One of the most unique sights in New Zealand lies along the East Coast of the South Island, in the Otago region. The Moeraki Boulders are a series of spherical boulders that appear randomly placed along the tideline. With unique and distinctive lines crisscrossing their surface, they look like something out of a science fiction novel, or, in line with New Zealand’s spate of recent high fantasy movies, dragon’s eggs. The scientific explanation for the boulders is that they are concretions (hard, compact items that are formed by precipitation of mineral cement that are found in sedimentary rocks) that have been eroded for the last sixty-five million years. However, despite the geologic and scientific explanation that exists, the Moeraki Boulders also have a cultural and mythological explanation as well.
According to Maori legends, the boulders are remains of calabashes, kumaras and eel baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe, the Araiteuru was wrecked at nearby Shag Point (Matakaea). This legend further goes on to state that the rocky shoals that extend out from Shag Point are actually the petrified hull of the wreck, and that a nearby rocky promontory is also the body of the canoe’s captain. Irrespective of what one believes caused the boulders to form, and be placed along Koekohe Beach, the boulders are worth a visit and are a great scenic attraction and stop along Highway 1, between Oamaru and Dunedin.
Directions: The Moeraki Boulders are located just outside the nearby town of Hampden, and are forty kilometers (40) south of Oamaru along Highway 1, and are seventy-five kilometers (75) north of Dunedin along Highway 1. While the boulders are not visible from the road (although Koekohe beach is), there are well-marked signs on both sides of the road advising visitors of their location. The New Zealand Department of Conservation operates a free parking area near the boulders (Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve Carpark and Picnic Area), and from the parking area, it is a short, ten minute accessible walk along the beach to the boulders. There is also an additional area that is operated by the Moeraki Boulders Café, which is a private gift shop, restaurant, parking area, and trail near the public parking area. The distance reduction from the public (no-fee) parking area to the private parking area is minimal, but the fee charged by the Café to utilize their path is also somewhat minimal (around USD $2.00). From the beach, the boulders are readily apparent, even at high tide.
Tips: While this area of the South Island of New Zealand is somewhat remote, the Moeraki Boulders are a long-standing tourist attraction. As such, the area generally has varying amounts of visitors, and visitors should be prepared for crowds in and around the boulders. Despite all of that, as my photos demonstrate, if you are patient (and or lucky), you may have some moments among these mythical, strange rocks on your own.