Looking like a bag of over-sized marbles spilt along the beach, the Moeraki Boulders are a cute place to stop on the coastal drive south to Dunedin with your Dunedin airport car rental. The tiny town of Hampden is about as unsurprising as you can get, but turn off towards the sea just south of there and within a few hundred metres the road opens to a wide windswept coast. It’s an easy walk along the Koekohe beach to the boulders.
How did they get there? And what are they made of? Apparently the boulders formed on the ocean floor, an unfathomable time ago from mud, silt and clay, stuck together with calcite. They vary in size from .5 to 3 metres in diameter and sit partly submerged in the ever-shifting sands of this exposed coastline. Some have big cracks across their surface and others are split open like big baked apples. Similar, slightly larger boulders can be found at Shag Point, about 12 kilometres south. These are known as the Katiki Boulders.
But local Maori tell a different story. For them the boulders are the remains of calabashes and baskets used for catching eels, which were lost at sea when the waka or large canoe, Arai-te-uru, capsized. These remains washed ashore, turning to stone. The nearby rocky points and shoaling reefs are said to be the remains of the waka, and of its leader.
But however these big cheeky marbles made it on to the beach at Moeraki, they are worth a stop to see. The last time we were there we were treated to a visit from a pod of rare little Hector’s Dolphins, the ones with the Mickey Mouse ear as a dorsal fin, which were dipping and diving through the wave line just off-shore. It was a special moment.
A little further round the beach from the boulders Fleur’s Place is a very popular restaurant and cafe right on the coast. Fresh fish is the focus, with an impressive selection on the menu each day. Fleur sources most of her ingredients locally and has built a wide-ranging reputation for her cuisine and service.
The Moeraki Boulders have become a popular stop off for passing tourists and you may be dismayed to see big tour buses in the carpark. Thankfully few of these people seem interested in walking along the beach, preferring to see the boulders from a distance.