On the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is an area called the Caitlins. Known for its rugged coastlines and fierce weather coming off the Southern Ocean, the Caitlins is chock full of beautiful countryside and breathtaking coastal spots. One of our favorite stops along the way was at Curio Bay, the site of an ancient Jurassic forest of now petrified trees.
This ancient forest, estimated to be 180 million years old, is embedded in the tidal flats and only visible at low tide. We timed our visit to be there during low tide and had a great time wandering around in the tidal pools.
These ancient conifers were part of a coastal forest. Scientists believe the forest was buried by volcanic mud flows, and regrew at least four different times, before being permanently destroyed and then fossilized over time. Revealed by the erosion caused by the tides coming in and going out, many of these trees look as if they were cut down and placed there yesterday.
The colors of the silica that replaced the wood as these trees were mineralized creates such a great contrast with the dark rock of the flats.
This bay is also home to the Yellow-eyed penguins, known by the Maori name of Hoiho, who live here as well in the dunes and the grass. They are the shyest of the penguins and we didn’t see any while we were there. But we did have fun watching the Oystercatchers jockey for positions. It was their nesting season when we were there.
The Southern Ocean hits the coast of New Zealand here. It is one of the most unpredictable and stormy seas in the world because all the weather rolling across it is unchecked until it hits the New Zealand coast. This means that the weather along this coast can be fierce, and the waves can be incredibly large. We had a good time watching them crash onto the rocks as we explored.
We had a fun afternoon checking out the tidal flats of Curio Bay, seeing everything from small sea snails to Oystercatchers, along with small fish and other marine animals. But the petrified trees are definitely the stars of the show here.