The Wairere Boulders are situated on the property of
Swiss couple Felix Schaad (pictured) and his wife Rita, who keeps a bed
for stunned geologists who can't believe they've found fluted basalt.
Photo / Jim Eagles
Wairere Boulders: Bowling geologists over
At the back of the old cow shed which serves as the information
centre for Wairere Boulders and gateway to its extraordinary rock
formations, there is a camp bed especially for geologists.
What's that for, I wonder. "Well," says Rita Schaad, "it is because
when geologists come here they often need a lie down."
I can't stop myself from asking why ... and Rita is delighted to
explain. "Usually when geologists come here they look at the rock
formations and say, 'That is very interesting fluted rock. Is it
limestone?' And I tell them, 'No, it isn't limestone.'
"Then they ask, 'What is it?' That is when I tell them, 'You might
need to lie down.' If they don't want to lie down then I say, 'Well, you
asked for it,' and I tell them, 'It is basalt.'
"That is when they freak out because they know you can't have fluted
basalt. We have had professors here who have always taught their
students that it is impossible to have fluted basalt. But here it is
right in front of their eyes."
Wairere Boulders, on the Schaad's farm near the historic Hokianga
town of Horeke, has been open for six years and attracts 6000-7000
visitors a year.
Most just come to admire the remarkable shapes of the great river of
volcanic boulders, covered in moss and lichen and flowing between lovely
stands of bush, which was thrown across the property by the eruption of
Lake Omapere some 2.8 million years ago.
But some of the visitors are, indeed, geologists who come to stare
with disbelief at the fluting - deep cuts up to 1m deep and 300mm wide
leached into the hard volcanic rock - which apparently doesn't occur in
basalt anywhere else in the world.
Not that Rita and husband Felix knew any of this when they bought the
property 26 years ago. They were just looking for a wilderness,
somewhere totally different to the manicured beauty of their native
Switzerland, where they could build the sort of life they wanted.
"Of course we could see there were some rocks down at the bottom
here," says Rita, "but the rest was just covered in trees.
"The locals said to us, 'You are mad to buy that land, it has rocks
sticking up everywhere, you can't do anything with it.' But we thought
it was a beautiful wilderness and it was what we wanted so we came here
Also on the land when the Schaads arrived was a large herd of wild
goats which - as goats do - ate everything in sight. "As they ate the
plants," recalls Rita, "more rocks appeared and the more we saw the more
beautiful we thought they were."
Visitors to the farm also admired the rocks, so about 10 years ago
the Schaads decided to turn them into a proper tourist attractions. For
four years they developed a network of tracks, built bridges - 24 of
them - and created an information centre.
Today tourists are able to wander around, under, over and even inside
the boulders, admiring the shapes and stroking the curved sculpted
shapes, savouring the tranquillity of the bush with its prolific
birdlife and peaceful pools of water, scrabbling through dark caves and
up stone staircases, enjoying Wairere Boulders for its simple beauty.
However, at the same time as they were building the paths the Schaads
researched the nature of their rocks and how the volcanic basalt came to
be sculpted into so many amazing shapes.
At first their approaches were dismissed by geologists because basalt
rock was considered to be impervious to leaching.
But finally it was accepted that, yes, these rocks were basalt and,
yes, they had been weathered into what a recent newsletter of the
Geological Society describes as "flutings or lapiez and solution pits of
outstanding size and beauty".
The same newsletter concludes that the rocks must have been shaped by
extremely acidic runoff caused by the vast kauri forests which once
covered this area, though it also urges that further research be carried
out because "there are many more questions about the formation of the
valley and the cause of the surface erosion unanswered".
Despite that recognition sceptical geologists keep arriving and
rejecting the evidence of their own eyes ... and some require a lie
But such scientific matters don't bother the Schaads or their
visitors. "We didn't know it was unique," says Rita. "We just knew it
was beautiful. That is why we created this park."
Jim Eagles visited Wairere Boulders as guest of Destination