The Moeraki Boulders are one of New Zealand’s weirdest attractions

New Zealand – the land of dreamy mountains, timeless fjords, majestic mountains, ancient forests and eerie rocks. The Moeraki Boulders are one of New Zealand’s most unusual attractions and are located on the east coast of the South Island. No one needs to go out of their way to visit the Moeraki Boulders, they are located right in the way of any essential South Island itinerary.

While New Zealand is an expensive country to visit, most of the country’s natural attractions (and national parks) are free. Visiting free and fascinating attractions like the Moeraki Boulders is one of the best ways to see New Zealand on a budget. Another eye-catching coastal rock formation attraction on the South Island is the Punakaiki patties.


What is special about Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are actually concretions that have been exposed by shoreline erosion on coastal cliffs. They began to form in the ancient sediments of the seabed around 60 million years ago. They formed in the Paleocene in the mudstone of the Moeraki Formation. Boulders can weigh several tons and the largest can be over 6 feet or 2 meters wide.

  • Where: Koekohe Beach in Otago
  • Form: About 65 million years ago
  • Type: Calcite concretions

Moeraki Boulders are composed of mud, fine silt and clay cemented by calcite. They are protected in a scientific reserve and are scattered as isolated or in clusters on the stretch of beach. The boulders are gray-colored septal concretions that have been exhumed from the bedrock and mudstone that enveloped them.

Rock size:

  • A third: Ranges from 0.5 to 1.0 meters (1.6 to 3.3 feet)
  • Two-thirds: Ranges from 1.5 to 2.2 meters (4.9 to 7.2 feet)

In recent years they have become one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions and are a must-see for anyone traveling to the East Coast of the South Island.

Similar boulders can be found elsewhere

Nearly identical boulders (called Koutu Boulders) are found on other beaches and in the cliffs at Hokianga Harbor on the North Island. These boulders can reach sizes of up to three meters or 10 feet in diameter.

Other smaller boulders can be found 12 miles up the coast from the Moeraki Boulders – these concretions can be of various shapes (disc-shaped, oval, flat, etc.). They may even contain bones of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. Similar spherical concretions can also be found in other countries (such as Kimmeridge Clay and Oxford Clay in England).

Related: Meet New Zealand’s forgotten islands on a 45-minute shift

How to visit the Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are located just off the main road up and down the South Island and are a fun and interesting stop when descending the island. Admission is free and there is a restaurant on site. They make a fantastic stopover if traveling from the major South Island cities of Christchurch and Dunedin.

  • Admission: Free
  • Located: 30 minute drive south of Oamaru (the nearest “big” town)
  • Highway: National Highway 1
  • Pit stop: They are a great pit stop when driving up and down the island

The best times for photography are normally early morning and late afternoon when the sunlight is soft. Other great opportunities are when the storms come in and hit the rocks.

The Moeraki Boulders are signposted from the main road and there is ample parking right by the beach. They are located between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden, with the nearest major town being Oamaru. They’re about an hour’s drive north of Dunedin, making for a great morning tea break.

Related: What to know about exploring New Zealand’s famous Southern Alps

Local Maori Legends of Moeraki Rocks

The native people of New Zealand are the Maori, and they have a legend that the rocks are gourds – the remains of basket eels, gourds and kumara (the New Zealand name for sweet potatoes). These, they say, washed up on the shore from the Arai-te-uru (a large sailing canoe) which was wrecked on nearby Shag Point.

  • Maori legend: The rocks are from the wreckage of a large sailing canoe

According to legend, the rocky shoals of Shag Point are the petrified hull of the canoe wreck while a nearby rock formation is the body of the canoe captain.

The reticulated patterns on the rocks are also said to be the remains of the canoe’s fishing nets.

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