FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Wonders of the Otago Coast

Posted in New Zealand by folkestonejack on January 4, 2016

The sight of a beautiful sunrise in Oamaru gave us a superb start to our leisurely drive down the Otago Coast to Dunedin, punctuated by moments of delight as we visited some of the more picturesque spots that can be accessed off State Highway 1.

The boulders are scattered across Koekohe Beach

The boulders are scattered across Koekohe Beach

Our first stop brought us to the unusual sight of the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach. Across the beach some 50 spherical boulders are scattered, varying from 30cm to 2.2m in diameteter. It looks as though they have just washed up on the shore, but they are actually concretions that were formed 60 million years ago (described as somewhat akin to the way a pearl forms around a particle in an oyster). The boulders were once buried in the mudstone cliffs at the rear of the beach, but have been slowly released by the erosion of the cliffs.

Alternatively, the Maori see the boulders as the cargo (eel baskets, gourds and kumaras) washed ashore from the wreck of the great canoe Arai Te Uru. The reef which extends seawards from Shag Point is the canoe’s petrified hull and another rock nearby is the petrified body of the captain.

The Moeraki Boulders

The incoming tide around the boulders

Not all of the boulders have remained in situ – many of the smaller boulders were taken away during the Victorian era as objects of fascination and a few have made their way into museums (one of the larger boulders can be seen at the North Otago Museum in Oamaru). It’s a stunning natural phenomenon to see, but must have been even more spectacular before they became such a collectable prize. Thankfully, the boulders are legally protected today and it is forbidden to damage, deface or move them.

In one or two cases erosion has exposed the network of internal veins, causing the boulders to crack open like a rather robust egg shell. It gives a great insight into the structure of these remarkable objects.

The results of erosion

The results of erosion

Our timing was perfect. It was low tide when we arrived but you could already see that the tide was steadily creeping back up the beach, lapping over the first string of boulders (we timed our visit using the 2016 tide tables for Oamaru). Remarkably, the beach was virtually empty during our visit – there were just two cars in the car park when we arrived at 8.30am but a good 20-30 vehicles when we left around 10am.

I have long wanted to see the boulders and they certainly didn’t disappoint. I spent quite some time photographing them and could easily have spent much longer there! Afterwards, we headed to the Moeraki Café which served up some of the best ginger slices and muffins we have encountered on the entire trip. Treat upon treat!


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