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New Zealand - the land of dreamy mountains, timeless fjords, majestic mountains, ancient forests, and odd boulders. 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 one's way to visit the Moeraki Boulders, they are located right on 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 to visit. Visiting free and fascinating attractions like the Moeraki Boulders is one of the great ways to visit New Zealand on a budget. Another eye-catching coastal rock formation attraction on the South Island is the pancake rocks of Punakaiki.


What Is Special About The Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are actually concretions that have been exposed by shoreline erosion on the coastal cliffs. They started forming in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago. They were formed during the Paleocene in the mudstone of the Moeraki Formation. The boulders can weigh several tonnes and the largest can be over 6 feet or 2 meters wide.

  • Where: Koekohe Beach In Otago
  • Formed: Around 65 Million Years Ago
  • Type: Calcite Concretions

The Moeraki Boulders are composed of mud, fine silt, and clay that has been 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 grey-colored septarian concretions that have been exhumed from the bedrock and mudstone that encased them.

Size Of The Boulders:

  • One-Third: Ranges 0.5 to 1.0 meters (1.6 to 3.3 ft)
  • Two-Thirds: Ranges 1.5 to 2.2 meters (4.9 to 7.2 ft)

In recent years they have become one of the more popular attractions in New Zealand and are a must for anyone traveling up the South Island's east coast.

Similar Boulders Can Be Found Elsewhere

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

Other smaller boulders can be found 12 miles down the coast of the Moeraki Boulders - these concretions can be of different shapes (disk-shaped, oval, flat, etc.). They can even contain the bones of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. Similar spherical concretions can be found in other countries as well (like at Kimmeridge Clay and Oxford Clay in England).

Related: Meet New Zealand's Forgotten Islands On A 45 Minute Off-Set

How To Visit The Moeraki Boulders?

The Moeraki Boulders are located just off the main road running up and down the South Island and are a fun and interesting stop as one drives down the island. Entry is free and there is a restaurant at the site. They are a fantastic stop if one is traveling from the main South Island cities of Christchurch and Dunedin.

  • Admission: Free
  • Located: 30 Minutes Drive South of Oamaru (The Closest "Big" Town)
  • Highway: State Highway 1
  • Pit Stop: They Are A Great Pit Stop While Driving Up And Down The Island

The best times for photography are normally early mornings and late afternoons when the sunlight is soft. Other great opportunities are when storms are rolling in and battering the rocks.

The Moeraki Boulders are signposted from the main road and there is ample parking right at the beach. They are located between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden with the closest larger town being Oamaru. They are around an hour's drive north of Dunedin - making them a great morning tea stop.

Related: What To Know Of Exploring New Zealand's Famed Southern Alps

Local Maori Legends Of The Moeraki Boulders

The native people of New Zealand are the Maori, and they have a legend that the boulders are gourds - the remains of eel baskets, calabashes, and kumara (the name in New Zealand for sweet potatoes). These, they say, washed on the shore from the Arai-te-uru (a large sailing canoe) that wrecked on the nearby Shag Point.

  • Maori Legend: The Boulders Are From The Wreck Of A Large Sailing Canoe

According to the legend, rocky shoals at Shag Point are the petrified hull of the canoe wreck while a rocky formation in the vicinity is the body of the canoe's captain.

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