One of our favorite places to watch the sunrise in New Zealand is the Moeraki Boulders. These perfectly round boulders stuck in the sand add a little something special to an already magical New Zealand beach sunrise.
For me, Charlotte, the Moeraki Boulders is a spot that will forever have a place in my heart. I visited the Moeraki Boulders countless times as a kid, usually en-route to family holidays in Dunedin, and can always remember Mum and Dad trying to sit all us six kids on the boulders for a photo.
I don’t think I really started appreciating the spherical beauties until 2018 though when James and I began a four-month summer road-trip around New Zealand. We visited the Moeraki Boulders for sunrise one morning, thinking we would take a few quick photos and be on our way.
But somehow, at lunch-time, we found ourselves still there. We had spent the entire morning taking it all in – snapping photos of the boulders, dancing in the sunshine, and marveling at the changing tides.
But putting family visits and our beautiful sunrise/entire morning visit aside, neither explain exactly why the Moeraki Boulders hold such a special place in my heart. In November 2019, I sadly lost my Dad to cancer, and while James and I had planned to do another four-month summer road-trip around New Zealand, I struggled to actually get on with it.
When I eventually (and thankfully) managed to find the motivation to get out and explore, our first sunrise of the trip was at Moeraki Boulders! As James and I lay our picnic blanket on the sand and watched as the most incredible sunrise unfolded in front of us, I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t help but cry. The sunrise had every color of the rainbow in it and the boulders almost seemed to reflect them, it was like nothing I had ever seen before!
It is an experience, a memory, a feeling that will always stay with me, and the reason why Moeraki is a place I will forever associate with resilience, love, and strength. The Moeraki Boulders will forever be one of my favorite, and most special, destinations on the South Island.
I would love for you to experience what I experienced at the Moeraki Boulders.
Ok, so having said all that, I’ll now tell you about the Moeraki Boulders and EVERYTHING you need to know so you can plan your best visit there!
What are the Moeraki Boulders?
The Moeraki Boulders are approximately 50 spherical large rocks that will have you in awe. I’m not exaggerating when I say spherical either, these boulders are almost perfectly round!
They are scattered along the shoreline of Moeraki Beach and although beautiful, many tourists visit simply because of how strange they are.
This brings me to our next question…
How were the Moeraki Boulders Formed?
The Moeraki Boulders are said to have started forming over 60 million years ago! They were once on the seafloor and were created by a process called “cementation” where mud, Paleocene mudstone, was compacted together making rock.
Over many years the waves of the ocean cause erosion and created their spherical shape – how cool is that?!
Where are the Moeraki Boulders?
Moeraki Beach is home to Moeraki Boulders on the South East Coast of the South Island. You’ll find them located between the small towns of Hampden and Moeraki and approximately an hour north of Dunedin, and an hour and a half south of Timaru.
How do you get to Moeraki Boulders?
Access to the boulders is directly off State Highway 1. You simply turn right onto Moeraki Boulders Road if you are coming from the South, and left if you are coming from the North.
As soon as you turn onto Moeraki Boulders Road, there is a big sign directing you to the left. This actually takes you to Moeraki Boulders Café where you can access the boulders by way of a boardwalk (which is the quickest access point) but a $2 donation is required for the use of the boardwalk.
So instead of turning left at the sign, you can continue straight down Moeraki Boulders Road for about 500m and that will take you to the Department of Conservation (DOC) car parking lot. The walk to the boulders is essentially doubled from here, but still only about 15 minutes (and just along the beach!)
How Long Does the Walk Take to the Moeraki Boulders?
As mentioned above, the quickest way to access the Boulders is from the Moeraki Boulders Café. You take their boardwalk down to the beach, then walk left for about 250m until you reach the boulders. This has a total time of about 5-7 minutes. However, this option requires a donation to use the boardwalk.
From the DOC carpark (also mentioned above), you walk left along the beach for about 800m or 10-15 minutes until you reach the boulders.
If you are a big planner, we recently discovered that the walk along the beach from the DOC carpark to the boulders is on Google Maps street view and you can “virtually” take the entire walk to the boulders and even see the groupings of boulders at the end! How cool is that!
Facilities at the Moeraki Boulders
The DOC car park has very few facilities (just a sign and a low bench), whereas the café has toilets, somewhere to eat, and a little gift shop!
When is the Best Time to Visit the Moeraki Boulders?
When planning your visit to the Moeraki Boulders, you really want to take into account the tides. Low tide is the best as the boulders are exposed. At high tide, the beach is inaccessible as the waves crash all the way up to the cliff face.
