Hidden away on private New Zealand farmland a few kilometres outside of a small South Island town called Duntroon are the Elephant Rocks. These weathered limestone rocks have come to the surface over the last ~60 million years and have been sculpted by wind, rain, and streams. Look familiar? Perhaps you recognise this area from The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe where scenes from Aslan’s camp were filmed.
I will admit I hadn’t seen the film so that wasn’t my motivation to adventure here, but I had recently drawn orange lines on a map of New Zealand everywhere I’ve been in my life...
...and the road between Omarama and Oamaru needed colouring in. I took to Instagram to see what was around the area and found the Elephant Rocks in Duntroon. I had never even heard of this small town in the Waitaki district, so after a short day trip from Fairlie to the Clay Cliffs in Omarama, we decided to drive home via the Benmore Dam, the Elephant Rocks and Timaru to pick up Indian takeaways for dinner. The perfect day trip!
Speaking of the film, did you know that while C.S.Lewis was alive he said he would never sell the rights to a film company because he didn’t think anyone could make his magical stories appear realistic, but after seeing a demo reel of CGI animals his stepson (literary executor and the film’s co-producer) gave his seal of approval for a movie adaptation!? I did not know that until I started googling the filming process of The Chronicles of Narnia in New Zealand. I’ve always wondered how the location scouts find these places. What a fun job!
I had seen a few comments online saying that these rocks “didn’t live up to the hype on the internet” but I would have to disagree. Perhaps - because these people had been negative and I hate being told what to do or think - just to be annoying I had already decided I would love them but I really was blown away at the size and randomness of these limestone rocks.
From doing a tiny bit of research on these rocks I have found that the whole area around Duntroon is known for its geology and fossils. I can confirm because my friend and number one rock master Morgan did have a University field trip here once so it must be true.
These Otekaike Limestone rocks were originally limey sand that had accumulated in the waters 75-100m deep in the Oligocene times many millions of years ago.
^ Just FYI
Then, once the sand sediments had been buried and hardened to make a thick bed of limestone, the uplift process began. (Isn’t it wild that people know this stuff because I don’t know anything about what happened 25 million years ago!) This brought the limestone rocks to the surface where they were eventually eroded by wind, rain, and streams and are now mostly covered in a mottled grey lichen. What I find really super cool is that apparently, remnants of the ancient seafloor are still visible on the rocks today in a series of horizontal crisscrossing lines/cracks. Amazing!
Just outside of Duntroon in the Waitaki District turn onto Livingstone-Duntroon Road off State Highway 83 (towards the coast side of the town) and follow the road until you get to Island Cliff-Duntroon Road. Veer left here and keep driving for about 1.5kms.
It is possible that you will completely miss the parking for the rocks as it’s just a little car park on the shoulder of Island Cliff-Duntroon Road. (There was an NZ Transit yellow sign but it appears to have fallen over.) But when you find a nice gravel area to pull over on the side of the road with a picnic table and a big Heritage Trail sign - that’s the spot.
Once you’ve parked your car you simply cross the road and enter through the gate (always close the gate behind you! Remember this is private land and there could be animals in the paddock.) where it’s only a short 3-5 minute easy walk to the actual rocks themselves.
You can also access this trail on the Alps2Ocean cycle trail.
And the best thing… It’s completely free! The sign states, “this is NOT a collection site! Take only photos! Leave only footprints!” And yes, there are that many exclamation marks. Whoever wrote this sign is my long lost soul mate that’s for sure. I love the level of enthusiasm!
Alright… so I’ll address the elephant in the room. The verdict is in. Are they worth the stop?
Unless you were a geologist I wouldn’t, like, go out of my way to fly to New Zealand from the other side of the world (lol remember when we could do that!) just to see the Elephant Rocks, but if you were passing by either driving north from Dunedin, inland from Oamaru, towards the coast from Omarama or were just needing a day trip from somewhere around the Mackenzie/Timaru area then I would highly recommend taking the slight detour off the main road to see these beauties for yourself.
Until the next adventure,
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