There are places in New Zealand often tourists just pass by or drive through, on their way to somewhere else. More often than not, Moeraki, a charming seaside town on the South Island between Oamaru and Dunedin falls into that category by accident.
But I’m here to tell you that to visit Moeraki deserves your attention. It’s a quaint little town that doesn’t have much going on but it’s the perfect place to getaway and relax for a while.
Now that I live in the mountains, I often head to the sea for a wee escape from it all, and Moeraki is now my go-to spot.
Wintertime is my favorite season to come away to Moeraki, and more often than not I find I have the place to myself. Being by the sea, the temperatures are less extreme and much more bearable than our heavy frosts of Central Otago.
The small fishing town of Moeraki was used by Europeans as an early whaling station, and before that it has a rich history dating back to the 13th century, and it’s one of the oldest continuously occupied human settlements in New Zealand, back when Moa still roamed these lands.
Even today there still remains a bit of stillness and mystery about Moeraki, especially early in the morning when the sea mists come in and no one is out and about.
Here are some of my spots you should check out on your next visit here, enjoy!
Enjoy the rolling green hills that meet the sea
One of my favorite features of New Zealand seaside towns is rolling green hills that drop off to the sea below, and Moeraki is no exception. All around the area there are stunning views of the surrounding hills and sea, most often than not dotted with sheep, and are beautiful any time of day.
Sometimes I just got for a long walk or a drive on the gravel back roads to see where I’ll end up.
I haven’t been disappointed yet!
Be on the lookout for rare hoiho // yellow eyed penguins at Katiki Point
On a trip to Moeraki, definitely plan to visit Katiki Point, which is the southernmost point of Peninsula. Where sturdy shoes and plan to walk amongst the cliffside trails.
Here you can view the historic Katiki Point Lighthouse, as well as the Te Raka a Hineatea Pa site. The word pā in Māori refers to a Māori village, defensive settlement, or a hillfort.
Katiki Point is also the most significant breeding site for yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho in North Otago, and you can also sea fur seals here too.
Incredibly threatened and in decline, yellow-eyed penguins are thought to be the rarest penguins in the world. It’s pretty special to see them here, and the best viewing times are early in the morning or early evening when they are either going out to sea for the day or returning home at night.
Just be respectful and don’t get too close, and don’t approach them or get between them and the sea (their escape). Often penguins won’t come to shore if they see a threat (us) so keep a distance. I believe 20 meters is the recommended distance.
Stay at the super cozy and charming Three Bays
Moeraki’s coastline is defined by three distinct bays, which also lends its name to the super cute and lovely hideaway Three Bays, a self-contained apartment beneath one of the loveliest houses in Moeraki, with beautiful views overlooking the area.
A perfect little hideaway hosted by the nicest local couple, it’s the kind of place you just want to hole up in and stay a while. And in wintertime when I visited, it couldn’t have been more comfortable and welcoming.
Not to mention the bath has the most amazing view of the harbor!
Sunset stroll at the Moeraki Boulders
Let’s be honest here, most tourists when passing through Moeraki, only stop to see the fabled Moeraki Boulders, large spherical rocks that dot Koekoehe Beach, five minutes from the main town.
Formed around 60 million years ago, they look rather like enormous dinosaur eggs, almost perfectly round and enormous, many over 2 meters tall that have appeared from the sea cliffs as they were eroded away. Some even are cracked open.
According to Māori tradition, the boulders are the remains of food baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe ‘Araiteuru’ was wrecked at nearby Matakaea / Shag Point.
Mysterious and beautiful, it’s fun to visit and wonder at their beauty, usually be prepared to get your feet wet.
Also it’s best to visit at low tide.
Go for a late long lunch at Fleur’s Place
And finally, my favorite reason to visit Moeraki of them all – to dine at Fleur’s Place – one of the best restaurants in New Zealand, if not the world.
A rustic portside restaurant right next to the water in Moeraki, food lovers from around the world gather to feast at Fleur’s tables. The first time I visited, I wasn’t even sure it was the right building, from the outside it appears rather like a shack, and once was the old whaling station in town.
But as soon as you walk inside, you know you’ve come to the right place.
The brainchild of the incredibly talented Fleur Sullivan, the food is mostly seafood based and fresh as it can get, with the fisherman bringing their catches straight to her door.
After running the fabulous Oliver’s in Clyde for a long time, Fleur was after a bit of a lifestyle change, and uprooted from rural Central Otago to another rural part of Otago, this time by the sea.
The first time I visited was on a recommendation from a reader five or six years ago who said something along the lines of “Fleur’s is my favorite restaurant and I live in London!” And I was not disappointed.
My favorite dish on the menu is a popular one – bacon wrapped blue cod – and the portions are huge, and I always over order. You likely need to book in in advance to get a table but I often go at funky hours, like 2 or 3pm in the afternoon, request a window table and take my time basking in the sun in a pretty awesome place.
I’m drooling just writing this.
Moeraki is the perfect place for a little seaside escape on the South Island, I, for one, can’t wait to go back!
Have you ever heard of Moeraki? Have you dined at Fleur’s? Are sleepy seaside towns your faves too? Share!