A Unique Glimpse into the Prehistoric Past
Approximately 19 - 16 million years ago, where Lauder now sits, was near the middle of a vast lake. The pockets of lake sediment that have survived erosion since that time record plants, animals and environments very different to those we know in Otago today.
Although never deep, at its largest Lake Manuherekia is estimated to have been ten times the size of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest modern lake. From the many fossils discovered at St Bathans (~25km north of Lauder) and Bannockburn (~32km northwest of Clyde) we know the various freshwater bays, swamps and river deltas of the lake were home to koura (freshwater crayfish), mussels, snails, freshwater fish, ducks, geese and other water birds, frogs, turtles, and even crocodiles!
Eagles and kites soared overhead while ancestral kiwi, moa and other flightless birds foraged along the lakeshores. The fossils also tell us that the lake was surrounded by a forest of southern beech, palm trees, ferns, cycads, conifers, she-oaks, eucalypts, and laurels that thrived in the subtropical climate of southern New Zealand at that time. This forest was home to ground-dwelling bats, numerous insects, skinks and songbirds, and a parrot that was twice the size of the modern-day Kakapo (currently the heaviest parrot in the world).
Over millions of years, as the climate became cooler and drier, the vegetation and environment around Lake Manuherekia changed to become open woodland and seasonally dry swamps.
The lake gradually filled in with sediment, which has since been eroded by uplift of the surrounding mountain ranges. Little is left of the lake today, except for ancient lake sediments preserved at St Bathans and Bannockburn, and along the Otago Central Rail Trail between Alexandra and Kokonga.