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The Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders


A boys points to the sea from beside a Moeraki Boulder.
A boy points out to sea from beside a Moeraki Boulder

Koekohe Beach, in New Zealand's South Island, showcases the extraordinary Moeraki Boulders. The boulders are a geological feature that look almost artificial in their spherical perfection.

The rocks give the beach the look of a fantasy landscape. Not only are they ball-shaped, but they have almost regular-looking cracks all over them - some filled with crystals, which look like pale cement. This give them a sort of "turtle shell" look. They are even a little reminiscent of textbook pictures of the human brain!

Koekohe Beach, with the Moeraki Boulders.
Koekohe Beach, with the Moeraki Boulders

History

The huge round, mysterious-looking rocks lie either singly or in clumps on the sand. It's thought that the boulders began forming in the Paleocene epoch, i.e., about 66 to 56 million years ago. Interestingly, they didn't form by breaking off a bigger piece of rock. Rather, they formed like pearls do, via a process of accretion.

They began forming in mud on the seafloor. The original adhesive was a substance called calcite (the same stuff that makes up limestone and marble). The calcite bound together other miscellaneous minerals. And over a period of about four million years, today's Moeraki Boulders were formed.

A small, almost perfectly spherical, Moeraki Boulder.
A small, almost perfectly spherical, Moeraki Boulder

60 millions years ago is a long time! And during that time, the geological layer they formed in, on the then seafloor, was lifted high above what is now sea level. So, the "mother lode" of the Moeraki Boulders is actually the cliff behind the beach! And the rocks now inhabit the beach only because erosion released them from the cliffs and gravity pulled them down there.

There are still more Moeraki Boulders encased in those cliffs, due to come down to the beach when the time is right.

Protected

Not all the Moeraki Boulders are still intact.
Not all the Moeraki Boulders are still intact

The Moeraki Boulders have been officially protected since 1971 (although they are not a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The stretch of beach they are on is a scientific reserve. Therefore, while you are allowed to get up close to them, damaging them is forbidden by law.

The Boulders are a popular tourist attraction, and a visit to them adds yet another image in the visitor's memory to the many amazing ones that make up New Zealand.

Getting There

Moeraki Boulders with the cliff from where they came.
Moeraki Boulders with the cliff from where they came

The Moeraki Boulders are on Koekohe Beach, between the fishing town of Moeraki and the settlement of Hampden. This stretch of the beach is about 80 km north of Dunedin, on the South Island's eastern coast.

If you're driving in New Zealand, the Boulders are readily accessible from State Highway 1. There is the Moeraki Public Parking space for vehicles.


Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, Otago coast of the South Island.
Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, Otago coast of the South Island.

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