What must it have been like? Imagine Jurassic forests 180 million years ago! Apart from vegetation, trees, ferns ....what else would have been around? Trustees of Point Bush Ecosanctuary explored Curio Bay to research heritage conservation in other parts of New Zealand and were captivated by the incredible surviving preserved remnants of this incredibly unique fossil forest in the Catlins.
Curio Bay, found in the Catlins, in the south of the South Island of New Zealand, is a coastal embayment and also the site of a petrified forest which formed in the Jurassic. It is one of the least disturbed and most extensive Jurassic forests in the world, and stretches 20kms from Curio Bay southwest to Slope Point.
The trees from this fossilised forest were alive around 180 million years ago. North of Curio Bay, most of the future New Zealand was beneath the sea. At that time, the bay was a broad floodplain flanked by active volcanoes. The forest which grew was composed of tree ferns, cycads and trees which resemble New Zealand kauri and matai. Sheet floods of volcanic debris flooded and destroyed the forest, with the forest growing back at least 4 times over a period of 20,000 years. The lower parts of the trees were buried and the organic matter was gradually replaced by silica. The trunks that are exposed today were carried by the flood and were partially buried. In some places fern fronds and leaves have been preserved as fossils within the mudstone rocks.
The silification of this forest is very complete and therefore the petrified wood and its texture are of a very high quality. It looks like real wood yet feels just like stone. The area is exposed at low tide, and unfortunately many fossil hunters have removed some of the rare fossils. The area can also be viewed from the platform above.
Curio Bay is also home to a yellow-eyed penguin colony, the rarest of penguin species, with approximately 1600 breeding pairs in the extant population. The yellow-eyed penguin is not the only rare animal found in the area; the endemic Hector’s Dolphin and Southern Right Whales have also been observed offshore.