We drove from Wanaka towards Aoraki Mt Cook National Park through farmlands and picturesque townships. The landscape is refreshing – sculptured trees, clear water flowing through rivers, streams and creeks. Some villages only had a petrol kiosk and a cafe. Eventually we climbed and negotiated through ’rounded’ hills dusted with snow and covered in tussock grass – the Lindis Pass.
The road eventually ran parallel to Ahuriri River valley all the way to Omarama (‘place of light’). I had no information about this area. We stopped for a break and coffee. We realised from local magazines that this place is popular with Glider Flights, Hot Tubs and Clay Cliffs. We headed off to Clay Cliffs onto an unsealed road just off the main highway. We passed several farmlands and a pen with rugged Merino Rams. This is a private property. Farm gates need to be opened and closed to proceed. A $5 entrance fee is put into an honesty box.
The day was a mix of clouds and sunshine. The Clay Cliffs is a stunning sight. The unique pinnacles and eroded valleys draped in chalk white and sandstone brown against a deep blue sky. It was quite unearthly. Across the valley, the braided Ahuriri River snaked gently towards the mountains.
These unique formations resulted from thousands of years of glacial activity and deposits of silt, sand and gravel of an ancient river. It lies on the Ostler Fault and eventually trusted upwards. The soft deposits are slowly eroding from weathering. The destruction is further decimated by pigeons making homes amongst these soft structures. Narrow tracks led into the heart of these towering structures with rising pinnacles separated by steep ravines. This might as well be in the Moroccan desert. Loose sand make climbing difficult in places. The colours changed with the light. The green vegetation and slow flowing Ahuriri River added contrast to the unworldly landscape.
Returning to Omarama, we headed of to Wrinkly Ram – a restaurant, souvenir shop and a sheep show (It hosts the only Merino sheep shearing show in New Zealand). The next best thing to do in Omarama is visit the Hot Tubs. It was closed in this hot afternoon. Each tub is private but had no shade. They offered us a umbrella! Not today perhaps. We continued our road journey to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.