For the 50+ Traveler

One of the surprising attractions on New Zealand’s Northland (the far north region of New Zealand’s north island) are the boulders. For such a small country, I’m impressed by how many fascinating landscapes it has. If you look for Northland boulder sites in a guidebook, you’ll be advised to go to the Moeraki boulders. It’s the one set I haven’t been to, and from everything I’ve heard, it is the least impressive. Instead of wasting time at the touristy boulders, go to the two locations that might not even make the guidebooks; the Koutu Boulders and the Wairere Boulders.

The Koutu Boulders in New Zealand's Northland.

Why You Should Visit The Koutu Boulders

You Have To Time Your Visit Perfectly

The Koutu Boulders are on a beach, which is an important fact, because you can only visit them during low tide. Make sure you plan your trip around the tide. Opononi is the closest city, so you can use it as a reliable indicator. Low tide is typically the 2 hours before and after whatever time you see on the chart. It tends to vary widely day-to-day. So, don’t presume that if low tide is 10 a.m. today, it will be around that time tomorrow. The challenge of the tide makes seeing these boulders more special, because there’s only a limited window each day when you can reach them.

It Takes Effort To Find Them

The second trick about the Koutu Boulders is finding them, with respect to both parking and walking. First, you need to figure out where to park. Since it’s not touristy, it can feel like you’re parking in a field in the middle of nowhere. The directions I got were to drive around Koutu Loop Road, through the settlement of Koutu, and on to Waione Road. Then drive 300 feet on Waione road and park on the left near the old cattle yards.

Pro Tip: There’s now a second access point to the larger boulders if you drive all the way down Waione Road and onto Cabbage Tree Bay Road.

Once you’ve found the parking, your next quest is to actually find the boulders. If you come from the old cattle yards, you need to walk over to the beach and then turn right. At first, you’ll think you’ve gone to the wrong place because you’ll only see rocks on a beach. It’s important to keep going. Plan to walk about 30 to 40 minutes to see all the boulders.

The Koutu Boulders in New Zealand's Northland.

The Shapes And Sizes Are Astounding

The first boulders you’ll spot aren’t large, but they’re perfectly round. This perfection is conceptually hard to understand because the rocks have tumbled down a good distance over thousands of years. They look like marbles a big dinosaur might have played with before trotting off to catch its lunch. Make sure to take a photo of yourself next to the boulders so you understand the size of them.

Walking further down the beach, you’ll begin to see more clusters of boulders. Eventually, you’ll reach the larger ones. When you take a photo of yourself next to this larger set, you’ll look the size of a fairy in comparison.

The Combination Of Rock And Harbor Is Mesmerizing

On a beautiful day, the landscape is so breathtaking you’re going to want to sit on one of those boulders, stare out at the water, and watch the shadow of the sun change angles. Don’t stop too long, though! Remember, low tide only lasts a few hours.

Pro Tip: If you’re not comfortable walking barefoot, wear shoes with some traction because some parts of the boulders are closer together and will find you walking over stones and seashells.

The Wairere Boulders in New Zealand's Northland.

Why You Should Visit The Wairere Boulders

It’s The Only Geological Formation Of It’s Kind On Earth

The Wairere Boulders are a stark contrast. They’re inland, and the boulders are massive. I learned it’s one of the rarest geological formations on earth, so I couldn’t believe how few tourists go. The boulders here all started at the top of the mountain range you walk around and up. If you hike all the way to the Magic Rocks (which will take you a few hours to get to), you’ll understand the magnificence of this site.

All the boulders used to be where the one remaining “magic rock” now sits. Over time, the boulders rolled down, slowly, from the top, into the areas you now see them. There used to be a lot of kauri trees, which made the soil rich in acid. The rain would wash the acid over the rocks. This caused fluting patterns in them. That’s normal for limestone, but these boulders are made of basalt, which is much tougher. In order for fluting to occur on basalt stone, those boulders had to stay in exactly the same place for long enough that the acid could roll over the same section repeatedly to create the fluting pattern. These rocks, as they slowly rolled down the hills, stayed in the same position for, on average, 5,000 years at a time, which is the only reason this geological feat could happen.

A fairy door on a rock at the Wairere Boulders in New Zealand.

You’ll Be Able To Prove Fairies Exist

If the originality of the forces of nature doesn’t interest you, the fairy hunt might. At the start of the walk, you’ll be asked how many fairy homes you can find. As you walk along the property, you’ll spot fairy doors, monsters, and various creative rocks turned into art. If you’re with kids, they’ll love the search. The doors are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them, but when you spot them, they’re wonderfully playful. One of my favorites is the Dragon Cave Gift Shop door. Hint -- it’s near the Dragon’s Cave, but one of the easiest fairy doors to miss.

You’ll Feel Transported Through Time

I’m not sure if it’s the convergence of real-life with thousands of years of geological formations and fairy doors, but I felt like I walked through time while at this fascinating site. Especially with other tourists being such a rare sight, there were times I felt I was alone on an island walking through the past, on an adventure full of small spaces to climb through. I was also impressed at how walkways were made using the rocks. Someone has a beautiful imagination and a lot of skill!

Pro Tip: Some sections can be tricky to walk through, either because of fitting through a small space, lots of steps, or an incline. It’s not impossible, but you may want a walking stick for part of the walk.

Geological rock formations at the Wairere Boulders in New Zealand.

You’ll Learn A Lot About History, Geology, And Nature

As you walk through the property, there are frequent stands with information about what you’re looking at and why it’s so interesting. This is where I learned about kauri dieback, which, like coronavirus, is a new virus killing off the beautiful kauri trees. You’ll find tree species well-marked along your walk. If you haven’t done so before you set out, when you get back to the cave entrance, spend some time reading the information on the walls, which gives you some understanding of why this site is a geological phenomenon you should feel inspired by.

You Can Spend The Night

The land is owned by a lovely family who has a bed and breakfast you can stay in, unless you choose to camp, and, if you do, you’ll be delighted to be right near their herd of Highland cattle! They have a cafe and are happy to share information or conversation with you.

The Wairere Boulders in New Zealand's Northland.

How To Find Them

You won’t get here without a car. Since it’s not a big tourist site, there aren’t any buses or tours to it. Use Google Maps and enter “Wairere Boulders” and your navigation should get you almost there. Some GPS systems, like Google, will tell you that you’ve arrived a little before you actually do. You’ll find yourself on a narrow road, and you should continue driving along it until you reach the entrance. When you do arrive, there’s no mistaking it!

I’d get to these beauties as soon as you can because I bet they won’t be hidden gems for much longer.

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