We love visiting Moeraki Boulders at sunrise as there is something so beautiful about watching the sunrise over the ocean. But with that said, if the low tide is during the day when you plan on visiting, base your visit around then first and foremost.
From a photography perspective, mid-tide at sunrise is probably the pinnacle as the waves will just be crashing up against the boulders. This will allow you to create some nice wave motions around the boulders and you can play around with long exposures. If you wanted to get creative you could also look at shooting Astro here, and use a boulder as the foreground element under the Milky Way!
Tips for Photographing the Moeraki Boulders
– At sunrise the boulders will be largely silhouetted, so we recommend taking an overexposed shot to bring back some shadow detail into the boulders in post-processing.
– Take note of tide times and visit at mid-tide if you can. Make sure to have your polarising and ND filters and play around with exposure times between 0.1 and 1.2 seconds to get nice wave motion around the boulders.
– We searched for tide times at Oamaru (Moeraki wasn’t an option to search for) and believe anywhere from 0.9-1.3m would be perfect.
– If you wanted to shoot the Milky Way here, use an app like PhotoPills to help with the planning side of things. You’ll need to check the tides and then use PhotoPills to see if you can correspond the low to mid tide with the Milky Way being in the right spot. Then closer to the time, you’ll need clear skies (our fingers are already crossed for you!). Everything needs to go right but it would definitely be worth it!
Moeraki Boulders Accommodation – Where to Stay Nearby
If you’re planning on visiting the Moeraki Boulders at sunrise, then your best option is to find a place to stay nearby! Luckily, there are lots of options for places to stay near the Moeraki Boulders. Below I’ve listed options for every type of traveler including camping options and hotels:
– Freedom Camping – If you are traveling in a self-contained campervan, the best option is to stay at Katiki Beach roadside, which is a free camp 6km south of the Moeraki Boulders.
– Caravan Park/Paid Campground – If you prefer the comfort of a caravan park, there are two available in the nearby towns of Moeraki Village and Hampden. Both are less than 5km from Moeraki boulders. In Moeraki Village, you can go to the Moeraki Holiday Park, and in Hampton, check out the Hampden Campground.
– Backpackers Budget Hostel – Empire Hotel Backpackers is the perfect accommodation option for those on a budget. Although it is about 30 kilometers from the Moeraki Boulders, it is a nice hostel with a social vibe.
– Motel – The closest, and highest-rated, a motel near the Moeraki Boulders are is the Moeraki Boulders Motel. This motel offers affordable rooms and apartments suitable for couples or families wanting to stay close by. It’s a family-run place and the owners are very friendly!
– Boutique Hotel – If you’re after something a little nicer but still close to the Moeraki Boulders, check out Noah’s Boutique Accommodation. This tiny hotel is right on the beach and only a 20-minute walk from the boulders!
Tips for Visiting Moeraki Boulders
– Visit at low/mid-tide, and if you can – try and time this so it coincides with the sunrise!
– If you’re short on time, walk to the boulders from the café, but note you will need to pay a $2 donation to access the boardwalk.
– Jandals/thongs/flip flops are suitable for the walk to the boulders.
– The boulders are becoming busier (but rightfully so!) but if you keep walking to the left, you can usually find a boulder or a set, that is a bit quieter. You can have a look beforehand on Google Maps Street View!
What to bring when visiting the Moeraki Boulders:
– A towel
– Sunscreen and sunglasses – that NZ sun is unforgiving!
– $2 donation per person if you access via the Cafe boardwalk
– Polarising & ND filters plus a tripod (if you want to smooth the motion of the waves).
Moeraki Boulders FAQs
What cause the Moeraki Boulders?
The Moeraki Boulders started forming over 60 million years ago! They were once on the seafloor and were created by a process called “cementation” where mud, Paleocene mudstone, was compacted together making rock. Over millions of years, the waves eroded the rocks into perfectly round boulders.
Is visiting the Moeraki Boulders free?
Yes, visiting the boulders is completely free from the DOC carpark. if you enter from the Moeraki Boulders Café a donation is required to use their boardwalk.
Where are the Moeraki Boulders?
Moeraki Beach is the home of the Moeraki Boulders on the South East Coast of the South Island. You’ll find them located between the small towns of Hampden and Moeraki and approximately an hour north of Dunedin, and an hour and a half south of Timaru.
Before you go…
Thanks for reading our blog and we hope you’re inspired to check out the Moeraki Boulders for yourself! If you have any questions, be sure to comment below and we will try our best to help you out.
By: Charlotte and James Maddock