If you want to find something really off the beaten path, than you have to look no further. The Clay Cliffs of Omarama is a really off the beaten path place, where it seems only a limited number of people are aware of. And I am totally baffled why it is not more known, as these clay cliffs are really unusual!
By accident really, I stumbled upon a photo of the Clay Cliffs when researching for my New Zealand trip. And as I do like my out-of-the-way places, this instantly intriged me. And although out of the way, it wasn't difficult to fit it into my itinerary, as it didn't require such a long detour to 'squeeze' in a visit to here.
All the photos in the collage below are clickable, so you can view the larger photo.
Good morning! It is the 1st of March 2017 today, and we follow our usual morning routine, packing the bags quietly and efficiently, being done in no time, all followed by a nice breakfast. And then off we go! Today we are hoping for some beautiful morning light when we get to the Clay Cliffs.
It is still early in the morning when we hop into the car to drive from the Pukari area towards the south. The village we stayed last night is called Twizel. A boring village to be honest, but hugely practical, being only a 20 minutes drive from Omarama and not that far from the Mount Cook area. We are both in such a good mood, as we had some amazing days so far. Yesterday we hiked in the Mount Cook area on a trail called the Hooker Valley Trail. A fantastic and at the same time easy hike to do. And one I can highly recommend!
But as soon as we get into the car, we see the fog..... Drift of fog clouds float over the landscape, hiding the mountain ridge in the distance behind their fluffy white formations. And the further we drive, the thicker the fog gets, until it is just one big soup of fog clouds embracing us.
We get to the gate towards the Clay Cliffs, with the remaining stretch of road ahead of us being on private land. I jump out of the car to open the gate, and spot the little honesty box to leave our donation of $5. There is 4 kilometres of gravel road remaining to get to the cliffs.
But when I get back into the car again, we look at each other, and start to wonder. Is it really worth to drive on? The fog is on and off so very thick, and we probably won't be able to see that much of these cliffs. And according to some of the comments I had read, these remaining 4 kilometers are going to be a bumpy drive..... Is it really worth it to continue?? Not because of the donation; but for our time, and the bumpy drive ahead.....
But we quickly shake our heads, of course we need to continue! Who knows, we might be able to see something of these cliffs! And the total truth is that I just have to satisfy my curiosity about this place and see it for myself.
It is foggy when we get there, but, but, I can see something!! The contour of the cliffs is shimering through the mist, while the sun is desperately trying to break through the layers of the embracing clouds.
The drive was bumpy, but not at all as bad as I had expected. And parking of the car was no issue at all, as there is a small cark park located at the beginning trail. I put on a sweater against the chill of the fog, and without hesitation, we start our exploration of the area. We follow a trail that is leading below and slowly towards the Clay Cliffs. The hike is not that long, maybe a kilometer or so. After about 100 metres you will get to the first part of the Clay Cliffs.
And I am so excited of being here and being to see something of the Clay Cliffs! Although half-hidden by the fog, the shapes look so mystical in this light and are totally fascinating. The sun beams are playing with the fog, and the orange brown peaks of the Cliffs behind are creating these mystical shapes.
And in this mystical light the sky looks more like a purple than a blue. Mesmerizing!
When walking on the main trail along the Clay Cliffs we notice several small side trails towards and into the cliffs. There are no designated trails here, or signs, so it meant we started discovering all on our own hand.The clay structures are very fragile, and steep at times and slippery with loose rocks. So caution for yourself and the cliffs is needed. But it was a joy to do so, discovering something different each time.
Click, click, and click again. My camera is making overtime....
From one of these narrow passages, I get into an amphitheatre. And it is a breathtaking spot! During this early morning, the sunlight is shining into the structure, lighting up the walls of the amphitheatre. The remaining fog flaring around the rugged peaks; the walls of the cliffs shining up in hues of orange and golden. It is such a mesmerizing sight to see!
The photo on the right is taken by Åke, who still stands at the entrance of the amphitheatre. And if you look closely you can see me standing there with my camera (right side of the photo). This early morning we have the total area to ourselves, such a treat. It is totally quiet here, besides the constant clicking of my camera :-)
The photo gives you a bit of a perspective of the height of these cliffs. But what is not so clear in the photo, is that it was quite a struggle to get here and further. There are some pools of water, making the clay surface very slippery. That, combined with lots of loose rocks, complicated the climb further up into the maze of canyons. And maybe even worse than up, was the way down. My feet where slipping and sliding, and it was easy to make a slip and fall here. But with some careful navigating, I manage to come down again in one piece :-) But oh, it was so worth it! Below you can see some photos of the mesmerizing light and sight in front of me.
The landscape is dramatically different from the rest of the area and the formations are geological scupltures. But how was this strange landscape created? The cliffs are the result of natural erosion created by the Ostler Fault, which runs through the region. The Hawkdun Group sediments, uplifted and tilted by the Ostler Fault Zone, form these Clay Cliffs. The pale grey material near the base has more quartz and less lithic gravel than the darker material overlying it.
The Clay Cliffs are a natural geological formation created millions of years ago. These geological structures are impressively sculpted into crazy bluffs, sharp pinnacles separated by steep and narrow ravines made up of layers of gravel and silt.
It is hard to drag myself away from the amphitheatre, but unfortunately is time to turn around and make our way back to the car. We walk in a bright sunshine, and for the first time see the surrounding landscape. Below us flows the Ahuriri River. And although we now have a bright blue sky where we walk; a big part of the valley is still covered with a thick layer of low hanging clouds.
The Clay Cliffs are located close to the little town of Omarama. And in Maori it means ‘a place of light’, referring to the pure and clear skies. Well, that wasn't that obvious on our way towards the Cliffs this morning! But now during our walk back, the skies do keep their promise and do justice to the name of the area, and is clear and blue above us.
One last look backwards, the fog is totally gone, and the sky is vibrantly blue. The Clay Cliffs show themselves in their full glory. I am really happy I stumbled upon that photo of the Clay Cliffs when researching for my New Zealand trip! It was certainly worth making this short detour for! And without a doubt I would otherwise have driven past this area, not realizing this surprise of nature was located here.
We are on our way again, from Omarama to Dunedin which is located on the East Coast of the South Island. A drive of 225 kilometers which will take somewhere between 2,5 - 3 hours drive. But a gorgeous drive it is! The landscape of New Zealand never seizes to suprise me changing all the time. On the way we plan to make a stop at the coast at the Mouraki Boulders, but I'll write more about that on a separate page :-)
Simone & Åke, March 2017, Clay Cliffs, South Island, New Zealand
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