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Natural Setting

The Strath Taieri Valley, marking the eastern edge of Central Otago, takes its name from the Scottish word for a broad river valley (strath) and the Maori name for the river that passes Middlemarch. The valley accommodates the middle reaches of the 318-km long Taieri River, which makes a dramatic u-turn around the northern end of the Rock and Pillar Range on its way to the sea.

Here are some of the natural features of the Strath Taieri:

Rock and Pillar Range

Reaching 1450m above sea level and with a severe and changeable climate, the Rock and Pillar Range, named for its magnificent tors along the ridge, is available for the experienced tramper and ski tourer. The Department of Conservation have available brochure of public access ways for safe recreational use of the mountain. See also the "Big Hut" website.

On the Rock and Pillar range are two huts: Big Hut and Leaning Lodge. Big Hut had been beautifully restored by the the Rock and Pillar Hut Trust. Make sure to visit the Big Hut website. Leaning Lodge, which is owned by the Leaning Lodge Trust, is also to be restored. Leaning Lodge Hut is still not signed off. Please do not enter. 

More information about both huts on the Walks activity page.

Sutton Salt Lake

Department of Conservation walk trail to New Zealand's only inland salt lake is located on Kidd's Road (turn off from SH 87 near the Sutton railway crossing), the south end of the Strath Taieri Valley. Now included in a large scenic reserve (administered by Department of Conservation ) there is a pleasant, marked walkway, with some information at the lake. The lake evaporates in dry periods, and is 30 cm deep at its highest.

Volcanic Outcrops

Visible on Eastern Ridge, the most prominent being Smooth Cone with its single pine tree planted on Armistice Day 1921.

The Sisters are two similar, but less noticeable volcanic rock outcrops further north of the Taieri Ridge, from Smooth Cone.

Foulden Maar

There is a less obvious crater visible on Foulden Hill Station at the south of the Taieri ridge. Formed from an eruption 20 million years ago, it filled with rainwater when cooled. The result was a lake 1 km long and 200m deep, which gradually filled. The remains is an area rich in fossils. Visible from the Middlemarch-Macraes above Smooth Cone, the area is on private land.

The Redan Crater

This large and distinct crater is the best example of a volcanic crater in Otago. It is on the Taieri ridge, but access to it requires the consent of the landowner.

The Tors

These schist rock outcrops, which rise out of the tussock to the south and west of the valley, have recently been encompassed in an outstanding landscape zone in the Dunedin District Plan. The rock is exposed when lighter surrounding material is eroded, leaving the remaining irregularly shaped and imposing rock structures.

Taieri River

The Taieri River is a river of huge importance to the area. Its catchment is almost 20% of Otago and it is New Zealand's third longest river at 318 km. It has a variety of fish life, most notable the introduced brown trout and salmon. Many of the tributaries are important breeding or spawning grounds. There are some tributaries that still have the koura, or freshwater crayfish, although they are less common than they have been in the past. There are several good fishing sites, while in the lower stretches there are also opportunities for other recreational pursuits. In the Strath Taieri Valley it is spanned by three bridges. a modern vehicle and cycle bridge replacing the historic Suspension Bridge near Sutton, the mid 20th Century bridge close to the township an historic bridge on the Macraes road, near Hyde

» Otago Regional Council's Otago Regional Council monitoring: Taieri at Sutton - Water quality, ecosystem health, fish species diversity and water flows

» The circuitous path of the Taieri River in east Otago (Department of Geology, Unibersity of Otago)

Te Papanui Conservation Park

Te Papanui is a 21,000 hectare remote area of tussock grassland. Situated on the Lammerlaw and Lammermoor ranges access from the Outram - Middlemarch road (SH 87), turning left at Clarke's Junction, up the Old Dunstan Road. The Old Dunstan Road is closed by the Dunedin City Council during the winter months (June to October). Visitors driving within the park must have a 4WD vehicle, and must stay on the formed track.

Publications about the natural history of the Middlemarch district

Peat, N., & Patrick, B. (2010). Wild Dunedin: Enjoying the Natural History of New Zealand's Wildlife Capital. University of Otago Press: Dunedin.

Peat, N. (1992). The Falcon and the Lark – A New Zealand High Country Journal. John McIndoe: Dunedin