a few natural limestone arches in New Zealand.

Plus, it was the movie scene for Aslan’s Camp in Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Alps to Ocean Duntroon to Oamaru section (54km in length) runs alongside. We watched a few families cycling by while we were there – it was the Easter school holidays. Some of them stopped to look at the outcrops; others whizzed past, which seemed bizarre.

Enraptured By Elephant Rocks

The next stopping point was Elephant Rocks, which also featured in the first Chronicles of Narnia film. We found it somewhat challenging to see ‘elephants’ in the massive rocks, but they were definitely as big as elephants! The autumnal colours in the distance were quite spectacular.

The rocks were formed from Otekaike Limestone, originating as a fossil-rich marine sand 25 million years ago. Blimey!

Light was getting dim by now, so we missed the Maori Rock Drawings at Takiroa with the intention of returning the following day

Delighted By Duntroon

We arrived at the small but lovely town of Duntroon, hoping to find somewhere to camp. I wanted to visit the Vanished World Centre there. I ventured into the Duntroon Hotel to ask if they allowed overnight parking in the car park. Sadly not, but she informed me that there’s a brilliant campground across the road we’d missed.

The Duntroon Domain Campground isn’t listed in the NZMCA App – intentionally, we later discovered! Barry called the caretaker, and we paid the overnight fee of $20 online. For that, we got a hot shower, toilet, a great kitchen and a comfy lounge. Though we only used the shower and toilet. Some young travellers in small vans did use the lounge and kitchen area.

The Vanished World Centre

Although it’s not a large building, good things can come in small packages. Inside The Vanished World Centre are displays helping to explain and interpret the fossils, rocks, localities, and landforms along the Vanished World Trail. We found prehistoric penguins, dolphins with massive jaws, whales with legs! And of course fossils galore. The fossils from whales, dolphins, and invertebrates, reveal the marine ecosystems of the Oligocene time some 20-30 million years ago!

There’s also a fossil extraction room that allows children to gain a ‘hands-on experience’ of fossils. Our grandsons would’ve loved it here. $10 each entrance was a bit painful, but we wanted to see inside and support the centre. We’d visited the nearby rock formations for free – it was the least we could do.

I found the information about the extinct Moa fascinating. These were large, flightless birds that lived in New Zealand until about 500 years ago. There were nine species of these extinct birds, which belong to the ratite group of birds, which also includes ostriches, emus and kiwi. Heartbreakingly Moa were hunted to extinction by Māori, who found them easy targets. They ate their flesh and made their feathers and skins into clothing. The bones were used for fish hooks and pendants. I never knew there were so many types around Aotearoa.

Nicol’s Blacksmith Shop

This charming historic Blacksmith Shop has a Heritage New Zealand Category One classification. Established in the early 1900s, it’s been faithfully restored. Many of the tools and artefacts were left in the building by the last blacksmith, Nicol Muirden. Rather than lose it, in 1975 four local farmers bought the land, building and artefacts, then in 2006 Nicol’s Blacksmith Historic Trust was formed and fundraising began. The deteriorating building needed restoration and artefacts needed to be catalogued. Nowadays they offer Blacksmith Experience Days from October to the end of May.

The Trust also owns the Brewery Cave at the back of the building. This was at one time a small brewery, but more importantly (though Barry may not agree!), it’s a source of clean water for the Blacksmiths.

The ‘Pioneer Couple’ statues dominate the roadside – a tribute to the hard-working people who arrived and found a way to survive in the area in the 1800s. And we were fascinated by the Police station, gaol and stocks. They’ve all been lovingly preserved by the locals.

St Martin’s Anglican Church

We were drawn to park up and visit St Martin’s Anglican Church as we were leaving Duntroon. Another magnificent building constructed using Ōamaru stone and one of the most photographed churches in the Waitaki. It was such a warm and welcoming place, and I loved the little note apologising for the flies. How on earth so many kept getting in was a mystery. Barry got some awesome shots of the church and me reading a sermon!

What a quaint settlement.

Takiroa Maori Cave Art

We backtracked to the road we’d arrived in Duntroon on the previous day, as I particularly wanted to see the Maori Cave Art at Takiroa. Now fenced off due to senseless damage, as well as many ‘stolen’, they are still worth a visit. No one knows who first daubed charcoal and red ochre on these walls. The images range from abstract forms to bird and animal life and people. The presence of bones from moa and the extinct quail suggest that they started early. 

Researching for this post, I was interested to learn that Takiroa is number five on the ‘A History of New Zealand in 100 Places’. Definitely worth a visit.

These are not the 100 best buildings – many aren’t buildings – or the greatest archaeological sites. McLean observes, ‘I chose some because they are beautiful, but most are either places where people created turning points in our history or they are ones that represent major historic themes. No focus groups tainted this entirely personal excursion through our cultural heritage landscapes. Despite the damage caused by the 2010–12 Canterbury earthquakes, I’ve kept my 2002 choices – change, even catastrophic, is as much part of history as continuity.’ “

Barry’s Slideshow

As always, there’s some amazing pictures below from Barry. Click on the first image to begin the slideshow …

2 thoughts on “Visiting A Vanished World


  2. Pingback: Dams Lakes and Cliffs Waiting For A Mount Cook Weather Window ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

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