Otago Off The Beaten Path Tips by Kakapo2 Top 5 Page for this destination
Otago Off The Beaten Path: 25 reviews and 49 photos
The guy sitting in front of the Blacksmith Shop.
Duntroon, located in the Waitaki Valley between Oamaru and Omarama feels a bit like an open-air museum. Wandering around between an historic blacksmith’s shop, three churches and an old gaol you are surprised to meet real people living there ;-)
The Waitaki Valley is popular with boaties and for fishing, with the hydro power lakes Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki.
Duntroon is the centre of a big number of geological finds which have been listed on the so-called Vanished World Fossil Trail. (I have published tips about the most outstanding examples of this trail: the Elephant Rocks, the Anatini Whale Bone Fossil site, and the Takiroa Maori Rock Art site.) Right in Duntroon is the Vanished World Visitor Centre.
But Duntroon is more. As said, it looks like uninhabited, with all those unique buildings, some of them sitting in wide open spaces, like fallen from the sky. They have been lovingly restored and are presented in a very appealing way.
The tiny farming township was established in about 1864. It was named after Duntroon in Scotland from where an early settler named Robert Cambell (born in 1843) had come from. Cambell came to New Zealand in 1860 and became a major land owner. He built a 30 roomed Scottish Baronial Limestone mansion in 1889 at Otekaike. He died in 1889, aged 49, and his wife four months later. They left the building of St Martins Church in Duntroon.
Close to the church BTW is another site of limestone cliff formations, named Earthquakes.
A building that immediately attracts your attention is Nicol's Blacksmith Shop right on the main road. It still has its original interior and contains its original bellows and powered forge. The building is from 1898 and is very well maintained.
Next door is the former Bootmaker’s Shop. This, however, has been transformed into the Flying Pig Café.
On the opposite side of the main road is the Duntroon Gaol. The first one was built in 1876, but the one you see today bears the year 1910. It is open for inspection and free of charge.
Photo 2 shows the old gaol of 1910.
On photo 3 you see historic Nicol’s Blacksmith Shop.
Photo 4 shows Duntroon’s Flying Pig Café – very pink… ;-)
The Takiroa Rock Art Site is a sacred place for the Ngai Tahu, the South Island’s major Maori tribe. It is located in the Waitaki Valley, along SH 83, between Oamaru and Omarama, about 3 or 4 km west of the township of Duntroon. (Parking bays on both sides of the road.)
The limestone outcrops alone are already fantastic. The main rock looks like a sponge, and birds, especially sparrows, are nesting in the holes at the moment. I consider this rock art site a lot more interesting than the one you would find near the start of the Danseys Pass Road on the way to the Elephant Rocks.
The Takiroa site is said to be the remains of the sacred fire of Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua (ahi tapu o Tamatea), the great early Maori explorer. He walked the land making fire as he went. As the fire cooled down, mounds of pale white ash were left in their place. So far the legend.
Several of the rock paintings were taken off their original sites in the early 1900’s. Some of them were destroyed in the process. The ones that survived were taken to various museums throughout New Zealand. You can still see some pale shapes of the paintings behind a fence that protects the site. Signs illustrate what has been lost from Tokiroa.
The Maori used fat, charcoal and red ochre for their drawings on the limestone surfaces of shelter areas. Some drawings are just rough sketches, others beautifully stylised pieces of art. But as said, there are only hardly visible drawings left at the original site.
Photo 2 shows the remains of a drawing and the sign illustrating the original look.
Photos 3 and 4 show fascinating details of the sponge-like limestone rocks.
Update 28 May 2010
There was severe rockfall, caused by the severe rain this week. The rock paintings have not been damaged but the Takiroa site has been closed to the public, as the rocks have destroyed part of the fence, and there might be further rockfall.
This place is part of the Vanished World Trail from Duntroon in the Waitaki Valley.
It features baleen whale bones, reminding us that this part of the world once lay under the sea some 25 million years ago.
To be perfectly honest: We found the whale bone display slightly disappointing. We had expected… well, the fossil of a whole whale… Not just some small parts of the skeleton enclosed in a small plastic display box – which itself looks strange in the middle of the remote landscape.
However, if you squeeze your nose against the about one metre long plexiglass box you can recognise some bone fossils, a vertebrae, and a part of the scull.
The whale display sits on private farmland and is surrounded by lots of interestingly shaped blocks of Otekaike limestone.
It is only one kilometre from the more spectacular Elephant Rocks.
If you come from Duntroon, just carry on after the Elephant Rocks. You do not see the rocks and fossils from the road. There is a sign on the right side of the road, indicating the Anatini site. Not a lot of parking space (best on the right side near the sign). Climb over the stile and walk down into the display area.
Do NOT drive onto the driveway beside the sign and mailbox. It leads to a private property. You end up making a U-turn and parking along the road. Personally tested ;-)))
Photo 2 shows the plexiglass box that protects the whale bone fossils.
