The coastal rocky ledge of Curio Bay was very different one hundred and seventy million years ago. In a time before birds, mammals and flowering plants (though the quirky tuatarawas well entrenched), a lush verdant forest stood proud.
Soaking rains drenched the nearby volcanoes, covered with ash and debris from eruptions. The deluge turned to rivers of mud inundating, felling and drowning the surrounding area including the forests. Rich in silica, the waters impregnated the fallen timbers and leaves turning them to stone in a matter of months. Incredibly rare worldwide as timbers tend to rot unless preserved quickly, Curio Bay sends investigative scientists in frenzies of studies and research helping to recreate Jurassic times and importantly connects New Zealand to the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland.
Curio Bay and the Petrified Forest is a striking sight for visitors too. Today only fallen trunks and tiny stumps remain from this Jurassic forest. The numerous pimples of rock highlight what a thick forested area this must have been. Exploring the rock ledge and dancing between the ocean waters, trunks that lay undisturbed for millennia are strewn like a giant’s version of pick-up-sticks. Elegant wood grains run through the rock-hard timbers while characteristic aging rings attest to seasonal climates in eras past.
Curio Bay is also home to the elusive and rare Yellow-eyed Penguins while Hector’s Dolphins prance and play in the waters of neighbouring Porpoise Bay. Appropriately out feeding during the middle of the day (time of my visit), these awkwardly cute birds waddle up each afternoon to their burrows in the grasses that fringe the rocky ledges of Curio Bay.
Driving from Invercargill and Slope Point (New Zealand’s southern most mainland point) to Dunedin, Curio Bay is an early highlight on the Southern Scenic Route through the under-travelled Catlins – a region packed with waterfalls, stellar coastal scenery, forest walks, wildlife and tiny villages. Time your visit for low tide, turn scientific sleuth and explore Curio Bay and one of the world’s most extensive and least disturbed examples of Jurassic fossilised forest, a snapshot frozen in time of an era still shrouded in mystery.