The Omarama Clay Cliffs are a geological wonder of tall pinnacles separated by narrow ravines. Just outside of Lake Pukaki and on the way from Mount Cook National Park to Wanaka and Queenstown, the Clay Cliffs in Omarama are totally worth a visit! The short 0.8-mile out-and-back walk to the 30 meters tall pinnacles are a great reason to stretch the legs and take in this unique landscape. Read in this complete guide everything you need to know about the Clay Cliffs Omarama and don’t miss this unique sight along the way!
How were the Omarama Clay Cliffs formed?
The Clay Cliffs in Omarama were formed over millions of years by natural erosion and sedimentation. The cliffs are made up of layers of silt, gravel, and clay, which were deposited by ancient rivers and lakes.
Around 20 million years ago, the area was submerged under the sea. Over time, the land rose and the sea receded, leaving behind a vast area of sedimentary rock. The rock layers were then gradually eroded by wind and water, which created the unique shapes and patterns seen in the Clay Cliffs today.
The erosion process was also affected by the climate in the area. During periods of heavy rain, water would flow down the slopes and cut into the soft layers of clay, creating steep gullies and canyons. During drier periods, wind would carry away the loose particles of silt and sand, further sculpting the cliffs.
Today, the Clay Cliffs are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can walk around the base of the cliffs and explore the various shapes and patterns created by millions of years of erosion.
How to get to Omarama Clay Cliffs
The Omarama Clay Cliffs are located about 3 hours drive from Christchurch or 2 hours drive from Queenstown and only 10km (6.2 miles) from the town of Omarama on South Highway 8. The Clay Cliffs are clearly signposted but don’t miss the turnoff north of Omarama to the Quailburn Road. This is a gravel road but well maintained. Keep your speed low and respect the private land you’re driving on.
Coming from Christchurch you have to drive south on State Highway 1 until you reach the town of Omarama. From there, turn onto State Highway 83 and follow the signs to the Clay Cliffs. Coming from Queenstown, head north on State Highway 6 until you reach the town of Tarras where you turn onto State Highway 8 and follow the signs to the Clay Cliffs.
Best time to visit Omarama Clay Cliffs
You maybe won’t expect it, but the Omarama Clay Cliffs are a popular stop for people on the way from or to Mount Cook National Park. Therefore it tend to get busy during midday. So if you can, try to come as early as possible to the Clay Cliffs. Having said that, because the area is quite large and visitors do spread out, it doesn’t have to feel as busy as it looks at the car park. And otherwise, patience is key if you don’t want other people in your pictures like us. We have waited for maybe 10-15 minutes at a certain spot for all the people to leave. We usually don’t ask people to step away as everyone is free to explore the place at it’s own pace. So we just wait and take in the beautiful scenery.
Photography tips Omarama Clay Cliffs
In terms of best time for photography you might want to have some more light instead of early in the morning when the sun is still low. This can create hard shadows which is not favorable for photos. We have seen pictures of the Clay Cliffs taken on a very sunny, bright day, which also makes hard shadows on the pillars. Therefore we personally think the best type of weather is slightly overcast. A filtered sunshine through clouds. But of course you can’t control that, especially on a road trip.
Just a little tip when you see clouds in the sky. Wait for them to cover the hard sunshine and you’ll see the difference in your pictures! Also have patience with other people around. It can make such a difference for your pictures to have no other people in it.
Omarama Clay Cliffs entrance fee
Because you enter private land when visiting the Clay Cliffs you have to pay a small entrance fee. This money is uses to maintain the road. Especially after heavy rainfall there is usually some damage on the road which is quickly fixed by the farmer so visitors can safely pass.
At the last turn off to the Clay Cliffs is a large sign that shows the price you have to pay in the honesty box depending on your vehicle. It is $5 NZD for a car and $15 NZD for a bus. Make sure to close the gate after passing through.
What to expect at the Omarama Clay Cliffs
Once you’ve parked your car the short walk to the Omarama Clay Cliffs starts. The flat wide gravel path runs for 500 meters (each way) along the outside of the jagged cliff walls. If you’re visiting the Clay Cliffs New Zealand in spring you will see the Lupins in bloom which add that extra to the already stunning scenery.
Standing amongst the towering pillars
You can either decide to only view the Clay Cliffs from the outside which will make it a short visit. However, the best part is actually to venture into the cliffs to see the pillars from up close.
Because the ground here is very loose with gravel and stones, it is highly recommended to wear shoes with grip. We both walked on sneakers and actually had a hard time climbing up the highest part to go inside the ravines. So if you have your hiking boots with you it would make it a lot easier. There are two possible routes once you’ve passed through the narrow slot. Here the towering pillars will surround you which is truly mesmerising and really gives you the feeling as if you’re standing in a canyon!
From this part you can climb up to a flat part which offers a beautiful view of the cliffs and out to the distant mountains beyond. Here you can continue to climb higher to really go in between the pillars and explore the canyons further. But remember that you have to get down as well. There is not a ‘secret’ unique spot to see here, Atiba already checked it for you 😉
FAQ Clay Cliffs Omarama
Where is Omarama Clay Cliffs?
The Omarama Clay Cliffs are located near the town of Omarama right off State Highway 8, approximately halfway between the towns of Twizel and Omarama, and are a popular stop for tourists travelling through the area. The Clay Cliffs are situated on private land, but the landowners have made the site accessible to visitors and there is a small fee to enter the area.
How long is the walk at Omarama Clay Cliffs?
The Omarama Clay Cliffs walk is approximately 2 km long and takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. The track is easy and well-defined, although there are a few steep sections and uneven ground in places. Wearing sturdy walking shoes is recommended as loose stones and gravel can be slippery. Also make sure to bring plenty of water, especially during hot days. The walking track provides stunning views of the Clay Cliffs and the surrounding mountains and you can even get up close by walking into the main part of the Omarama Clay Cliffs.
Is it worth it to visit the Omarama Clay Cliffs?
Yes totally worth it! The Omarama Clay Cliffs are a must-see destination for anyone interested in natural history, geology, or to simply enjoy a scenic walk in a beautiful and unique environment. It is truly mesmerising to the towering spires and canyons of soft clay and silt that have eroded into unusual shapes over millions of years.
How much does it cost to get to Clay Cliffs?
There is a small fee to access the Omarama Clay Cliffs as they are located on private land. The entry fee is NZD $5 per car and NZD $15 for a campervan. Payment for the entry fee is made at the self-service kiosk located at the entrance to the site. Please make sure to close the fence after driving through.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Where to stay near Clay Cliffs Omarama
Twizel is the closest little town to the Omarama Cliffs. This small town is a 45 minute drive from Mount Cook NP and has more accommodation options and facilities than Mt Cook village. We stayed here for a few nights to explore the different hikes at Mount Cook and were happy to have plenty of restaurant options nearby in Twizel. Check here all Twizel accommodations, availability and prices.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow capped mountains and glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Clay Cliffs Omarama. Make sure to put this unique spot on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!