I came across the Moeraki Boulders by accident, driving past on the road between Dunedin and Oamaru. I was unprepared for what I found: a group of ancient boulders so spherical they surely couldn’t have been fashioned by nature. And, as so often with New Zealand’s natural wonders, the boulders are surrounded by mystery, the subject of ancient legends.
Legendary Origins: Maori Eel Baskets
The shape of the rocks is so unusual that it is hardly surprising that legends should have grown up around them. Scattered across the beach, the boulders are up to three metres wide, many of them with strange cracks and markings on their sides.
As with many Maori legends and traditions, the origin of the Moeraki Boulders has a connection with food. The story is that a large canoe, the Arai-te-uru, was shipwrecked in the surrounding waters: the canoe itself was transformed into a nearby reef and its captain became a large rock. The Boulders formed when eel baskets, calabashes (a sort of squash) and kumaras (sweet potatoes) from the canoe were washed ashore.
Of course there is a more prosaic explanation. It is thought that the Boulders were created from sea sediments almost 60m years ago, and that time and weathering have gradually rounded their edges. And the distinctive markings around the cracks have arisen from the presence of dolomite and quartz within the rock.
Exploring the Moeraki Boulders
Whatever their origins, the Boulders are old enough to have an aura of mystery. They are popular with tourists: we followed a coach party down the walkway to the beach. There were already people there, snapping the rocks from every angle. It seemed to be almost obligatory to be pictured standing on top of the boulders!
Fortunately the beach is large enough to accommodate plenty of visitors, and it didn’t feel crowded. We took our pictures then spent some time walking along the sand, appreciating the warm Pacific morning. It was yet another reminder of the natural wonders that New Zealand has to offer.