Duntroon Vanished World Shark Teeth Fossil

A potpourri of ancient large shark teeth and vertebrae can be seen at the Vanishing World Centre in Duntroon

Duntroon Jail

Duntroon Jail has one cell and a set of stocks

Driving through the verdant Waitaki Valley from the Victorian elegance of Oamaru towards the New Zealand high peaks, we think little of the weathered honeycomb-hued cliffs that dot the roadside among the lush pastoral farmlands. A handful of small villages break the flow of farms. With a tiny one cell jail (complete with stocks – was Duntroon a really lawless place?) and an active blacksmith shop in the main street, Duntroonis always going to bring a surprise.

Duntroon Vanished World Rock Cliff

Any fossils in there?

Around 25 million years ago in this same area, large sharks, whales, dolphins, shellfish, fish and penguins swam contentedly 100 metres above the tiny village of Duntroon in New Zealand’s verdant Waitaki Valley. As they died, their bodies decomposed on the seabed. As the sea waters receded, the seabeds became today’s cliffs embedding a treasure trove of ancient fossilised remainsof majestic sea creatures.

The Vanishing World Centre in Duntroon hosts a fine collection of these fossils (some are casts of valuable originals stored at the University of Otago) discovered among the cliffs in nearby farmlands. The quietly spoken slightly retiring museum attendant whispers encouragement to visit the displays. In hushed scientific tones, he enthuses about various rocks finding remarkable detail in the most innocent-looking of stones reliving some highlights of past diggings and discoveries. In reverence, he describes a large toothed dolphin named Waipatia which is only known anywhere in the world by the single skull discovered in the Duntroon area.

Another fossil shows menacing clumps of sharks teeth (see top photo) demonstrating that ancient sharks were likely to be 50% longer (9 metres) and five times heavier. The attendant describes how as shark shed teeth throughout their life, it is far more common to find single teeth so to find a large collection from one shark is unusual and scientifically valuable.

Duntroon Vanished World Baleen Whale Fossil

A Baleen whale from around 25 million years ago – lots of similarities to today’s whales

The centre is littered with baleen whaleremains (relative early for filter feeders), large penguin bones (one penguin is similarly from a single fossil) and assorted fossilised sea shells. One area has various rocks along with brushes, various tools that look more suited to a dental surgery and microscopes to help visitors unveil their inner palaeontologist.

The centre also posts a Vanished World Trail of local sites of interest connected to the fossil history of the area. With the tiny road weaving aimlessly throughout the valley, the map is a requirement to help locate the various locales.

Duntroon Elephant Rocks Elephant and Sheep Graze

Elephants and sheep grazing

Duntroon Elephant Rocks

Elephant Rocks

Like a herd feeding, Elephant Rocks are a bizarre sight. Large mounds of limestone hardened and weathered from the sandy seafloor now form a backdrop for peaceful flocks of grazing sheep more attracted to the lush grasses (watch where you place your feet!) while rock climbers practise their manoeuvres on the pitted surfaces. The Rocks were otherworldly enough to be a movie location for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Duntroon Maori Rock Art

The Maori rock art includes a sail boat and horse

A fairly unexciting Maori art siteis a couple of centuries old and show ochre and charcoal rock drawings including a sail boat from early European settlers.

Duntroon is a hidden travel wonder that harbours in the Vanished World Centre a fascinating and well documented history of yesteryear’s marine fauna. Tour around and enjoy visits to some of the fossil sites on the Vanished World Trail.



8 Responses to Discovering a Vanishing World (Duntroon, New Zealand)

  • I’ve visited beaches in Florida where fossilized shark teeth are in abundance and have always puzzled over why they were so abundant in these particular sites. To begin with, it’s hard to envision solid ground as being covered in 100 meters of water, but even if I could, I cannot fathom why the sharks chose this particular place to die or shed teeth. Such a mystery!

    • Mark H says:

      Al these kind of questions rush thru my mind too. I think that sharks historically died in lots of places – it is just the conditions were right in fairly few places that ensured the bones/teeth etc are preserved as fossils.

  • Nico says:

    Places like this are always fascinating because of the insight that they give you into how the world used to be. Maybe with global warming it will turn full circle

  • Great article! There is need to save these archaeological, historic things.. So we have to create awareness among the people.

  • Wil says:

    I’ve done a little fossil hunting before, it sure is cool finding pieces of the past so vastly old.

    • Mark H says:

      There must be a real excitement in finding something so old. A mate of mine is a metal detector and thrives on finding old coins in farming fields and has coins dating back to Roman and Viking times from an area near Cambridge.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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