The incredible Clay Cliffs at Ōmarama. © Jo Percival

Five fun things to do in the Waitaki District


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From wood-fired hot tubs to New Zealand's longest cycle trail, all set amongst some of the country's most remarkable geology, there are plenty of great things to do in North Otago's Waitaki District.

 1. Clay Cliffs

The Clay Cliffs on the outskirts of Ōmarama are an incredibly photogenic, geological marvel well worth a short detour if you’re heading through the region. Found on private land, the cliffs are at the end of a gravel road (so take care in winter) and access is granted with a $5 donation per vehicle in the box by the gate. 

Take the wide, well-formed paths to the base of the cliffs which tower in improbable pale peaks, like landforms from another planet. 

From a distance, the cliffs are incongruous in otherwise wide and rolling valley of the lower Mackenzie Basin. Once you’re there you can venture into crumbly gullies, enclosed by soaring layers of stacked gravel and sediment to get a real sense of scale. 

 2. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest ride, stretching 300km from Aoraki Mount Cook to the coast at Ōamaru. If the whole four to six day ride feels a bit daunting, why not tackle one of the shorter sections. In Ōmarama, you can hire bikes from the team at Trail Adventures, based at the local iSite. 

Ride the easy, mostly downhill section from Ōmarama township, along the shores of Lake Benmore to Sailors Cutting. The trail is wide and often flat so you can skim along and soak up the views across the Waitaki Valley. Plus, the team will be waiting when you arrive, so you don’t have to cycle all the way back. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to. 

3. Hot Tubs Omarama

Possibly Ōmarama’s most famous attraction are the outdoor wood-fired hot tubs. Nestled in cleverly designed landscaping next to a small lake on the outskirts of the village, the chemical-free hot tubs are completely private and utterly luxurious.

Sink into warm water enhanced by the scent of wafting woodsmoke in this tranquil spot.

Complemented by your own private changing room, carafes of chilled water to keep you hydrated and serene views, it’s the ideal way to wind down after a day of adventuring. 

Plus, for something even more special add a therapeutic massage to your soaking experience to ensure full relaxation.

4. Elephant Rocks

There are no prizes for guessing how the Elephant Rocks got their name.  

In a patch of farmland just outside Duntroon, you’ll find a herd of elephantine rocks intermingled with flocks of grazing sheep. Wander amongst or clamber over these geological specimens, and try to get your head around the fact that this limestone landscape was formed millennia ago – underneath the sea. 

Then, for something even more remarkable, head a little further up the road to the Anatini Fossil site, which can be reached by another short walk through more farmland. There, under a protective perspex cover, you can see the lower jaw, vertebrae and scapula of an ancient baleen whale. The remains suggest that the whale would have been eight to ten metres long and, after it died, its bones were preserved in the Otekaike limestone that would once have been 75-100 metres below the sea more than 20 million years earlier.

5. Vanished World Centre

To find out more about the geology of the area – all of which is part of the 7,200-square-kilometre Waitaki Whitestone Geopark – head to the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon.  

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We had another exciting ‘School of Rocks’ session with Duntroon School North Otago. ⠀ On Friday we were looking for micrometeorites near the Vanished World Centre. 👀 Micrometeorites formed the same time as our solar system, are only on third of a millimetre big and have usually a spherical shape. Our explorers, equipped with a magnet, gathered samples around the centre and examined these under the microscope. 🕵️‍♀️ So much fun!⠀ 📍Duntroon, New Zealand 🇳🇿⠀ 🔹⠀ 🔹⠀ 🔹⠀ #whitestonegeopark #geopark #travel #waitaki #ourwaitaki #southisland #newzealand #nz #duntroon #weroamnewzealand #newzealandadventures #newzealandtourismguide #nztravelreview #southislandpics #showme_world #earthpixnz #backpackerslifes #lifeofnewzealand #NZMustDo #TLPicks #zealandia #wonderful_places #amazing_shotz #vanishedworld #geologyrocks #schoolofrocks #capturenz

A post shared by Waitaki Whitestone Geopark (@whitestonegeopark) on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:00pm PDT

Here, you can learn from the many informative displays, view some of the fossils that have been extracted from local rock, see samples of minerals and limestone and kids can even have a hands-on experience of excavating their very own fossil.  

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