04 November 2021
5 min read
Limestone is a beautiful, natural sedimentary stone that has been appreciated for as long as time itself. Many civilisations have prized it, quarrying it as a construction material and today, limestone can still be admired as part of many iconic buildings, from antiquity—the Pyramids of Giza—through to the medieval churches and castles of Europe and, more recently, Al Hamra Tower in Kuwait, The Museum of Liverpool in the UK and the Valetta City Gate in Malta.
More locally, New Zealand possesses an abundance of limestone in deposits formed 20 or 30 million years ago, when our climate was warmer and much of our country was submerged under shallow seas.
Over the years, Ōamaru limestone has found its way onto many iconic local buildings that form the heart of their communities—the Auckland Town Hall, the Ōamaru Opera House, Otago University and the Christchurch Arts Centre, to name but a few.
Today, Parkside Quarries in Ōamaru, owned by the same family for 125 years, is the only remaining limestone quarry in the South Island producing limestone for cladding, and the sixth generation of the original family is still operating its quarry on the same farm.
Sales and Marketing Manager Ramahia Keno says that a large part of why limestone is so highly desirable is down to its aesthetic qualities. “It has a soft, neutral colour palette that is really complimentary in most settings. It works beautifully with the colours of the natural landscape and pairs easily and successfully with darker, bolder, contemporary materials, and it can be mixed with other natural stones.
“Interior designers love it for retail display purposes, as it creates an appealing ambience, especially when combined with clever lighting. There's a feeling of calmness about it; the limestone doesn't compete for attention but simply complements the hero of the store–the product,” she says.
“You can create any aesthetic you like with limestone. We see architects around the world doing amazing things with it, and it is wonderful to be able to work with architects and designers locally to achieve similar successes.”
Limestone from Parkside Quarries in Ōamaru is sought after for both residential and commercial projects. Ramahia says that because the blocks are cut to order in the size and dimensions specified by the architect or homeowner, every project clad with the limestone can be original and unique.
"We can cut large blocks to fit the scale of a project located in an expansive rural lifestyle setting, a grand and iconic centre city structure or smaller, more delicate pieces to clad a central city townhouse. On any project, we work with the owner, architect, builder and stonemason to get the details exactly right.”
Colourwise, at Parkside Quarries, the stone is found in three different base tones–white, light caramel, and a light grey with a bony seam running through it. The white and caramel are equally ideal for exterior and interior use, while the grey is better suited to internal applications such as fireplaces, mantelpieces and feature walls.
And, whatever tone you choose, because it is a natural product, it will often have that evidence of its natural origins beneath the sea–mollusc shells, sharks’ teeth and other fossilised remains embedded in it. “Every block has the potential to reveal something interesting,” says Ramahia.
The quarrying process's simplicity and low carbon footprint make limestone very appealing, with the stone broken out of the quarry floor and carted about 400 metres to the factory where it is cut to size, ready to transport to your site. Offcuts are collected, crushed, and used as soil conditioners for gardens and on farms, meaning there is zero product waste at the end of the process. "Freight is our main carbon cost, and we have a sense of responsibility here that we are primary producers looking after the land," says Ramahia.
She says that being able to access a locally based product is increasingly important for people. "This is partly because of our increasing concern for the environment, and also for practical issues—we are getting more calls from people struggling to access products from overseas. On the other hand, our product is in great abundance right in our backyard.”
The cost of locally quarried limestone is often a surprise. “You can have a premium, high-end product that is timeless and will outlast you, but without a huge price tag.”
Once the stone is cut into blocks, it can be fabricated further by the biggest saw in the country and cut, carved, shaped or engraved to produce unique limestone products.
"Our limestone can be laid in random or natural patterns, it can be more formal and uniform, it can be left untouched, or sandblasted to bring out any lines in the stone.
“We can produce small or large pieces, carve patterns into the blocks, for example, fluting on or around window jambs, dentil moulding on soffits, coats of arms; we can create decorative panels with fruit or flowers, original pieces of limestone furniture; anything is possible,” says Ramahia.
Homeowners and architects are welcome to visit the quarry if they want to select their own blocks of limestone, and, says Ramahia, those who do are awed by the powerful sight of the huge blocks and the lines and layers created by the many years of quarrying.
“It’s a dramatic space to be in, and there’s a sense of calmness and serenity about being surrounded by huge, high stone walls; people who visit us invariably love the experience and enjoy having their chosen stone in their homes even more.”
Learn more about the range of limestone products available for your next residential or commercial project.
Learn more about how you can incorporate limestone into your next project.