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Prehistory at Claremont Country Estate in NZ

By Heather Tyler

Published: 4:05PM Monday October 05, 2009 Source: AAP

  • A meteor streaks above the skies (file photo) (Source: Reuters)
    A meteor streaks above the skies (file photo) - Source: Reuters

Grinding over rutted tracks in a Land Rover, New Zealand's dinosaur hunter is in his element.
  
Richard Goord, the gracious host of the elegant Claremont Country Estate, is a geology rather than palaeontology buff, but he's passionate about all things prehistoric.
  
He must have jumped for joy when he bought this place. His large backyard - 971 hectares - is the Kiwi equivalent of Jurassic Park.
  
There's a stack of evidence from the impact of a meteorite believed to have smashed into the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago, with the impact of 10,000 times the world's entire modern nuclear arsenal.
  
In the hills behind the historic homestead in Waipara, north Canterbury, about 45 minutes drive north of Christchurch in the South Island, are limestone canyons and riverbeds yielding precious remnants of that catastrophic event when New Zealand was still under the ocean.
  
The Waipara riverbed is rich in the element iridium, also found mainly in Denmark and Italy. Iridium is rare on earth but abundant in meteorites.
  
Scattered across the Waipara property are massive rounded rocks, weighing over a tonne each, which Goord calls God's marbles.
  
These 65-million-year-old spheres have at their hearts bone fragments of prehistoric creatures that perished in the first nuclear winter.
  
During a flood, Goord says, several of the giant boulders smashed against each other and one split open to reveal a dinosaur bone at its centre.
  
In the ancient oceans, he explains, the bones turned over and over in the tide and swell, accumulating mineral fragments that encased the bones and grew to become the giant marbles they are today.
  
The exposed fossil is now a museum exhibit, touted as a major geological find.
  
Claremont has been a source of discovery for New Zealand scientists for over 150 years, with 134 significant finds.
  
Visitors to Claremont don gumboots and jackets for the prehistoric tour, and if the captive audience is awe-inspired, Goord - complete with Indiana Jones style hat - turns the sightseeing into a magical history lesson.
  
Along with the prehistory are views of magnificent limestone outcrops, the dazzling South Island alpine peaks, and a visit to serene canyons where pristine water flows, providing safe swimming and picnic spots throughout the summer.
  
Farming sheep, deer and cattle, Claremont is a high country station in the hills of the Waipara wine-growing region.
    
Built in 1866, the limestone-hewn homestead and extensive gardens have recently been restored to former glory after falling victim to crass renovation in the middle of the last century.
  
The interior of the homestead is tastefully antique colonial with modern accents.
  
Owners Goord and wife Rosie were well-travelled adventurers before they settled for Claremont.
  
Richard is a weathered action man: deep ocean sailing, scuba diving and flying are among his pursuits as well as the more grounded focus of geology.
  
I'm at Claremont with my cousin, and our company at dinner are a make-up guru from Los Angeles and her husband.
  
The Americans have been travelling through the South Island and promptly declare this is the highlight.
  
While our politics might be not be compatible (pro-Obama, just me, verses pro-Republican, the rest of them), the conversation is still animated and hilarious, and there's partisan appreciation of the Claremont experience.