Monthly archives of “January 2015

Fossil conifer foliage from New Zealand Paleocene
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Cabin Fever and Paleocene leaf fossils in the Haast

Easter, 1971. The family is holed-up in a tiny home-made caravan at Cole Creek, in New Zealand’s forest-clad South Westland just north of Haast. It’s bucketing-down. We’re there because our Dad has an infatuation with finding the missing backpack of a murdered woman, Jennifer Beard. The pack might just solve the case (the back pack was never found and the case remains unsolved). As the family descended into cabin-fever I popped out during a lull in the deluge to walk along the road cutting on the other (south) side of the Cole Creek bridge. I looked down at the rocks at my feet and at first glance thought what I was seeing was an exceptionally wet leaf – so soggy it had almost melted on to a pebble. I then realised what it was – a fossil leaf on the bedding plane of a piece of shale. It was the first fossil leaf I found. The rain eased up enough for the rest of the family to emerge and discover a large shale boulder closer to the creek. As we split the boulder into layer after layer, a variety of other plant fossils emerged – broad leaves and conifer shoots. There were leaves that looked like beeches, shoots that looked a bit like our own rimu and matai (see featured image). I, not yet 10,  assumed they must be Carboniferous. This was, after-all, the age of the great coal-swamps elsewhere in the world.

My first fossil leaf. Cole Creek, New Zealand.

My first fossil leaf

A rimu-like fossil shoot. Cole Creek, New Zealand.

A rimu-like fossil shoot.






More than 40 years later, the fossils remain unpublished, and the place where we chipped away at the boulder is now a young forest of Nothofagus trees. These leaf fossils are almost certainly not of any extant genus (like matai or rimu). Although the rocks are usually mapped as Late Cretaceous, I wonder if they may be Paleocene. They lack obvious araucarian shoots, which were abundant fossils in New Zealand’s Late Cretaceous but seem to have almost disappeared at the boundary with the younger Paleocene.

Cole Creek, New Zealand, today, looking from the south. The cutting where I found my first leaf fossil is on the left.

Cole Creek today, looking from the south. The cutting where I found my first leaf fossil is on the left.



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The Highlands Motorsport Park ‘Jurassic Forest Safari’

Growing up in Alexandra it inconceivable that Cromwell might somehow overtake Alex. Alexandra was The Hub. Cromwell was the little place you passed through on the way to the little villages of Queenstown or Wanaka, where you holidayed. But things have happened in Cromwell, and one of the big things is the Highlands Motorsport Park. It’ s been about a 40 million dollar investment by Tony Quinn, which has become a huge tourist attraction and created about 40 jobs. Quinn’s philosophy is that the park needs to be something for all the family – not just a place where Mum and the kids wait patiently while Dad watches fast cars. To this end a ‘dinosaur safari’ has been created. For just under an hour the kids will be entertained by being driven past a series of life-size dinosaurs scattered along a forest trail (all from a specially-protected van). There’s then a half hour or so out of the van where they can touch some friendly dinosaurs and other ‘extinct’ beasts, use the flying-fox, commando-course, or …. watch the fast cars. I would guess the place has special appeal for 3-10 year olds, but older ones will all learn something.

Megalania lizard at Highlands Motorsport Park

New Zealand had dinosaurs in the Jurassic (one bone is known) but a modest menagerie is known from the Cretaceous. Just like the ‘Jurassic Park’ films, the Highlands Motorsport Park has Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs. It also has some critters from before and after dinosaur times, for example Megalania – the largest land lizard known to have existed.

Look out Alexandra – watchya gonna do now?!