Thursday, February 9, 2012

Research Roadtrip: Clay Cliffs and Earthquakes

Earthquakes, Waitaki District

I went down south with a rough itinerary and a bunch of must sees (towns, museums, coastal stretches), but I had enough time to detour to places that sounded cool on the sign post or my GPS screen.

Two of these detours yielded fantastic results.

The first was Clay Cliffs, which is near Omarama. (I didn't acknowledge the aural similarity to my name at the time, but I can't rule out that it was a determining factor in my going there).

After leaving the main road and driving for ten kilometres (most of it gravel, punctuated by several gates for livestock) and walking for perhaps another k, you reach some, uh, clay cliffs. 

They reminded me a lot of the Putangirua Pinnacles in the Wairarapa, except these formations were a sandy brown rather than cement grey.

The sun was shining. The nearby braided river slipped by. Rock pigeons swooped from ledge to ledge, behaving as they must in their natural habitats (there's nothing like seeing a city bird in the country to redeem it). Emerging from a niche in the cliffs I was met with this view:

Great stuff.

If you intend on visiting, I recommend visiting the Omarama i-site first to pay your $5, as Clay Cliffs is on a private estate (the money goes towards upkeep of the area).

Sheep, Clay Cliffs Estate
The next day I turned off the highway at Duntroon and headed to a township (as it appeared to be on my GPS) called Earthquakes. I knew nothing more than its name, but that was intriguing enough. What would a town called Earthquakes look like? Why the plural? 

Turns out Earthquakes is hardly a township. More like two farmhouses situated close to the road (gravel once more). But, as you might expect from the name, the area is interesting geologically -- even if the cliffs and ravines weren't formed by earthquakes but a landslide thousands of years ago.

It also turns out the area is rich in fossils (there's even a Fossil Trail through the region), with a whale fossil on display about two hundred metres from the parking spot at Earthquakes.

The real highlight for me, however, was the landscape. The long, fine grass. The waxy coprosmas. The limestone cliffs. The green and yellow rolling pasture in the distance, leading to the freshly snow-dusted ranges.

Again, it helps it was a stunning day and that I was all on my lonesome in this magical place.

One problem with being alone and somewhat awestruck is there are holes littered eitherside of the path. At one point an unseen bird rustled in a nearby bush. I stopped to see what it was. The movement stopped. I stepped slowly toward the bush, then suddenly my left left was in a hole up to the hip.

The offending hole
If it had been a few inches deeper, I'd have done some serious damage. If it had been slightly shallower and the bottom more uneven, I could have badly twisted or even broken my ankle. Getting outta Earthquakes alone would have been fun.

But all I got was a bruise on my ankle and a lesson in birdwatching.

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