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 combines all three. I have always been strangely attracted to these boulders and the mystery behind their origin. I am not the only one. There is a Moeraki Boulders legend, a conspiracy theory, and a few scientific explanations.
Currently, there are over 50 boulders, and while they are now protected by law, that wasn’t always the case. The largest of the Moeraki Boulders are up to three metres in diameter, weighing several tonnes. Interestingly, the majority are almost perfectly round rocks.
Where did these almost perfectly round rocks really originate?
The Moeraki Boulders legend and a few other theories:
A Maori Legend:
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 are alien eggs either sent from space or washed up by the ocean.
Volcanic activity is a plausible explanation. According to this theory, they were shot out of an ancient volcano and Koekohe Beach is where they landed.
Mass lightning strikes passed through the region, forming canyons, the 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, they were formed in ancient sea floor sediments 60 million years ago, during the early Tertiary period. Each may have started as a core of fossil shell, bone fragment, or piece of wood. Lime crystals in the sea gathered on the core over millions of years, 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.
Moeraki Boulders: 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.
Practical Information on Koekohe Beach and Moeraki Boulders
- Stairs lead down to Koekohe Beach. Access requires a $2 fee to use the stairs. Money collection is on an honour system. It is unclear as to what the money is used for, or even who collects it. Most of the information I could find suggests the $2 is a donation 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 without paying the small fee.
- Check the Moeraki Boulders tide times before you plan your day. Ideally, arrive closer to low tide than to high tide.
- 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.
- The Waitati Seasider is a stunning train ride that runs from Dunedin to Oamaru and back. It offers an option to disembark at Moeraki Boulders, allowing visitors a two-hour window to catch the train on its return.
- If you like tours, the ideal option is a private and personalized Dunedin tour or shore excursion from Viator that can include a visit to these perfectly round rocks.
- If you’re travelling anywhere in New Zealand, find the best hotel prices at Booking.com.