A Swiss couple discover a rare geological treasure on their Northland property.
When we arrived in New Zealand to live, it felt like flying. No possessions, no ties. So you can do whatever you want!" Felix Schaad
They came half way round the world to escape the stress of Europe, and enjoy a relaxed New Zealand life. Swiss-born Rita and Felix Schaad bought an old Northland dairy farm only to discover that it contained rare and spectacular formations of “fluted” basalt rock.
Since then they’ve spent years of hard labour… building bridges and pathways through the valley of rocks, to turn it into a tourist attraction. Now thousands come to “Wairere Boulders” each year.
Engineer and geologist Felix arrived in New Zealand in 1983 with wife and daughter bringing little more than his guitars, Rita’s spinning and weaving equipment, toys and tools.
They lived in a caravan and a bus on the 150-hectare block at Horeke near the Hokianga Harbour and fifty kilometres from Kaikohe.
The locals called us the Gypsies, but we didn’t mind”, says Felix.
The couple captured wild goats on their property to farm them for the fibre, and in the process found the big eroded basalt boulders tumbling down a valley.
Fluted basalt is also known as Basalt “Karst”. It’s coined from the German name for the Kras Region, a limestone plateau in the Northern Adriatic, around the city of Trieste.
According to Auckland geologist Bruce Hayward basalt karst is found in several parts of Northland, but also at Stony Batter on Waiheke island, at Ti point an hour’s drive north of Auckland, and only recently on Norfolk Island. It’s also been recorded in Hawaii.
On his website Felix Schaad says the fluting is the “result of chemical leaching by acids generated by the Kauri forests that used to exist in the area”. Unusual he says, because Kauri grew in this basalt only because it is low in iron.
Geologist Bruce Hayward says the dissolution of the basalt is caused by leachate from the litter of trees and more likely the epiphytes that live under the canopy such as the native Astelia.The fluid slowly runs down the rocks over tens of thousands of years, creating the dramatic deeply set corrugations.
Why this has happened in such limited areas, Bruce suggests, could be a mixture of climate, plus the exposure of the rocks over such a long time. After all the rocks at Wairere Boulders are about 2.8 million years old!
So the big trees may be long gone, chopped down by early colonists. But the spectacular rocks remain.
Any day of the week at Wairere Boulders, small, olive-skinned Rita greets visitors with a wide smile from under her broad brimmed leather hat. Felix, with bushy white beard and hair, says he gets mistaken for Santa Claus particularly when he wears his orange boiler suit.
The Schaads have laid out a boulder loop boardwalk, a “Dragon’s Cave” and a bush pool in the “Nikau Forest”. Walking at a slow pace a visitor can spend as little as twenty minutes or as much as two hours there.
Felix says many who visit here are transformed by the experience of walking through the little valley of massive rocks. Felix believes he and Rita didn’t find the valley. It found them.