When Do The Dragon Eggs Hatch?

So much of photography is down to chance — that was brought home quite forcefully during our last getaway on the South Island. Since we had only a weekend free, it had to be relatively close by. Thankfully, we had something that fit the bill perfectly — Moeraki Boulders outside Oamaru, a short 2-hour drive.

Oamaru is in Otago, and along the east coast, it is quite indistinguishable from Canterbury, filled as it is with farmlands.

Otago landscape

Moeraki Boulders are large, very spherical boulders on a beach. Sounds quite boring, I’ll grant you that. But they are actually very interesting.

According to Maori legend, the Ārai-te-uru, a large canoe from the Maori mythical/ancestral home of Hawaiki, was caught in a storm while looking for greenstone and was wrecked nearby. The canoe’s cargo of sweet potatoes washed upon the beach, which became today’s Moeraki Boulders.

The boulder formerly known as kumara

The scientific explanation is that the boulders were created by mud, silt, and clay being cemented by calcite. Some of the larger boulders have taken about 5 million years to form. Many of the rocks are riddled with cracks filled with dolomite, quartz, and calcite crystals, making for intricate patterns and designs. Some of the boulders have split, revealing the many layers composing them.

Some of the medium-sized boulders
We called this “Starry night”
A split boulder

The beach itself is quite nice and wide — although at high tide, the waves cover the whole beach (as I found out the next morning).

Koekohe Beach

Since we arrived at Moeraki around lunch, I made a plan to come back for sunrise. When I woke up in Oamaru at 5am, the weather did not look good. It was completely overcast with a light drizzle falling. I almost bagged it in favour of going back to bed. But I still dragged myself out and drove the 30 minutes to the boulders. And was I ever glad that I did. As I got closer, the eastern sky started getting lighter and more colourful. By the time I parked and walked over to the boulders, the colour was gone, but still made for a decent scene.

Early morning break

The best however, was still to come. I moved over to another set of boulders, set up, and waited for something, anything, to happen. It was high tide and the waves were quite strong, so I stood in the ocean, with the waves crashing above my knees. But it was worth it when the eastern clouds parted a bit more for the colours of the sunrise to shine through. The crystal seams on the boulders absolutely glimmered in the light. It was a surreal scene, like something from a primeval world. You could easily mistake the boulders for eggs of some mythical monster.

Dragon eggs hatching?

About a minute later, the clouds closed up again and the colours disappeared completely. On a morning of completely grey and drab weather, there was that tiny 1-minute window where the conditions were just right for a good picture. I’m glad I didn’t stay in bed, and that I took the chance to get out and get battered by the waves for that one picture.


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