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[Traditional Māori music (14secs)]
[Narrator] You would think it unlikely that a series of rocks along a beach should become
a tourist attraction, but the spherical Moeraki Boulders are a natural phenomenon that has
intrigued people for centuries.
Over fifty of these strange spheres lie along a sandy beach near the fishing port of Moeraki.
Māori call them Te Kai Hīnaki -- eel pots. Locals call the boulders Hooligan's gallstones.
Others have named them giant gob-stoppers, aliens' brains, the bowling balls of giants,
or even the Stonehenge of New Zealand. Whalers named the place 'Vulcan's foundry'.
The boulders grew in a pile of mud some 60 million years ago. They are called concretions
-- lumps of sediment bound together by a mineral cement. Imagine dropping a lump of glue onto
sand -- the resulting clump would be a concretion.
At Moeraki the glue was calcite which was probably created when a marine animal began
to rot. The calcite hardened around the sediment and as more was added it grew just like a
massive pearl. The largest boulders weigh 7 tonnes and are 2 metres across. They are
among the world's largest concretions and they took around 4 million years to grow.
Their roundness is not because they have been tumbled in the surf, as many believe; but
simply because they grew evenly in all directions -- forming a perfect sphere. The boulders
only recently landed on the beach -- they formed in a layer of mudstone which was lifted
above the sea about 15 million years ago.
Breaking waves released them from the cliff and they rolled down to the beach. Today some
boulders can be seen half-freed in the cliffs.
According to Māori stories, many centuries ago, Māori arrived here from their South
Pacific ancestral home of Hawaiki. They made the long ocean voyage in canoes carrying people
Unfortunately one of these canoes, the Ārai-te-uru, was wrecked in a fierce storm on *** Point
or Matakaea, just south of the Moeraki Boulders. The reef there is said to be the remains of
the canoe. Just before the canoe was wrecked the travellers threw the food baskets of kūmara
and gourds overboard to lighten the load. The baskets washed ashore at Moeraki where
they petrified into what we now know as the Moeraki Boulders. Some of the less regular
stones along the beach are said to be kūmara.
Photographs from the nineteenth century show many more boulders on the beach than are there
today. Many smaller boulders were taken as souvenirs or garden ornaments. One even made
it to Australia. In 1938 a very large Moeraki boulder was hoisted
onto a truck and taken to Otago museum to be preserved 'for all time'. But within 25
years it began to break up while its companions on the beach remained intact. In 1971 as concern
mounted that names were being carved into the surface of the boulders and that rock
collectors were using explosives, the boulders were given legal protection as a scientific