The Clay Cliffs in Omarama are a major/recommended (by most travel websites and guides) tourist attraction. Actually, they are just some soft clay peaks, and in my personal opinion, isn’t worth too much of your time. Come prepared on a nice sunny day with the necessary lens, tripod and camera and you should be able to get satisfying shots in only a morning.
The Clay Cliffs are located in private property so can be a little hard to find. Particularly in this area, where there is nothing but empty roads surrounded by grassy fields in every direction. We spent at least 20 minutes looking for this area, expecting big signs or the like. The only signage was a small sign much like the street name signs you get, on the corner of a road, that said “Clay Cliffs”. The property is accessed via unpaved gravel/dirt roads.
This was the largest sign we encountered, on a gate to private road. There is a small charge of $5 per private vehicle or $20 per bus, New Zealand dollars. The sign says to pay at the Information Center, but when I was there, there was a small small container nearby to put cash in.
Some reviews on Tripadvisor from 2015 and earlier says the gate was locked, however when I went, the gate was open, although the attractiveness of the site is still equally questionable.
As the area is un-guarded, people are expected to act on honesty, and to READ THE SIGNS. Particularly the SAFETY signs. Like this one, that we encountered further up the road: In faded red letters at the bottom, the sign says: This waterway is infected with Didymo, which is an invasive freshwater diatom that produces brown mucousy stringy mats that clog otherwise clear, low-phosphorus water. As an invasive species and impossible to remove, you do not want to get these on your shoes.
This isolated area on private property has little to offer besides photography and a hike. Although, you wouldn’t get very far hiking as the cliffs are just peaks and are very soft and crumbly, not solid rock and definitely not suitable for climbing vertically on its face, and the ground is made of broken clay bits that slide beneath your feed on steep places. Wear suitable shoes.
The only other thing to do here is photography. There is the potential to take some good photos here, but only in good sunny weather without rain. For examples, just have a search on the internet.
You might have to ask for general directions once you get to Omarama first, our GPS wasn’t very good at finding this place. Once in the local area, follow the somewhat vague signs. Local hotels would have advertisements and pamphlets for this place.
There are spaces for car parking here, it is a small open dirt field. According to the signs, the ‘car park’ is about 10 minute walk after a 4km drive. We parked too early and ended up being a 20-30 minute walk.
This is what the cliffs look like from some distance away as we approached on foot:
If you are renting a car and driving here, get a 4-wheel drive. You’ll need it to get up a short but steep step. The road is narrow so drove slowly, go during the day time and watch out for other cars.
Looking up from within the ‘cliffs’:
Things to note:
The surrounding areas a sheep pastures and the sheep roam about freely. This also means the sheep droppings are everywhere.
Do not step where there is water near the waterways as they are infested with didymo. You do not want to bring it back with you.
Apart from photography I wouldn’t really recommend this as a must-see destination. Not only is it hard to find but is also a little disappointing once you arrive, especially when compared to the promotional pictures. For photography, go on a sunny day to make the most of the opportunity. Otherwise I recommend doing something else in New Zealand.
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