Moeraki Boulders is one of those must-visit locations for any landscape photographer based in or visiting New Zealand. It’s a beach famous for the rocks dotted along the shore that look like dinosaur eggs. Here’s a better description from Wikipedia:
The Moeraki Boulders are unusually large and spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave-cut Otago coast of New Zealand between Moeraki and Hampden. They occur scattered either as isolated or clusters of boulders within a stretch of beach where they have been protected in a scientific reserve. The erosion by wave action of mudstone, comprising local bedrock and landslides, frequently exposes embedded isolated boulders. These boulders are grey-colored septarian concretions, which have been exhumed from the mudstone enclosing them and concentrated on the beach by coastal erosion.
I first visited Moeraki back in 2008 during my very first photography trip in the South Island. I got a couple of reasonable shots that morning but I’d always wanted to go back to get some more. Problem is, I left it a bit late and by the time I wanted to revisit the place, social media had made New Zealand a very popular place for landscape photographers. This meant the beach was crowded with dozens of photographers at times, and given the relatively small area to work in, I wasn’t keen to be a part of that.
Fast forward to 2020 and Covid-19 hit the world. While the pandemic was undeniably a disaster in almost every respect, one (small) positive that came out of it was that international travel was severely restricted, and that meant fewer photographers were visiting NZ. I saw this as a window of opportunity to visit this iconic location without the crowds, so I planned a trip to Dunedin in November and included Moeraki in my itinerary.
I spent two nights in the neighbouring town of Palmerston, just a 20 minute drive from the boulders. Being an east-facing location, it meant I could really only shoot sunrise there (although sunset would’ve been a back up had the sunrises been a bust). Luckily, both mornings turned out to be fantastic!
I ventured out of my bed at 5am, did the minimal things to get ready (get dressed, brush teeth), and did the 20 minute drive down to the beach. As I was driving I could see a bit of colour on the sky already. I tried not to get my hopes up too much because often a promising sunrise or sunset can just fizzle out, but I couldn’t help but get a little bit excited. Could the first shoot of my trip actually get some good light?
I arrived at the beach and the colour was still in the sky. My heart was starting to race a bit in anticipation of a good morning’s shoot, and I quickly made my way down towards the boulders. I was relieved to see that there were no other photographers so I had the beach all to myself (thanks Covid!).
One thing that can be difficult when photographing the boulders is getting a good composition. The boulders are scattered all over the place so you have to try and isolate a few boulders or a formation in order to get a clean shot. It can also depend on the what the tide is doing as to which boulders look the best.
Here’s a behind the scenes video showing how things looked that morning:
I composed my shot using my wide angle lens to place emphasis on the most interesting boulder (the one at the front), with the ones behind it vanishing towards the distance. I also wanted to capture some nice water motion around the boulders so it was a case of waiting for the waves to come in and then taking lots of shots. Once I got home and imported them into Lightroom on my computer, I looked through all the shots and chose the one with the best light and wave motions. This is the shot I ended up with:
Another 5am start. Having already gotten a decent shot the previous morning, I felt the pressure was off and that no matter what happened this morning, at least I’d come away with one reasonable photo from Moeraki. And the chance of getting two good sunrises in a row, that wouldn’t happen would it? Maybe it happens to other photographers, but hardly ever for me!
Arriving at the beach I was yet again delighted to have the place to myself. And as it got closer to sunrise, I couldn’t believe my luck when the sky started to come alive with amazing pink clouds!
Here are a few videos from that morning:
The tide was slightly lower than the previous morning so I was able to shoot a different set of boulders. These ones didn’t offer an obvious composition like the ones I’d shot the day before, but I did my best to frame them in a pleasing way, making sure to include a decent amount of the pink sky, and then took lots of shots as the waves came in. For photos like these, I usually choose a shutter speed of around 1/2 a second as this is slow enough to get some blurry water but not too slow to lose all the detail from the waves. Here’s the resulting photo:
Once the sun rose above the horizon, the pink colours faded but the sky was still looking amazing, so it was time to find some different boulders. I settled on a large boulder that was almost alone except for a few small ones next to it. I noticed that when the waves were receding back to the sea, they left some really interesting streaks in the water so I tried my best to capture those. Below is the photo I ended up with. I really like the wave motion in this shot, and the light reflecting off the rocks and water also adds something special.
So that was the result of my two day trip to Moeraki. While three photos from two days may not sound a lot to some people, if I was offered that before my trip I certainly would’ve taken it. Obviously the ideal result is to come away with a whole bunch of images, but too often the opposite is true for me and I end up with nothing, so I’m pretty happy with what I got.
These, along with all my other NZ landscape photos, are available for purchase via my website as both canvas prints and paper prints, all with free shipping in NZ. Feel free to browse my online gallery for more photos.