Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti, is a natural wonder, which harbours unique flora and offers incredible views

Explore a natural treasure

by Andy Bryenton

Thirty million years ago, the area we now call Canterbury was part of a shallow inland sea, inhabited by a wide array of curious prehistoric marine life.

Over centuries, the seabed drained away, leaving magnificent upthrusts of limestone rock to be eroded by the forces of nature. Today, we call this area Kura Tawhiti — or to use the European name, Castle Hill.

This October presents locals and visitors alike with a special opportunity to explore this amazing landscape with its weathered turrets of stone. On Tuesday, October 9 the Department of Conservation will guide a group for a walking tour of this unique corner of New Zealand, exploring not only the limestone monoliths, which so impressed early European settlers, but also the distinct flora and fauna of the area. One plant, which grows here — the Castle Hill Buttercup — is so rare that it became the first native plant to have its own special conservation area.

Steeped in legend, Kura Tawhiti also holds a special place in the mythic history of Ngai Tahu. The name means ‘treasure from a distant land’, reflecting its otherworldly appearance, and also the kumara, which was cultivated here in times past — a treasure traded from the north. Today, the area has official Topuni status — a term, which references the time-honoured practice of a respected chief protecting a person or place by covering it with his cloak.

Visit or phone 03 347 2791 to secure a place in the walking group.