The Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand, are one of the most fascinating geological features on Earth.
The round rocks seems to have been created by giants.
So they are at the source of scientific fascination and Maori myths.
Below is my guide to help you make the most of your visit: location, access, tides, map...
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What are the Moeraki boulders and why visit?
What are the Moeraki Boulders?
The Moeraki boulders are one of the most intriguing geological formations that I have seen so far (with the giants’ playground in Namibia).
They are huge boulders set up on the flat sandy Koekohe beach.
Most are 1 to 2m in diameter but some of them reach 3 meters in diameters and weigh several tonnes!
What makes them so impressive (apart from their size) is that they are all almost perfectly round.
There are over 50 boulders visible on the beach. One of the most surprising landscapes in New Zealand (see my top 50)
What are the Moeraki boulders made from? Geology introduction
It is believed that those boulders were formed by precipitation of calcite in mudstone over millions of years on the seabed. The phenomenon is called concretion. It starts with an organic nucleus (shell, fish-bone, or piece of plant or animal).Then sediments aggregate around it (layer upon layer) cimented by complex chemical reactions with minerals.
They formed 65 to 13 million years ago!
How did those giant boulders get on the beach?
When the land rose from the sea, the erosion did it works and revealed these giants, letting us touch old Earth history!
Below you can see one that is still in the cliffs. The erosion as not yet fully revealed it.
Why are some of the Moeraki boulders cracked or opened?
You will several boulders with craks or completely opened;
Young cracks are called septaria.
They are several potential causes:
- Gases are released when the center decompose and expand
- The concretion of sediment dried
What does Moeraki mean?
Moeraki is the name of the village nearby (and not the name of the beach, by the way: it is Koekohe beach).
It used to be a whaling station.
But I have not found more information on the history behind the name.
Moeraki Boulders Myth
Maori legend tells that the boulders are remains of calabashes (kumaras and eel baskets) that washed ashore and were turned into stones after the legendary canoe, the Araiteuru, was wrecked nearby.
Moeraki Boulders facts
And let's complete this introduction with a few facts that might interest you:
- There used to be many more boulders, but some of the smaller ones have been taken (now it is illegal)
- The largest of the boulders is estimated to weigh 7 metric tons
- Scientific believe that it took around 5 million years to create 1 boulder
- The world learnt of the boulders only around 1814. Before documentation was limited.
Best time to visit the Moeraki Boulders - Tides
The absolute best time to visit the Moeraki boulders is between Low tide and Mid tide and at sunrise if you can.
However they are fascinating and visible all day long.
You can check the tide times here
Moeraki Boulders Tides
To convince you here are some photos with:
- The Moeraki boulders at low tide:
- The Moeraki boulders at descending mid tide:
- The Moeraki boulders at high tide:
Can you see the moeraki boulders at high tide? The answer is yes. But more than half of them will be completely in the water.
Be careful with your camera and be ready to run away from water.
Sunrise and Sunset
Then there is the question of the best light.
I visited during the day, at sunrise and at sunset.
- At sunset
You will be almost alone.
The sun goes behind the cliffs so you are loosing the light. But you could still have colorful clouds pas sunset.
The photo at mid -tide above was take at sunset
- During the day
The place is packed especially at low tide. It gets hard to take pictures of the boulders without anyone. But that gives a sense of scale
- At sunrise
This is the best time
You will be surrounded only by photographers
The lights can be really wonderful
Moeraki boulders in Video
Below is a short video giving you an idea of what it looks like to visit the Boudlers on Koekohe beach:
One of the most fascinating beaches in New Zealand (see my list)!
Planning Tips and map - Moeraki Boulders New Zealand
Before I share more pictures of the amazing boulders (one of the best places in South Island - see my list), here are some practical information to plan your visit to the boulders.
Moeraki Boulders Location
- Located in South island, on the East Coast
- Between Christchurch and Dunedin
- Dunedin to Moeraki = 1h
- Oamaru to Moeraki = 30min
- Christchurch to Moeraki = 3h30
- Queenstown to Moeraki = 3h15
- Below is a map to get your oriented:
The Moeraki boulders are included in my eBooks along with practical maps to plan your road trip:
Plan your perfect trip around New Zealand!