On photo 3 you see an interesting limestone rock of the Anatini site.
I forgot to upload photo 4 because at the time the VT upload did not work, and now I have forgotten what it was, and apart from that the photos are on an external drive, and I am too lazy to get it... ;-)))
Ride on an Elephant... rock...
The Elephant Rocks near the little township of Duntroon in the Waitaki Valley (between Oamaru and Omarama) are part of quite a number of interesting remains of the era when the area was still covered by the sea. You find lots of fossils... no, let's say, a lot of fossils of whales, dolphins and other sea creatures were found in this region which have been transported to various museums.
The Elephant Rocks are strangely shaped limestone formations sitting on private land near the Danseys Pass Road (see extra tip). They are not blocked off for the public, you have free access over farmland. Parking is along the road, and the walk is just 100 or 200 metres. Of course, if you want to get closer to the rocks, you can easily do a loop walk of a kilometre or more.
A comparison with Castle Hill:
If you do not go to Arthurs Pass and therefore do not see Castle Hill (more info about this on my Canterbury page), the Elephant Rocks are a fine example of the area's geological sub-sea past. And the rocks are nicely laid out like an amphi-theatre. Castle Hill is a much bigger area, and the rocks have about five or six times the size of the elephants.
Information and Trail Maps:
You get a map of the whole fossil trail network and information about the geology of the area at the Vanished World Visitor Centre in Duntroon. This is located right along the main road, if coming from Oamaru/Waimate, it is on the left side. You cannot miss it.
The folder costs $ 6. If you are just interested in the Elephant Rocks and have time restraints, you do not really need it. The road is well marked.
Coming from Oamaru...
1. ... on the main roads:
You drive on SH 83. Reaching Duntroon there is a sign (black on yellow) to the left, with "Elephant Rocks" written on it, and the main direction Danseys Pass/Ngapara. They are about 4 km from SH 83. So take this turn to the left. At the first fork keep to the right, at the second fork to the left (there is also this yellow sign with "Elephant Rocks"). Your main direction always is Ngapara. (Vanished World would be some hundred metres further along SH 83, and you would have to drive back this short way.)
2. ... on a hinterland route:
Take a turn to the left in Oamaru towards Weston/Ngapara. This is a rarely used road through the hinterland. In Ngapara Duntroon should already be indicated. If not, Island Cliff would be the next place to head for. After that you would automatically pass the Elephant Rocks when heading for Duntroon.
More to see:
There are two more interesting fossil sites along your way.
Just 1 km further on the right (if coming from Duntroon/Elephant Rocks), or 1 km before reaching the Elephant Rocks, to your left, is the Anatini site with the whale fossil remains.
Carrying on from Duntroon towards Omarama on SH 83, there are the Maori rock paintings of Tokiroa on your left after 3 or 4 km. (Parking on both sides of the road.)
Photo 2 shows you a wider angle of the area. Photo 1 with us humans included should give you an idea of the size of the rocks.
Remainders of the golden past in Logantown.
Gold was first found in Otago in 1861, and this started the gold rush which swept over the country at a time of deep economic depression. 50 years later the big rush was over, and 100 years later there was nearly no gold output in NZ for about 40 years. Goldmines that have been left more than 100 years ago are kept as historic places, or ghosttowns of which Otago has plenty.
On 23 May 1861 a man from Tasmania named Gabriel Read, equipped with a pan and a butcher's knife, collected about seven ounces of gold in ten hours work in the valley that today bears his name. He wrote poetically that he "saw the gold shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night".
Gabriel's Gully Roundtrip starts in Lawrence on SH 8, 35 kms west of Milton (SH 1, south of Dunedin). There are the Lawrence flourmill site, the Blue Spur Treasure House, the Pick and Shovel Monument, Jacobs Ladder (a steep rise) and the Blue Spur town site.
Close-by is the rush-area of Wetherston. There are only the brick remains of the Black Horse Brewery.
The Otago Heritage Trail:
It leads from Cromwell to Bannockburn, Nevis Valley, Bendigo and Quartz Reef Point-Northburn. In total there are 23 sites of interest (all listed on the Wildflower Walks website) but already the visit of two or three places gives a good impression.
Some trips are not recommended in bad weather conditions. Get a detailed map and local information before you go on this trip, escpecially the Nevis Road is very narrow, steep and tricky in parts.
Some of the ghosttowns inspire the imagination, like Bendigo and Logantown which is just a walk from Bendigo. Dozens of crumbling stone cottages and huts are still standing there. In both places are also deep mine shafts and tunnels - but most of them are not marked or covered, and fruit trees are growing on the fields. So take care when you walk around there.
Other great places for meeting the past are the goldfields of the Queenstown region, for example the Kawarau Gorge.
Also guided tours, including walking tours.
