Moeraki Boulders CloseUp

Thought well explained by science, the Moeraki Boulders are a strange sight strewn across a remote beach north of Dunedin

Moeraki Boulders String

A cluster of dinosaur eggs? Marbles for giants?

Around 70 kilometres north of the elegant city of Dunedin (with its hexagonal city centre, castle and albatross nesting area) is one of nature’s more unusual travel wonders. As if walking into a giant’s game of marbles, huge spherical rocks are randomly scattered over Koekohe Beach. Unlike typical stones eroded smooth by the pounding oceans and coastal winds, the Moeraki Boulders (or Kaihinaki in Maori) have a far more exciting geological history.

Moeraki Boulders Beach Scene

Some boulders are in clumps while others sit solo.

Moeraki Boulders Broken Look Inside

A peek inside one of the boulders

Soon after the extinction of the dinosaurs, these rocks were formed in ancient seabed sediments a little like oysters form pearls. Around a bone fragment or piece of wood, layers of lime minerals, silt and mud coated the centre over time (well, lots of time – around four million years) creating large spherical shapes in a process scientists uninspiringly describe as septarian concretions.

More recently geological movements have uplifted the mud seabeds into dramatic coastal cliffs, wind and waves gradually extracting the embedded boulders haphazardly across a lonely stretch of beach.

Wandering around the Moeraki Boulders adds to the mystery. Some are in clumps while others sit isolated. Some lay buried in sand with their head peaking out like a bald head while other sit completely exposed. Like a creative playground, it is near impossible not to want to crawl and climb on them, jump from one to another, feel their roughened surface and perch on a rock pondering a strange geological phenomenon while gazing out to sea. A pod of Hector Dolphins may even skip along the shallows of the coastline seeking food or playing joyously in the chilly ocean waters.

Moeraki Boulders Single Quartz Encrusted

Some boulders have a quartz-like encrustation across them giving them a dinosaur egg appearance or a rock fragment from outer space

Moeraki Boulders Detail

Tortoise shell feel of the encrusted boulders

Some of the Moeraki Boulders have split trying to revealing a hollowed centre while others have grown a stranger crystalline exterior giving them a tortoise shell-like skin. Some are quite a bit bigger than others varying from over two metres to under a metre in diameter.

Maori legend dictates that a canoe was wrecked along the New Zealand coast carrying a cargo of eel baskets, gourds and calabashes. These petrified into rock when they fell onto the land leaving a symbolic memorial to the ship’s loss.

Moeraki Boulders Panorama

Moeraki Beach vista: adults and kids climb on, explore and gaze in wonderment at the strange boulders – are they really giant’s marbles?

Vibrant imaginations have offered descriptions like “giant gobstoppers”, “alien’s brains” and “Kiwi Stonehenge”. For me, I envisage a game of marbles for giants.

Whatever your reaction to the Moeraki Boulders, the geological phenomenon make a wonderful diversion on a drive between Dunedin and Oamaru. Their mysterious origins and strange appearance boggle the mind while enjoying a bracing stroll below the coastal cliffs wondering how many more of the giant’s marbles will be extruded from the cliffs by nature’s inevitable shaping of this dramatic shoreline.



8 Responses to The Giant’s Marbles (Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand)

  • You probably don;t know this, but I’ve been a rockhound forever, so I was really fascinated by this article. Your photos reminded me of Septarian Nodules, so I looked it up and that’s exactly what the Moeraki Boulders are. But I’ve never seen any so perfectly round, or so large. Fascinating!

    • Mark H says:

      Barbara, I didn’t know you were a rock hound. My reading indicates that there are a few examples of boulders like those of Moeraki around the world but they are exceptionally rare. It is an amazing sight on a remote beach of a quiet fishing village to see all these rocks strewen around, most so perfectly spherical.

  • They really look mysterious like an alien might burst out of them at any moment!

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne) says:

    Yay!! Yet another reason to return to the Land of the Long White Cloud.

  • Sacha says:

    This brings back some memories, my husband and I traveled round NZ for a month 7 years ago on our 1st RTW trip – we visited the Moreaki Bouldes and they really were a highlight for us, so unusual….We hope to go back one day!

    • Mark H says:

      I’m glad that it bought back some great memories of such a naturally beautiful island. The Moeraki Boulders are certainly an unusual sight.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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