Found half an hour’s drive south of the town of Oamaru on New Zealand’s Otago coast, is a small fishing village. Its name is Moeraki and nearby Keokohe Beach is home to . Almost perfectly spherical in shape, each boulder weighs several tonnes, with some measuring up to two metres in height.
Evidence of a Maori shipwreck?
There are many different explanations that have been offered for these strange boulders. Maori legend has it that the boulders are giant gourds and eel baskets. They believe that they washed up on the beach hundreds of years ago, the result of a shipwreck that befell the sailing canoe Arai-te-uru. The rocks that extend beyond Shag Point are said to be the petrified remains of the canoe’s hull and a nearby landmass as the body of the boat’s unfortunate captain.
A scientific explanation
The Moeraki boulders consist of mud, fine silt and clay, cemented by calcite. Thought to have been formed around 65 million years ago, they grew slowly, as would a pearl, over perhaps four million years. At this point, large cracks, called septaria, formed in them, filling with calcite, dolomite and quartz. Around them, the soft mudstone that encased them was originally part of the seabed. The sea, assisted by wild weather, is now slowly exhuming the boulders from their muddy graves.
Viewing the Moeraki boulders
A platform reached via a short walk through regenerating native forest provides the best view of the boulders, which are now protected as part of a scientific reserve. Out to sea, it’s often possible to spot Hector’s dolphins. Visitors to Wellington might choose to head to the city’s Alexander Turnbull Library where a sketch of the beach and its boulders can be found. It dates from 1848 and was drawn by W.B.D. Mantell, showing that the Moeraki boulders were at that time more numerous than they are today.
They’re not unique…
If seeing these boulders has whetted your appetite for more, then perhaps you’d like to visit the Katiki boulders as well, 12 miles south of Moeraki. Some are oval, others spheres, some contain the bones of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs (extinct marine reptiles). Better still are the Koutu boulders. Similar in shape and size to their more famous Moeraki cousins, they can be found around Hokianga Harbour between Koutu and Kauwhare Points in Northland, but your visit is much more likely to be free of crowds.