The Moeraki Boulders are a must-do on any South Island road trip and a great stopping off point on the road south from Christchurch to Dunedin. These magical spherical boulders are around 60 million years old and you will find them scattered all along Koekohe Beach. The Moeraki Boulders are steeped in Maori legend and provide a magical backdrop to anyone travelling along SH1.

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History of the Moeraki Boulders

The history of the boulders is somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend. Maori stories claim the Moeraki Boulders that sit on Koekohe Beach are eel baskets and calabashes that washed ashore when the famous Araiteuru Waka (war canoe) of legend was shipwrecked at nearby Shag Point. The legend goes on to claim that the rocky shoal in the ocean here is the petrified hull of the canoe, while a jutting rock promontory is the body of the canoe’s captain.

A more boring explanation (but not to the geologists!) is that the Moeraki Boulders started forming on the ocean floor over 60 million years ago and centuries of coastline erosion have revealed a spectacular view of these curiously large spherical boulders.  We much prefer the Maori legend to the geologist’s view!

Famous Moeraki Boulders at sunrise, Koekohe beach,Otago, South Island, New Zealand
The Moeraki Boulders at sunset

How many Moeraki Boulders are there?

At last count there were over 50 of the spherical boulders which can be seen lying on the beach, while others are still wedged into the cliffs, half-visible. Some of the boulders weigh as much as seven tonnes and are three to four metres in width, while others are as small as footballs (but we don’t recommend giving one a boot!).

Protected rocks

Over the years the rocks have garnered many names from both Maoris and locals,  including ‘hooligans’ gallstones’, ‘eel pots’ and ‘giant gobstoppers’. It’s believed that there used to be many more of these strangely shaped rocks scattered across the beach, but in the 19th Century, before the area became legally protected and it was forbidden to remove them, many visitors used to walk off with the boulders as souvenirs. One of the largest boulders was trucked off and is now on display at Otago Museum.

The dramatic view of the boulders can be enjoyed from the sunny deck of the Moeraki Boulders café and gift shop at the top of the beach. There’s also a viewing platform you can walk out along, which passes through a regenerating native forest. You might be able to spot dolphins out at sea if you’re lucky.

Where can I find the Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are located on Koekohe Beach, South Island, between Moeraki and Hampden, about a half-hour drive from Oamaru. If you are travelling around the South Island, we definitely recommend taking a trip out to see these magical boulders and you can easily access them heading between Christchurch and Dunedin or Queenstown and Dunedin. They can be found just off SH1 which is a beautiful scenic drive and takes in some of New Zealand’s most unspoiled coastline and hidden gems.

Road Tripping to the Moeraki Boulders

If you do fancy a trip out to see the Moeraki Boulders, we have a couple of great road trips that will take you on an awesome drive to find the boulders and other awesome places around New Zealand’s lower South Island. Check out these itineraries for more ideas of places to go on your road trip:

Queenstown to Dunedin – 5 day Round Trip

Christchurch to Stewart Island – 10 day Round Trip

Moeraki Boulders on Instagram

As you would imagine, the Moeraki Boulders are some of New Zealand’s most photographed rocks and there’s good reason for this – with the sun rising from the east, this is a perfect time to capture the Moeraki Boulders in all their glory – they provide the perfect foreground with the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop – check out some of our favourites:

 

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A post shared by Ed Rhodes (@ed_rhodes_photography)

Moeraki Boulders – Frequently Asked Questions

As you can imagine, something as mysterious as the Moeraki Boulders generates a lot of questions. Whilst we have already answered some of these above, here are some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to the Moeraki Boulders:

What caused the Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are said to have formed due to the hardening of Paleocene mudstone which was buried in the mudstone cliffs. Over time, the sea’s waves have gradually eroded the softer stone to reveal the spherical formation beneath.

Can you see the Moeraki Boulders at high tide?

Yes and no. When the tide is high, you will only be able to see around half of the boulders on the beach as the rest will be completely covered by the sea. For the best experience, we recommend visiting the Moeraki Boulders when the tide is low or when it is just coming in. As you will see from the Insta images above, there are some amazing photos you can take at sunset (and sunrise as well).

Does it cost to see the Moeraki Boulders?

Nope. Not a single cent. Like many of New Zealand’s amazing natural wonders, it’s completely free to visit the Moeraki Boulders and is an essential stop off point on any South Island road trip, especially if you are in the Otago region.

What is inside the Moeraki Boulders?

The larger boulders, 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter, are estimated to have taken 4 to 5.5 million years to grow while 10 to 50 metres (33 to 164 ft) of marine mud accumulated on the seafloor above them. After the concretions formed, large cracks known as septaria formed in them. Brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz progressively filled these cracks when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the mudstone enclosing them.

Updated: 26 August 2021