You really cant beat basalt columns. They are so stunningly tall, geometrical, neat and regular, yet are totally natural and result from natures most violent and least controlled event: a volcanic eruption.
Always attracting attention for their strikingly unusual appearance, they occur in a number of places around the world, including just outside Dunedin.
Contrasting with the surrounding bush, the Organ Pipes deserve a closer look.
Our Organ Pipes, officially called columnar jointing, were formed when molten basalt cooled at just the right speed to shrink and crack into perfect hexagonal columns, neatly fitted together like a bundle of pencils.
Rising high out of the surrounding bush, the pillars are surrounded by a scattering of broken pieces at their base. You can climb the track right to the top of them for wonderful views and posing opportunities: a very worthy reward for a decent amount of effort.
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At the top of the Organ Pipes you're breathless in both senses.
Because its a long way to the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, or Reynisfjara in Iceland, but only a short drive from Dunedins centre to Mount Cargill Road and the start of the Organ Pipes track.
Admittedly on a somewhat smaller scale than those international Instagram favourites, New Zealands version still towers impressively high and its well worth following the two-kilometre track that takes you from the car park to their summit.
En route youll pass through podocarp forest, and get a dizzying view up the Organ Pipes from near their base. Any breath you have left at the top will be taken by both the scenery, and being able to now look straight down onto the tops of the columns, fascinated by how precisely they fit together.
Though do-able for the reasonably active, the track is moderately challenging. It starts steeply, then involves some scrambling over fallen rocks, and finishes with an even steeper climb to the top, so come prepared, mentally, physically and wearing suitable shoes.
The climb to the top is challenging, but worth it.
For more long views of the harbour, Otago Peninsula and the city, you can continue along the main Mount Cargill Walk track to its summit, 676m above sea level. There are lots of native birds to hear and see along the way, overflowing from the nearby Orokonui Ecosanctuary, which is also well worth visiting.
Mount Cargill, which is also accessible by car along Cowan Road on the other side, is topped by a towering transmission tower; theres a good view of it from the Buttars Peak side-track.
Unnaturally geometrical, basalt columns are always impressive.
After all that exertion, youll need refuelling, so head back down into cute and historic Port Chalmers for a caf stop. Theres a lot to see here too. Besides arty galleries, its Maritime Museum is full of interesting, and unexpected, stories and exhibits like Ernest Shackletons typewriter and a fragment of a Japanese bomb dropped on Darwin in 1942.
Youll need just time, energy and an adventurous spirit.
The Organ Pipes are a gift to any photographer.
The extensive views are as much a reward as the rocks themselves, so save this one for a clear day. Avoid going soon after rain.
Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Face coverings are mandatory on all flights and public transport. Proof of vaccination and vaccine exemption may be required in some venues under the traffic light system. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.
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