THE VALLEY OF THE BOULDERS: Felix and Rita Schaad on one of the 22 bridges they have constructed to provide a walkway up their valley.

Destinctive flutings on the rock surfaces are unusual for basalt rock

  The Bay Chronicle
08 August 2003
(By Keri Molloy) 

Valley of boulders draws interest from scientists

Wairere, a valley of basalt boulders in the Hokianga, may be one of the Far North's most remarkable eco-tourism assets but nobody seems to know about it - yet.

The erosional remnants of a basalt flow date back an estimated 2.8 million years and is said to be the best geological formation of its kind in New Zealand.

The geological formation, about 14km from Taheke, is mentioned in scientific papers going back to the 1940s but it is only recently that the valley has become easily accessible - after years of backbreaking work by land owners Felix and Rita Schaad.

When they bought the isolated 144 hectares in 1983, the land was overgrown, the terrain was rough and they were told they were crazy.

Felix recalls: "People warned us that the land was too tough. They made bets in town about how long we would stay." He smiles: "Some of those people have left and we've stayed."

The Schaads discovered the most outstanding section of the valley by accident.

Felix: "We were catching some wild goats for breeding when we came across the upper valley. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. "

Felix and Rita came to the Far North from Switzerland 20 years ago.

They bred goats, Felix taught music at Northland College and Okaihau College. And for the past seventeen years they worked and worked on their boulder walk. The terrain is so rough that bulldozers are not an option. Not even a wheelbarrow can be used so they carried cement in by the bucket: "It was a long job. Sometimes we didn't even know where we were going with the walkway, we just did it day by day."

They erected 15km of fence and, using Felix's expertise as a qualified civil engineer, they built 22 bridges.

Eighteen months ago, they opened Wairere Boulders to the public. Tourists are starting to trickle in at the rate of about four a day. The Schaads have been told Wairere is "more interesting than Ayers Rock in Australia".

Rita and Felix at home, a glimpse of the Wairere Boulders behind them.

And their website is attracting more widespread interest. Felix: "We have Universities from different countries linking to our website, declaring it an extraordinary occurrence."

Paul Williams of the Geographical Institute in Auckland is one scientist who intends visiting:

He told the Chronicle: "I've been coming to the Hokianga for 30 years and I didn't know about it. It certainly appears to be a site of considerable natural curiosity. To have boulders tumbling down a valley in a jumble like that is most unusual and rather grand."

And Geological and Nuclear Sciences scientist Mike Isaac ackowledges, too, that the Wairere occurence is 'very unusual' and suggests in a letter to the Schaads: "...the basalt weathering may make a good fourth year project for a graduate student."


  The Bay Chronicle
15 August 2003 (By Keri Molloy)

Boulders gather growing interest

Since The Bay Chronicle carried a story about Wairere Boulders (August 8), property owners Felix and Rita Schaad have been contacted by scientists, government departments and people as far afield as Australia.
Adding to accumulating information about the valley of basalt boulders, scientist Roger Evans of Kerikeri says:
"I was unaware of the extent of the feature, though I had seen the large boulders close to the Horeke/Taheke road in the stream bed there. At the time I was mainly mapping the in situ formations (the basalt on the Pukewhao  ridge and the sandstones and shales underlying them). The boulders are erosional remnants. The Pukewhao flow is probably the distal extension of the Marangai ridge flows (Okaihau). which originated at a high point on the Waiare Road ridge (just south of Okaihau golf course) or at an eruptive centre near Imms Road, Okaihau. The flow was erupted on to an elevated landscape of gently sloping valleys - on a landscape uplifted about 10 million years ago - which has since been deeply eroded to form the present dissected landscape. The boulders are remnants of the eroded flows which ran down a broad valley from Okaihau to Horeke, and which have settled into their present position as erosion has progressively removed the softer sandstones from under them. Of interest is the large flat plateau tableland of leached clay soils adjoining the lava flow at Pukewhao, which has been preserved from erosion by the basalt flows - effectively a fossil landscape. The sheer number of the fluted boulders is the striking feature."
Mr Evans says similar occurrences of fluted boulder fields can be seen at the northern end of Sandys Road Dam near Kerikeri, which cover several acres, and at Takapuwahia highpoint in the Puketi forest which is on a ridge top - neither as spectacular as the Wairere site.
"The Wairere occurrence is the only extensive one I know in a valley floor."
Wairere Boulders, about 14km from Taheke  SH 12 or about 14 km from Rangiahua SH 1, is thought to be possibly one of the Far North’s most remarkable eco-tourism assets.
The geological formation has been recognised by scientists in the past but remained largely unknown until Felix and Rita Schaad developed walkways and opened up their property to the public 18 months ago.