Landscapes of the Waitaki were once located under ancient seas and now sit above sea level, providing unique geological marvels and insights into a vanished world. This district is home to the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, which now also boasts a new international status, officially accredited as a UNESCO Global Geopark. The new status highlights the area’s international geological significance, being the only recognised Geopark in Australasia and is yet another drawcard for visitors to come to the Waitaki District.
Geological sites include the famous Moeraki Boulders (Te Kaihīnaki), Elephant Rocks, Clay Cliffs and sites that are home to unique fossils of the Duntroon countryside. Among the attractions are fossils of pre-historic creatures now extinct, at Duntroon’s Vanished World Centre, including fossils from a penguin the size of a man and shark-toothed dolphins.
There’s so much to learn and discover in Waitaki’s Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark. The geosites offer interesting learning opportunities about our world for both young and old.
The Moeraki Boulders are at Koekohe Beach between Moeraki and Hampden on State Highway 1 south of Oamaru. The spherical boulders are calcite concretions formed about 65 million years ago. The boulders are a fantastic holiday photo stop and starting point for the geopark.
Other features of the geopark are inland from Oamaru and can be planned as a day tour. See the links for directions and how to visit the sites safely and respectfully.
A good first stop is Elephant Rocks, a boulder field that towers above your head in the middle of a pasture and then nearby Anatini, a sheltered valley where you can see the fossilised bones of a baleen whale in the limestone. Both sites are about 40 minutes’ drive from Oamaru. From Elephant Rocks take a 5-minute drive to the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon.
Travel up the Waitaki Valley to the Clay Cliffs at Omarama, which were formed from the deposits of ancient lakes and rivers around 20 million years ago. Allow an hour and 15 minutes to reach the cliffs from Duntroon and enjoy the beautiful Waitaki countryside vistas as you travel inland on State Highway 83 toward the area’s hydro dams.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 2023 endorsement for Waitaki Whitestone Geopark occurred after assessors gave the recommendation in 2022 following an application by the Geopark Trust in 2019.
Protection and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the land is at the heart of the Geopark philosophy. We ask you to treat all sites with respect and do not remove anything from these sites so they may be preserved for our future generations to enjoy. Some sites are on private land, but accessible to the public. Please respect the privilege of accessing the sites and follow instructions given by landowners.