Moeraki Boulders

The Moeraki Boulders, geological curiosities each weighing several tonnes, and measuring up to 4 metres in circumference, lie on Hampden Beach much as if a giant, weary of his play, has walked away from a game of bowls – so much so that the early whalers named them The Ninepins and the location, Vulcan’s Foundry.

Moeraki Boulders

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The spherical, grey, septarian boulders were formed on the sea floor about 60 million years ago by the gradual accumulation of lime salts around a small centre. Their shape is thus caused by chemistry and not by wave action. The cracks in the boulders, or concretions as they are more correctly called, are typical of this type of growth and are filled with crystals of calcite. The boulders appear from the bank behind the beach as the softer mudstone in which they rest is weathered away by the sea. Formerly plentiful, many of the concretions have been removed. Those left are generally too heavy to have been taken away. Though not unique, such concretions are rare, and the area is now protected as a scientific reserve.

In Maori legend the Araiteuru canoe (one of the large ancestral canoes that came from Hawaiki) was wrecked on Shag Point while on its way south in search of greenstone. Food-baskets and kumara on board were washed ashore. The kumara became irregularly shaped rocks and the circular food-baskets became the Moeraki Boulders, called by the Maori Te Kaihinake (the food-baskets). The reef at the mouth of the Shag River is said to be the petrified hull of the canoe, and a prominent rock nearby to be the mortal remains of its navigator, Hipo. Names of passengers are given to hills in the area. The legend is an example of how a colourful story would be woven around the physical features of the landscape to perpetuate a knowledge of geography in a culture without a written language. 3 km N of Moeraki turn off towards beach, where boulders lie in the sand. Boulders Restaurant, appropriately dome-shaped, is a convenient place to lunch.

Smaller examples of septarian boulders are on Katiki Beach, a good bathing and picnicking beach (6.5 km S of Moeraki).

Moeraki
The picturesque fishing village of Moeraki lies on a rare protrusion on the North Otago coastline, a fat tongue whose northern tip curls to form a sheltered natural harbour. Though the first Europeans to settle in North Otago did so in this delightful spot, Moeraki’s future as a port of substance never materialised. It remains today an attractive fishing port, best known for the curious „Moeraki boulders“ which litter nearby beaches. Traces remain of its railway, abandoned in 1879.

The lack of good water in the area is explained in legend. The sea-god Tangaroa, masquerading as a whale, was insulted by a youth as he went to fetch water. Tangaroa responded by spouting seawater all over the hillside, to impregnate the springs and to render water at Moeraki brackish. Moeraki means sleepy sky, or a place to sleep by day.

Sectarian rivalry: The first European settlers in North Otago were the whalers who in 1836 established a bay-whaling station on the northern side of Moeraki Point, a promontory then so bush-covered that native pigeons would land on the whalers“ heads. The whalers enjoyed success for a time – 23 whales in 1837, 27 in 1838 and 25 in 1839. That their calling was a dangerous one is shown by an account of the loss of a new boat: one boat was holding fast to a large catch; another came to help „when [the whale] suddenly made a rush in their direction, and went clean over her, turning her over by sheer weight, and in a minute or two our brand-new boat was floating about the bay in shingles“.

In the reverse of the more usual pattern, a Maori settlement grew up near the whaling station, comprising Ngai Tahu who had fled from Kaiapoi after being routed by Te Rauparaha.
Though Bishop Pompallier had visited the area, the Maori were divided between the „Children of Wesley“ (with Watkin working from Waikouaiti) and „the Church of Paihia“ (after the northern converts Te Whiwhi and Tamihana Te Rauparaha had called in 1843 to good effect). Shortland in 1844 reported that the factions „maintained constant disputes on the subject of religion. . . In their small place there were consequently two chapels, and the rivalry of the two congregations might be noticed even in the loud and obstinate din which issued from the two iron pots, the common substitute for a belfry.“ The whalers, as they intermarried, stayed on despite the fall-off in the whaling trade, and turned to farming.

In Maori legend the Araiteuru canoe (one of the large ancestral canoes that came from Hawaiki) was wrecked on Shag Point while on its way south in search of greenstone. Food-baskets and kumara on board were washed ashore. The kumara became irregularly shaped rocks and the circular food-baskets became the Moeraki Boulders, called by the Maori Te Kaihinake (the food-baskets). The reef at the mouth of the Shag River is said to be the petrified hull of the canoe, and a prominent rock nearby to be the mortal remains of its navigator, Hipo. Names of passengers are given to hills in the area. The legend is an example of how a colourful story would be woven around the physical features of the landscape to perpetuate a knowledge of geography in a culture without a written language. 3 km N of Moeraki turn off towards beach, where boulders lie in the sand. Boulders Restaurant, appropriately dome-shaped, is a convenient place to lunch.

Smaller examples of septarian boulders are on Katiki Beach, a good bathing and picnicking beach (6.5 km S of Moeraki).