We climb down this South Island cliff face to the rubble and sand, meeting Neville by the water. From there, we amble along a flat beach. The ring of a bellbird greets the new day from somewhere onshore and the first sun throws shimmers of light on rolling ripples that splash at our boots. Three wary Oyster Catchers whistle and run; red stilt legs a whirr on a mirror film of water on sand.
Neville looks up from the largest boulder, then out to sea. “Long time past, during the great migrations, a war canoe floundered just here,” he points eastwards, “in raging seas; a giant mono-hulled craft hewn from a single tree, a hundred men drowned.” I follow Neville’s gaze to a darkening sea and picture hapless warriors flailing in ferocious waves, their canoe broken and bindings ripped; the tall decorated stern lurching at wild angles trailing flaxen pennants lashed by wild wind and water.
Neville’s brown eyes narrow. “Out there, the bones of the wrecked vessel are the reef; the sweet potato cargo now rock. These very boulders are the petrified food baskets; originally round gourds carrying Maori seeds and food.” My girlfriend stands among the largest of the boulders, and there’s a smile on Neville’s tatooed face as he seems to dismiss the legend.
“Really, they’re just boulders of course; grey-coloured septarian concretions.” Neville, the environmental scientist, points a finger in the direction of black sandstone cliffs. “The sea is slowly eroding those and uncovering new boulders; once the ancient sea-floor sediments of the Palaeocene period. We’re talking 60 million years ago.”
Photo: Boulders and Baskets - Moeraki, South Island, New Zealand _ Ian Cochrane