Putangirua Pinnacles – Cape Palliser, New Zealand - Atlas Obscura

Putangirua Pinnacles

Cape Palliser, New Zealand

These phallic stone spires once served as Tolkien's Paths of the Dead. 


Enormous stone pillars of ancient gravel occupy a valley near the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island. They have fascinated locals since time immemorial.

Over the past seven to nine million years, the forces of wind, rain, and floods eroded these curious geological formations into an impressive collection of tall spires. Each pinnacle (or “hoodoo”) is capped by a cemented layer of silt and rock, protecting the gravel directly below but allowing erosion to take place around it. Some even feature “fluting,” or long vertical ridges running down their sides caused by rainwater during particularly violent storms. All together, the effect is that of a number of separate stone rods having been grouped together, although the caps do make them look surprisingly phallic.

The Pinnacles have long been a favorite nature spot, but they achieved true fame when they were featured in the third Lord of the Rings film, Return of the King. The looming pillars rise up around Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli while they walk the Paths of the Dead, before actually meeting the Dead Men of Dunharrow. 

As one of the best examples of badlands erosion in the world, the Putangirua Pinnacles are a must-see for any geology geek, as well as any Tolkien geek. Just be sure to show no fear to be the last in a line of kings, should you encounter an angry army of ghosts among the tall stone penises. 

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