How to get Moeraki Boulders
- Along the main road between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden on State Highway 1
- To visit at the best time, better to be on a road trip with your own car
- However most group tours of South Island include this famous stop
Need to rent a car in New Zealand?
- Compare prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com - one of the best rated comparison sites!
- Choose the car and company you prefer (with enough power for comfort on sinuous mountain roads)
- Consider their full coverage option - I always take it for peace of mind!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
Moeraki Boulders carparks and access
There are 2 carparks to access the boulders: the café's carpark and the public carpark
The public carpark:
- getting there - past the train rails and continue straight
- walk - you are directly on the beach and have to walk 5more minutes on the sand
- no facilities
- entree fee - free access
The café's carpark
- getting there - past the train rails, turn left
- walk - a wood staircase takes you from the parking to the beach where a lot of the boulders are. You can go for a stroll on the beach and find more of them. There are over 50 boulders.
- Toilets, café, souvenir shop
- Cost - There is a 2 dollars donation box
Moeraki Boulders accommodations
There are no accommodations at the beach itself.
However there are some in Moeraki and Hampden, including a holiday park. They are only 5 to10 min drive away. If you want to stay close to the boulders to see them at sunrise, I recommend booking early.
Otherwise Dunedin is only 1h away and Oamaru 30min away
I stayed at the Moeraki Boulders Motel:
It was clean and spacious. The owners are really nice. Not modern but conveniently located. See my photos below. Check out price and availability
View of Koekohe Beach from above
I normally love viewing landscapes from a higher point of view. So I always look for them.
However I must admit that at the Moeraki Boulders beach, views are better from the ground.
There are 3 main viewpoints:
- From the terrace of the café
This gives you an idea of the walking distance to the Boulders
- From the staircase going down
You get a quick view of the boulders are you walk down the staircase of the coffee shop
- From the Moeraki Boulders Walk
There is an official walk along the beach and on the cliff above. It is officially closed because the staircase at the end (past the boulders) is not stable anymore.
However you can still walk the forest part (starts on path left of café) and get a quick view of the boulders from the platform. This is not much; It is not worth it if you don't have the time.
Walking around - Moeraki Boulders Photos
It is so impressive to see all those boulders perfectly round on such a flat classic beach. It is hard to get your mind around the idea of how they were created.
There is quite a spread of them, so you can move along where there are less people.
Some are perfectly round, others are cracked or opened.
Erosion is creating slightly different structures.
Every single one is fascinating.
Having fun at the Moeraki Beach
During the day you will see a lot of pictures where people are having fun with them.
The first time I visited, I was with a group so it was great for pictures.
However the second time I was alone so less options...
Photographing the Boulders
As I wrote earlier, the best time to photograph the Moeraki boulders is at sunrise during low to mid-tide.
However you can still go when it is high tide. If this is the case, be careful. Tidal waves can jump suddenly so be ready to run.
Things to do around Moeraki - Penguins and Rocks
Since sunset is not the best time to visit the boulders, I can suggest 2 alternatives:
- Walk to the Katiki lighthouse and to the headland. You might be able to see penguins coming back to shore at dusk
Note: last 5km are gravel road + 20min walk
Gate closes at 7:30pm
Very windy (bring warm clothes to wait)
- Drive to the victorian town of Oamaru. They have a setting to see the penguins come to shore (with benches and explanations)
For a fee, booking required
Bring warm clothes to wait
And if you are fascinated by geology, the boulders are actually part of the Vanishing World Trail. You ca spend a day following it, or just pick a few spots for half a day.
I recommend the Elephant Rocks and the museum at Duntroon. Read my article
Want to see more of New Zealand?
- New Zealand hidden gems - read article
- New Zealand North Island vs South Island - read article
- New Zealand in 50 photos - read article
- 20 Best waterfalls in New Zealand - read article
- 15 most beautiful beaches in New Zealand - read article
- Things to do in New Zealand North island - read article
- Things to do in New Zealand South island - read article
- How to plan a New Zealand road trip - read article
- New Zealand 2 week itinerary - read article
Planning a trip to NZ?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
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