(Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club)
Junats Giant Penguin Fossil
Media Contact - Mike Safey Ph (07) 855 1242 To email click here
11th of January,2006, as part of the Summer Camp, a group of Junats went fossil-hunting in the
upper Kawhia harbour - expecting to find small fossils of shellfish & the like. What we did not expect to find were the
35 million year old fossiled remains of what is thought to be a giant penguin which would have stood upwards of 1.5m tall.
The day started out simply enough. One group of Junats went looking for caves while another went kayaking and fossil
hunting in the upper Kawhia harbour. The destinaton for the fossil hunt is not reachable by road so the group drove to
the closest point and then kayaked across. We then wandered up and down the shorefront searching for anything interesting
and keeping our fossil expert, Chris Templer, busy as he identified our finds.
Later in the day, as we were getting close to heading home, 2 young Junats found something that looked out of
place - very close to where the kayaks were sitting. Not making anything further of it, they moved on. Shortly after that,
2 adults found the same thing. One of them, being an ex-Junat knew that they'd found something very interesting and called
Chris Templer over. He became very excited and everyone gathered to look. Not wanting to give too much away, Chris said
that they were moa bones, while being fully aware that the find was much more significant than that.
That evening Chris and a group of adults met - at which point Chris revealed to them his belief that we had found a giant
penguin - to hatch a plan to retrieve the bones before they were washed away as they were well below the high-tide mark.
A group of Junats, ex-Junats, and interested helpers headed out early from Hamilton, meeting at Te Kauri lodge, before
heading on to the upper harbour. There we met Chris and some of his colleagues, one of whom had a boat which would be used
to ferry equipment & people across the harbour to the fossil site. The equipment included 2 petrol-powered concrete-saws,
an electric jack-hammer and a generator to run it, and assorted chisels, hammers, crowbars, and drills.
Once the tide had retreated far enough and a karakia had been said we began work. First the concrete saws were used to cut a perimeter around the
bones - leaving plenty of room around the visible portions. Chris and others then began to work their way carefully inwards with
hammers & chisels, while others used the heavier equipment to dig a trench around the perimeter.
As the day wore on the perimeter was slowly pushed inwards so as to minimise the amount of rock we would have to carry out.
Eventually the decision was made that we had dug deep enough around the edges, and that the slab was small enough, so we started
drilling underneath to free up the slab from the rock it lay on. Once enough had been drilled, a large lever was used to break
the slab off. This provoked a small, weary cheer from those watching. The freed up slab still weighed well over 100kgs but with
a lot of effort the rock was carried through the mud to the waiting boat, which took it back to the road side.
The fossil was delicately prepared for display by Chris Templer to expose as many individual bones as possible within the rock matrix.
The Junats Giant Penguin Fossil is now on loan to the Waikato Museum
where is it a major attraction for museum visitors and fossil enthusiasts from all over the world!