New Zealand is full of mystery, wonder, and spectacular scenery. Moeraki Boulders, the huge spherical rocks on Koekohe beach on the east coast of the South Island, combine all three. There are several different theories as to how these giant rocks ended up here, ranging from a Moeraki Boulders legend to a conspiracy theory.
Even the timelines vary from 60 million years ago to only a few thousand years. And, of course, there are a few scientific possibilities.
Currently, there are over 50 boulders. Today, they are protected by laws; however, that wasn’t always the case. The largest of the New Zealand Moeraki Boulders are up to three metres in diameter, and weighing several tonnes. Interestingly, the majority are almost perfectly round rocks.
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Where did these almost perfectly round Moeraki Boulders really originate?
The five theories below include:
- A Māori legend
- Aliens eggs
- Shot from a volcano
- Scientific explanation
Which one is correct? Well, that’s up to you. Have a read and decide for yourself.
But first, let us tempt you with the rest of our beautiful country…
The Moeraki Boulders legend and a few other theories
Regardless of which one you choose to believe, you have to admit these boulders are among the most unique things in NZ.
A Māori legend
Legend tells us that the boulders are remains of calabash (a gourd-bearing tree), kumara (a sweet potato), and eel baskets that washed ashore when a canoe was shipwrecked. The rocky shoals that extend seaward from nearby Shag Point (to the south, but not visible from Moeraki Beach) are the canoe’s petrified hull.
Conspiracy theorists tell us the Moeraki Boulders in New Zealand are actually alien eggs sent from space or washed up by the ocean. What do you think? Could the image just below be a hatched egg?
Volcanic activity is a plausible explanation.
According to this theory, these New Zealand boulders were shot out of an ancient volcano, and Koekohe Beach is where they landed.
Mass lightning strikes passed through the region, forming canyons, boulders and other unusual geological formations. High-powered electric arcs can smash matter, spinning it in a vortex and melting and/or compressing it into round shapes – or boulders.
Science classifies them as septarian concretions. Accordingly, the Moeraki Boulders formation began on the ancient seafloor sediments 60 million years ago, during the early Tertiary period.
Each may have started as a core of a fossil shell, bone fragment, or piece of wood. Lime crystals in the sea gathered on the core over millions of years and then accumulated other minerals around it to make the boulder shape.
Over time, the original mudstone seabed became uplifted and formed coastal cliffs. The captive boulders released as the cliffs eroded.
Practical information on Koekohe Beach and Moeraki Boulders
- Stairs lead down to Koekohe “boulders” Beach. Access requires a $2 fee to use the stairs. Money collection is on an honour system and used for maintenance and upkeep.
- Locals and other adventure seekers often park their car a kilometre down the road and walk along the public beach to access the boulders.
- The Moeraki Boulders Cafe, an upscale New Zealand café, is at the top of the stairs.
- Check the times for Moeraki Boulders tides before you plan your day. Ideally, arrive closer to low tide than to high tide.
Moeraki Boulders are better seen at low tide
We first learned of the Moeraki Boulders legend in 2007. At the time, we were living on the South Island for the winter ski season, and the house we rented had a photo of them on the wall. They called to me, and I had to see them for myself. Back then, we arrived at low tide, a far better time for seeing the boulders.
How to get to Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki Boulders are on Koekohe beach, which is located on the east coast of the South Island between Oamaru (37 km) and Dunedin (76k m).
The easiest way to arrive at the boulders is with your own vehicle, and with one, you can travel down the road to the Katiki Point Lighthouse, where you might see penguins, seals, or other wildlife. Other options for getting here:
- Scenic train ride: The Waitati Seasider is a stunning train ride that runs from Dunedin to Oamaru and back. It offers an option to disembark at the boulders, allowing visitors a two-hour window to catch the train on its return from Oamaru to Moeraki boulders.
- Small group tour: Small group tour with scenic train and boulders: This one takes the Silverfern train.
Koekohe Beach was a stop on our road trip from Dunedin to Christchurch.
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Have you been to Koekohe Beach? Which Moeraki Boulders legend do you believe?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …