Fossil forest

The fossilised remains of an ancient forest is exposed at Curio Bay during low tide. This is one of the most extensive and least disturbed examples of a Jurassic fossil forest in the world and stretches about 20 kms from Curio Bay south west to Slope Point.

180 million years ago the Curio Bay area was a broad forested coastal floodplain. During this time, (known as the middle Jurassic period), New Zealand was part of the eastern margin of the ancient super-continent known as Gondwana. North of Curio Bay, most of future New Zealand was beneath the sea.

The forest predominantly consisted of trees forming a low canopy over an undergrowth dominated by ferns.

Massive sheet floods of volcanic debris, perhaps triggered by heavy rain on a barren volcanic mountain, are believed to have destroyed the forest. The forest eventually grew back only to again be flooded by volcanic debris. This happened at least four times over a period of about 20,000 years. The sequence of events is clearly recorded by distinct bands of fossilised tree stumps and wood exposed today in the cliff face.

Petrified forest, Curio Bay, Southland. Photo: Les Molloy.
Curio Bay petrified forest

In the millions of years, since the sediments were buried deeply and impregnated over time with silica minerals, eventually turning the wood to rock. In some places fern fronds and leaves have been preserved as fossils within the mudstone rocks.

About 100 million years ago New Zealand split away from Gondwana and slowly drifted north.

Over the last 10,000 years New Zealand’s current coast line has been formed and the sea has eroded away the layers of sandstone and clays - exposing tree stumps and logs.

This internationally important site can be explored at low tide. Souvenir hunters have removed some of these rare fossils over the years and this practice is discouraged. Leave the fossil forest undisturbed for others to enjoy.

A viewing platform and information panel has been provided overlooking the fossil forest.

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