A recent article about a new study using DNA from fossil bone fragments reminded me of a passing visit to New Zealand's vanished world.

The study, led by researchers from universities in Otago, Canterbury Museum and Te Papa, provided insights into New Zealand' s extinct marine creatures from more than 25 million years ago.

At the quaint North Otago township of Duntroon, however, you can unearth some discoveries of your own.

An artist's impression of an extinct moa.
An artist's impression of an extinct moa.

Duntroon hardly stands out as a high-profile destination. Hailed as the biggest little town in the Waitaki Valley, however its inclusion on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail lures visitors of a different nature.


Cyclists might not share a palaeontologist's interest in fossils. But as a stop-off along the route, the area deserves more than a glance at the village map.

It's also a handy stop for travellers driving along State Highway 83. Straddling this main road, Duntroon is a one-horse town.

Interesting limestone formations hint at prehistoric creatures.
Interesting limestone formations hint at prehistoric creatures.
'Duntroon can rightfully stake its own claim to things colossal by being home to the Vanished World Centre.'

Yet history plants it right in the heart of the Vanished World Heritage Trail — a self-guided route spanning coastal localities from the Moeraki Boulders to Oamaru before heading inland to the Waitaki Valley.

The road passes through Duntroon and Kurow then takes in the hydro dams at Waitaki, Aviemore and Benmore — all interesting stop-offs in their own right.

Incidentally, a giant mock-up of the great All Black Richie McCaw in Kurow's main street attracts donations from passers-by in an effort to fund a planned colossal statue of the icon.

Duntroon can rightfully stake its own claim to things colossal by being home to the Vanished World Centre. It's worth a visit to learn about the creatures that inhabited this country's coastline millions of years ago.

A scenic bike ride through the Duntroon Wetlands.
A scenic bike ride through the Duntroon Wetlands.

There are exhibits and artefacts, an informative video; together with the obligatory merchandise and books. For another small fee children can get hands on with geology.
Buying some rubble, they can brush away like seasoned palaeontologists in the hope of discovering a fossil from some distant creature.

Other Duntroon sights include the old gaol — complete with public stocks — farm relics and an innovative artistic metal moa.


Next door is Nicol's Forge — the only accessible authentic village blacksmith in the country. At 100 years old, this Category One historic building is a rare example of how important the local smithy was in bygone New Zealand.

Run by volunteers, it opens to the public where possible to showcase a blacksmith at work and even runs courses for novices. Down the street, the Duntroon Hotel is a good stopover. The old railway station is now accommodation.

There are B&Bs throughout the place and the Flying Pig Cafe is tagged as world famous in New Zealand as Paeroa's L&P bottle and Ohakune's carrot.

Not far from Duntroon — and crucial to the vanished world's heritage — are the unique Elephant Rocks.

These limestone formations have gained global attention similar to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit among fantasy fans.

As a film location, they were transformed into Aslan's Camp for the mythical depiction of Narnia in the 2005 adaptation by NZ director Andrew Adamson of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Millions of years ago this entire area was underwater — roamed by prehistoric whales, dolphins, sharks and other marine life. Over the millennia these extinct creatures sank into the sand as the sea bed gradually rose to eventually create this intriguing landscape.

Discovering these mysteries along the A20 is one way of exploring this South Island trail.

But as a scenic drive from coast to country, it's pleasant trip if you prefer a more sedate mode of travel through this historic pathway.


Vanished World Heritage Trail — a self-guided trail spanning North Otago coastal locations from Moeraki and Oamaru inland through the Waitaki Valley