The Vanished World

The Vanished World

Author: Heather Wilson
Content by courtesy of : Otago Rock and Mineral club (New Zealand)

Reproduction of text and photos prohibited without permission of author.


(Unofficial Site) Ewan Fordyce

Ewan Fordyce (University of Otago Professor of Geology) is the leader of a unique project “The Vanished World Heritage trail”

In North Otago in the Waitaki Valley, the “Vanished World” Heritage Trail is opening soon. This is based on the areas natural history, both geological and fossil. This offers an exclusive look at ancient marine mammals that were fossilized in limestone 25-35 million years ago. The Heritage Trail will offer 15 easily assessable sites in coastal and inland Waitaki.

New zealand map  

The Waitaki limestones have produced a world-class selection of fossil whales, shark toothed dolphins, and giant penguins. At one site a baleen whale has been partially uncovered. When it was buried there was probably over 100 meters of water above it. Other fossils in the area are coconuts, brachiopods (shells), sharks, bony fish, echinoderms etc. The fossils will be partially exposed so they can be easily seen.

Echinoderms fossils

Echinoderms (top and bottom view)

A visitorsÂ’ center will be operating in Duntroon. The center will showcase the fossil and geological tourism development under way in North Otago. A small brochure with map will be available free and the trail will be self-guided. For people who require more than a map, an A4 colour brochure will be available for purchase. This will summarize key features for each site, and will include a geological time scale showing important events. For tourists and educational groups who require further details, a guidebook will be available.

Fenced and graded tracks will allow easy foot access across private land, and display boards will explain the sites. The trail appears to be the first in New Zealand to be based wholly around earth materials. This is a unique chance to see real specimens still in the original field situation. The surrounding scenery is picturesque and memorable. Well worth seeing for its beauty alone let alone for viewing geological wonders.

Elephant Rocks

Elephant Rocks

Weathering processes wear away the softer surrounding rock and this leaves the harder rock. Some limestone rocks have been weathered by wind and rain to resemble weird and wonderful shapes. If imagination is used there are some definite elephant shaped rocks but you will have to visit the area to view these.

Pillow Lava, Oamaru

Pillow Lava at Boatman's Habour, Oamaru.

One of the sites on the tour Boatman's Harbour where unusual volcanic structures known as pillow lava are visible.  The spherical and pillow shaped masses are the result of fingers of lava flowing onto the sea floor from the Oamaru volcano some 40-50 million years ago. Erosion by the sea has cross-sectioned parts of the flow, enabling the glassy surface of the pillows to be seen along with  fossil bearing marine sediments that fill in the gaps between the hardened lava.

Fossilized bones

Fossilized bones found in a block of Oamaru Stone are the thigh and shin bones belonging to a 35 million year old giant penguin.

Parkside quarry

Parkside Quarry

The Oamaru limestone found at Parkside Quarry was laid down in the warm seas of 35-40 million years ago. The sea at that time covered about 200 square km of North Otago reaching as far inland as Lake Aviemore. The limestone is formed mainly of sand-sized bryozoan fragments containing large numbers of microfossils such as foraminifera. The hard shells of the marine animals and plants built up a thick blanket of limey sediment on the sea floor. The sediment became lithified (hardened into rock) and was eventually lifted above sea level. Occasionally larger mollusks, brachiopods, corals, whalebones, sharks teeth and echinoderms are found here. More rarely giant penguin bones have also been discovered. Guided Tours of this site are available.

E-mail address for Ewan Fordyce is ewan.fordyce@stonebow.otago.ac.nz

More information on Ewan Fordyce and other happenings at the Geology Department, Otago University is found at

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Content by courtesy of :
Otago Rock and Mineral club