Badlands

Driving through New Zealand’s grazing landscape often feels like being in the western US — specifically, the broad northern stretch of the West between the Dakotas and the area east of the Cascade mountains. So I should not have been surprised to find New Zealand badlands, which Wikipedia (again, the font of all truth) defines as “a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.” I’ve always loved the term “badlands” — it evokes lawless, dangerous territory, offering hiding places for outlaws and tromping grounds for Theodore Roosevelt.

The Clay Cliffs of Omarama are far less extensive than the badlands I’ve visited in North and South Dakota, but they’re equally remarkable.

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Amazingly (to me, anyway, but this seems to be normal in New Zealand), these formations are on private land. So visitors can only see them through the owners’ good graces. You get to the cliffs by driving your already-dusty car down an unexpectedly long dirt road, putting money in an honesty box, and then taking a longer walk than the guidebook would suggest. That’s all worth it when you walk in through a narrow opening …

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… and arrive at this:

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We sat in the midst of the rocks and had a picnic lunch …

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… while Prescott gave his sprained ankle a rest:

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There were a number of small trails leading up further into the rocks, but we didn’t walk around much, for obvious reasons. And there was plenty to see right from where we were sitting.

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The flora in the area was pretty scrubby, but we did find a few flowers, including the ubiquitous roadside viper’s blugloss …

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… and a few thistles:

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We also saw this very cool spaceship cloud (which I think is called a hogsback cloud, or more precisely, a lenticular cloud) on our drive out:

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There’s a lot of dry, empty agricultural land in this part of New Zealand. It’s not the kind of place you want to spend a lot of time, but I’m glad we made this brief visit.

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