(Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club)


Junats Giant Penguin Fossil
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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.



11th January
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.

11th February
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!



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