Amazing colours on the way to Lee Flat.
In mid-summer you might meet people swimming, fishing, or picknicking but at other times of the year it can happen that you do not see anybody on this round-trip from Dunedin which takes several hours because most of it is on a sometimes slippery gravel road.
From Dunedin drive to Mosgiel and follow SH 87, turn left after approx. 25kms towards Lee Flat. On the next stretch I stopped at nearly every corner to take photos of the rolling hills, some dry, some irrigated, and white dots from big sheep herds everywhere, dramatic clouds, a rainbow... When you approach Lake Mahinerangi drive straight ahead and do NOT turn left towards Waipori Forest, this leads back to SH 87.
When you come to Thornicroft Station, take the left fork downhill to the lake which is artificial and has been created for hydroelectric power generation. It has an intricate shoreline. When Lake Mahinerangi, namend after the daugther of a former Dunedin mayor, was formed the not very rich goldworkings of Waipori township were flooded. The houses of this township look very basic, more bach-like, but also nearly surreal suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Directly after Waipori you cross the lake over a dam and bridge.
What follows is rather a long and boring trip through pine and larch plantations but this changes when the road curls downhill through the native bush of the scenic Waipori Falls Reserve with its many birds, especially fantails showing their aerobatics at the roadside, and you get back on sealed road.
If you turn left at the power station (no sign when I was there) you reach the Waipori and Cristal Falls and walking track.
Via Berwick you get to SH 1 from where you can either return directly to Dunedin or make a worthwile detour via Lake Waihola and the Taieri River Mouth and back to Dunedin along the coast. (See extra tip.)
Shortly before reaching SH 1 are the Sinclair Wetlands with an abundance of water birds.
Picture perfect landscape along Dansey's Pass Road
If you have already felt lonesome on the Otago Rail Trail - on this road trip in Central Otago you will even meet less people. You should only start on a nice day, otherwise the narrow and winding gravel road can become rather dangerous. In winter it is closed by snow occasionally. But even in perfect conditions you have to be cautious - just for the case of oncoming traffic from around the many bends.
If driving North from Ranfurly or Naseby there are the Kyeburn Diggings (former gold mining) and a historic hotel, the Danseys Pass Hotel (now: Danseys Pass Coach Inn), which was built in the 1880s and still offers accommodation and refreshments today. Then the track winds uphill over the Kakanui Ranges, the landscape gets more and more spectacular, and the higher you come the more breathtaking the views, with snow-capped mountains year-round at the horizon. After the pass the road leads down into irrigated farmland and past an idyllic campground to Duntroon (southeast of Kurow) and into the Waitaki Valley (main road Oamaru - Omarama). Truly a magic trip!
A fantastic addition to this road trip: Coming from Middlemarch, take the road on the east of the Taieri Ridge side, visit the open cast gold mines of Macraes Flat and then turn left onto the main road (coming from Palmerston) over the Pigroot Summit, and then straight to the Kyeburn Diggings or via Naseby which has a reputation for being the most picturesque of all goldfield settlements in Central Otago.
Other Contact: http://www.danseyspass.co.nz/
Reminder of the past
Cycling on NZ roads can be dangerous. The Otago Rail Trail is totally different: relaxed, enjoyable, just you and nature. Only bicycles, horses and trampers are allowed on this 150 km long track which follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Clyde to Middlemarch. Although it is becoming more and more popular we did not meet more than ten people each day when we made the trip from Alexandra to Middlemarch in the middle of March.
You do not have to be a super athlete to do it. There are no really steep sections. The first part goes steadily uphill, the last part downhill. The hardest thing is to sit on the saddle long hours as the gravel surface is a little rough in parts. The track leads over 68 redecked bridges. The landscape is spectacular, wide and lonesome, rough, dry, with some green valleys along riverbeds. Wild romantic at its best!
The brochures and books say you should allow three to five days for the trip but we did it in two days without going to the limit. We left the car at the motel in Alexandra, spent the next night in the cabin of the Oturehua Tavern (basic but great), then at the B&B in Middlemarch (a perfect place). There is a mini bus door-to-door service from Middlemarch to Clyde and back (line Dunedin - Wanaka) which also transports bicycles and should be booked the evening before (Catch-a-Bus, timetables at Tourist Info Sites). Bicycles can be hired at many places, and there are companies which organise the whole trip. See Rail Trail website.
The free brochure from the Tourist Infos including map and profile is great and perfect during the trip. Very good website! Plenty of accommodation, food and repair shops along the trail. All details in the Guide to the Otago Central Rail Trail (Reed Outdoors).
Take clothes for any kind of weather with you as conditions can change quickly. Best time is spring, late summer and autumn. Summer can be veeery hot there. When we rode in perfect weather conditions a tramper we met told us that it had snowed two days earlier...
Phone: Catch-a-Bus (03) 479 9960
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