Getting To The Clay Cliffs In Omarama - A Geological Wonder

Mick at the Clay Cliffs

We've been getting loads of suggestions on places to go and things to do through Instagram. It's awesome and so cool to be able to connect with people from all over the world!  We add all suggestions to our evergrowing list of things to do in New Zealand and then literally plan our trips around them. We've recently been asking for things to do and road trips to take near Queenstown and a follower suggested the Clay Cliffs in Omarama. It happened to tie in perfectly with a camping trip we had planned to Lake Benmore (also suggested to us on Instagram) - or maybe we decided to camp at Lake Benmore so we could go to the Clay Cliffs? Hmm...I can't quite remember, but either way, I recommend doing both!

The Clay Cliffs are a couple of hours drive from Queenstown and well worth the visit. In fact, we think it's a totally underrated attraction and a must do. The landscape is dramatically different from the rest of the area and the formations are a geological wonder. Even after seeing loads of pictures, we were blown away with what we saw. It is even more spectacular in real life and as usual, pictures do not do it justice. You're still going to want to take a million pictures though!

Before you go in search of this natural wonder, here's everything you need to know about the Clay Cliffs in Omarama and how to get there.

What are the Clay Cliffs?

The Clay Cliffs are set in a semi-arid environment and are made up of staggering natural land formations, with jagged sharp pinnacles and ridges separated by narrow ravines.

These formations are made up of layers of gravel and silt, originally formed by the flow from ancient glaciers millions of years ago.

They are located on private land (how awesome would that be to have in your backyard?) which also happens to be situated on the active Ostler fault line.

Driving into Clay Cliffs

Getting to the Clay Cliffs

The Clay Cliffs are located 15km west of Omarama and is an easy 25 minute drive. Turn onto Quailburn Road from SH8 (Twizel-Omarama Road) and then left onto Henburn Road. This is an unsealed road and there will be a few signs along the way to point you in the right direction.

Enjoy the view as you drive towards the Clay Cliffs, their magnificence growing as you get closer. There will be some cattle guards to cross and some gates which you'll have to open. Make sure you lock them again after you have passed through. 

At the entrance there is a honesty box for you to pay a $5 entry fee. This very reasonable fee is per car.

As you drive in you'll see a carpark. Park your car and head off on the walking trail.

 ENTRY GATE TO CLAY CLIFFS

ENTRY GATE TO CLAY CLIFFS

 ENTRY FEE BOX!

ENTRY FEE BOX!

Drive times:

  • From Queenstown - 184km, 2hrs 30min
  • From Wanaka - 128km, 1hrs 45min
  • From Timaru - 176km, 2hrs 15min
  • Omarama - 15km, 25min
 

Navigating through the Clay Cliffs

The easy trail leads to a path at the base of the Clay Cliffs which takes you to a narrow opening. At this point the track changes to gravel. Once you go through the opening, you'll find yourself totally immersed in the centre of the clay cliffs and having loads of wow moments!

Mick on Clay Cliff trail
Walking on Clay Cliff trail

We felt like we had stepped into another world - one that is so different from the New Zealand landscape we were used to. The arid environment reminded us a lot of Death Valley and Utah in the USA. We got the camera out and went nuts with the photos. It was hard to know where to begin! Luckily, we weren't in a rush and had plenty of time to explore and enjoy the spectacular sight that was in front of us.

There is a section right at the back which a lot of people didn't go into but is worth checking out. It is a small scramble through another narrow opening which then opens up into another area. Be careful though, it is a steep climb and there are loose rocks in this section which can make it quite slippery. Mick had recently injured himself so he waited at the bottom whilst I went on a solo expedition!

Jen at Clay Cliffs

What to bring

Sturdy footwear and your camera are a must. If you are going in warm weather then make sure you have all the sun essentials like water, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. There are no toilet facilities available so make sure you are all sorted before you go. The nearest toilets are in Omarama.

Where to stay

We camped out at the gorgeous Lake Benmore but there are plenty of accommodation options in the town of Omarama. Otherwise, the Clay Cliffs are an easy day trip from the bigger towns of Queenstown, Wanaka and Timaru!

So make sure visiting the Clay Cliffs makes it onto your list! I hope this helps with your visit. Let me know if you have any questions and tag us in your pics at #thesnowchasers if you've been there.

Jen

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