Hebe shrublands between Big Hut and Leaning Lodge
Located in the Otago region
Formed over the last 3 million years, the Rock and Pillars are a series of folds, (steep ranges rolling onwards like an ocean swell), the result of deep local faulting.
Some blocks of resistant schist remain, long after the surrounding rock has eroded away. These tors are a significant feature on the bleak and windswept ridges. The fell fields on the crest (slopes where freeze and thaw cycles push plants out of the soil, which make it a difficult place for plants to grow), have wave-like, ridgepatterned soils.
A lens-shaped cloud formation, known locally as the Taieri Pet, is seen regularly; its appearance is associated with nor-west winds.
Above 900 m the plants most commonly seen are the blue tussock (Poa colensoi), the aromatic daisy Celmisia viscosa, low herbs, cushion plants and hebe shrublands. As the snowbanks recede in late spring, the first flowers emerge. Peak flowering time for high-altitude plants is mid-January to mid-February. Look out for the endemic daisy Celmisia haastii var. tomentosa, among native grasses and speargrass (Aciphylla sp.) on the upper flanks. Lower down, snow tussock (Chionochloa rigida) mixes with shrubs and native herbs.
The wetlands and tarns host mosses, cushion plants, herbs and sedges. A small stand of tōtara at the range's northern end is a remnant of ancient forests of the lower slopes. There are also fuchsia (Fuchsia perscandens), native ferns and mountain flax/harakeke scattered in gullies.
Invertebrate activity is busiest during late summer flowering when, in good weather, geometrid moths flit about feeding on nectar. The tarns and bogs also support numerous life forms, most notably diurnal stoneflies and caddis flies.
A species of flightless chafer beetle (Prodontria montis) is endemic to the Rock and Pillar's alpine cushionfields, and another beetle, (Megadromus bullatus), is easily recognised by its size and greenish metallic sheen.
On sunny days you can see skinks basking on the schist outcrops. South Island pied oystercatcher/ tōrea, banded dotterel/tūturiwhatu and black-backed gull/karoro frequent the area. The Australasian harrier/kāhu and New Zealand falcon/kārearea can be seen gliding in the updraughts in search of prey.
Patearoa is the traditional Southern Māori name for the Rock and Pillar Range. Cultural artefacts typical of the Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu iwi have been found, and indicate a long association with the area.
While hot, dry summers and harsh winters would have made life difficult for the early inhabitants, the
Strath Taieri was a mahika kai/food gathering area. Flax/harakeke and cabbage tree/tī kōuka were often planted at campsites/nohoaka for practical reasons. Sandals/paraerae could be made from the leaves of both plants, and the stem and root of the cabbage tree could be cooked and eaten.
The area was also a source of raw materials such as tikumu (Celmisia semi-cordata) and cottonwood, harvested from several sites on the range. Silcrete rock was another local resource; large blocks were split into flake knives, a feature of the Waitaha era, which were used at moa butchery sites throughout Otago.
European pastoralists began to move into the area in the mid-1800s, and were followed by the gold rush prospectors.
The construction of the Central Otago railway began in 1879 and serviced this predominantly farming district until it closed in 1990. The rail corridor opened in 2000 and became the Otago Central Rail Trail, a popular multi-day cycle trail.
Access the Rock and Pillar Conservation Area from several points off SH87 near Middlemarch or the Old Dunstan Road or Hamilton Diggings Road.