Take a globe and spin it to the meridian of longitude 170° East. Run your finger down to the parallels of latitude named by seafarers during the Age of Sail as the “Roaring Forties” because of their wild, westerly winds. There you will find the islands of New Zealand, set adrift like giant jigsaw pieces in the South Pacific Ocean.

There is something deeply seductive about the remote, ragged possibilities of land’s edge. I was journeying deep in New Zealand’s South Island, along its brink of raw wilderness called the Catlins, where the blustery winds and waters of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean perform alchemy on this curve of Kiwi coastline. This 100km stretch is cosseted by rugged landscapes of concert hall-sized sea caves, rock stacks, blowholes, arches and coves. Its dense temperate forests are laced with walks to fairy-tale waterfalls where bellbirds, wood pigeons, fantails and grey warblers make their presence known.

Within this curve of coast lies the clue to the birthplace of New Zealand. This magical landscape is home to the ancient geological phenomenon of Curio Bay, the site of one of the world’s finest, most accessible and rarest petrified forests.

Around 180 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, Curio Bay area was part of the eastern margin of the supercontinent Gondwana, connected to Australia and Antarctica while most of future New Zealand lay beneath the waves. Back then, the region was a broad forested coastal floodplain flanked by active volcanoes that continually destroyed the forests with massive sheets of volcanic debris. Covered with silt and mud, starved of oxygen and impregnated with silica from volcanic ash-filled floodwaters, the felled tree trunks eventually solidified and turned to rock through the process of petrification.

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