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Touring New Zealand 2012 part 7

This is an unusual page as it brings together a number of threads concerning Pounamu also known as Greenstone or New Zealand jade. It covers our stay in Hokitika, arguably the world capital for jade carving. It covers the Story of two people and a piece of Pounamu - a romantic story set on St Valentine's day when we carve our (treasures) in Pounamu. There is finally a long background section about Pounamu explaining its importance to Maori and New Zealand, how it was formed and the symbolism in Pounamu carvings - ideally this needs to be read before the Story for many of the nuances to be understood. It is a page which will undoubtedly change - it has already taken many days of research.


We stayed for several days at Hokitika, a small town which used to be the major port for goldmining activities on the Northwest coast and is now a world centre for Pounamu. In the old days it was however not an easy port to access with a treacherous bar on the entry and over 42 ships were wrecked in a short number of years. We stayed once more at the Hokitika Kiwi Holiday Park which has small basic cabins which offer excellent value at $42 including our discount from the card. The price one pays is that fridge and freezer space is limited and the kitchens were very busy but other facilities are spacious and close.

We then sought out a bookshop we have visited several times before - in the time we have known them they have moved from a private house to within the old Town Hall where it is in the rooms used for the registry - they had a door more suitable for a bank vault and are now in a more normal shop in town opposite the clock tower. They are always a fund of knowledge about the area as well as interesting books. It turned out he was involved in building the replica Fox Moth which is dispalyed near the new airfield. and did the sign writing on it. He told us a lot about the start of the airport and postal services down the West Coast before the coastal roads were built. We decided to go and have a look at the old airfield site in the evening.

Whilst still in town we had a quick look into Bonz 'n Stonz which offers one the ability to carve ones own pounamu taonga (treasures) to ones own designs. We had a chat with Steve who owns it and looked in the various books of designs and picture albums full of examples of previous work. It was clear that one should have a clear idea of what design one whanted before starting and that one needed to allow the major part of a day. Pauline had seen them in their old building on a previous visit and thought it could be a good idea for Pete to create a 60th Birthday present for her. We left with an intention to return when we had got our ideas straigh and if need be, extend our stay by a day or two.

We then went out to the beach where there were once more informal examples of sculptures made from the plentiful driftwood - it is a annual event every January. We then continued to the lookout station to try to visualise how it had been in the heyday as the port of entry to Westland for most of the miners. We looked out at the surf breaking over the bar and could easily visualise how the 42 ships were completely wrecked. Many more went aground and were left high and dry - most were raised on jacks and winched and hauled over the sandbar to be re-floated undamaged in the harbour. It was jokingly referred to as 'taking the land route'. Despite its reputation there were 41 ships tied up at the wharf on 16 September 1867, only two years after it was officially declared a port. We also looked at the old lifeboat dispalyed on the waterfront - the oldest remaining example in NZ and the customs house.

On the way into Hokitika we had noticed a sign to a heritage area which was the site of the original airfield. When we returned in the evening we found there were a number of information boards on South Westland Aviation Services. There used to be DH Fox Moths and Dragonflies operating a mail and passenger service from 1932 to about 1952. We have seen Fox Moths (at Warbirds?) an interesting development of the Tiger Moth with a small passenger cabin below the pilot who still sat in an open cockpit with a small hole between his feet for comunication with the passengers. It was then back for a barbeque using the excellent free barbeque at the camp site.

Hokitika is home to the West Coast Historical Museum which we visited in the morning. It is in the Carnegie Building, an impressive and recently restored building which used to hold free public library - huge columns and tall windows. It is an interesting building in its own right as it was one of 18 libraries built in NZ with the assistance of the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The museum has an interesting collection of the gold exhibits which include a huge dredge bucket and a set of superb photographs taken by Jos Divis of Waiutu, the ghost town which we visited earlier this trip. They are incredibly sharp and high resolution, many were taken with a box camera as much of his equipment had been impounded when he was interned as a foreigner and suspected communist during the war. He continued to live at Waiutu until his death. The museum has some of his plates and negatives. the museum merits at least an hour.

It features had audio-video show of Greenstone and Gold on the West Coast - perhaps the best AV of its kind we have seen and we would have bought a copy if it had been available to show friends so they could understand our enthusiasm. It is largely a clever use of old pictures with quotes and poetry from contemporary books. They promised a few years back to investigating if it can be copied from DVD for sale. They now have a comprehensive exhibition about Pounamu which we found interesting and instructive. There is also a Research Section which is not open at the weekend. The archives are very interesting, like many they are primarily oriented to the lucrative genealogy market, but has one of the best indexed set of old pictures we have found, 10,000 in total with photocopies of every one and a cross reference index by heading such as 'Gold Mining' and 'Dredges'.

In the afternoon we took the road to the Kanieri Lake which takes one past past some of the streams where gold was found and we passed the end of the Water Race track where one could see some of the fluming beside the road. We stopped at The Landing and Pete did a little of the Water Race Walk, the full walk is 3.5 - 4 hours one way so he could only get a sample in an hour and a quarter return. Even so he passed lots of areas where the race was boarded and often given support by overhead cross pieces. There were short aquaducts and deep cuttings and even a short tunnel. Even after 30 minutes the stream itself was so far below it cound not be seen and only occassionally heard. The Water race was originally constructed to provide power for gold mining operations and is still in use for an electric generating plant. Pete's estimates of the speed of the water and the channel cross section indicated about 4 cubic metres a second flow rate. The walk looks a good flat amble for the future but needs a car at either end if one is going to do the whole length - perhaps next time we will start at the Hokitika end.

Lake Kaniere is described as one of the most beautiful in New Zealand - that is perhaps an exaggeration compared to the great lakes to the South but is certainly very attractive and the diversion was worthwhile. We went part way round the lake to Dorothy Falls which turned out to only a short walk from the road to a very deep and pretty waterfall into what looked a perfect swimming hole on a hot day. On the way back we stopped at an attractive picnic area and there is also a DOC camp site beside the lake.

We cut across on a gravel road backroad and continued with a drive round the Blue Spur loop. There were a lot of new subdivisions but also some evidence that mining is once more taking place. Pete did the the one hour 'Blue Spur Bushwalk' which took him up the old stone steps of the miners track and through the remains of a good range of mining activities including tunnels, past adits, through paddocks, stacked stones, past shafts, short tunnels and through some long and very narrow sections which had been cut into the rock as drainage channels ten or more feet deep and just wide enough to edge one's way through sideways. The information board said stout boots and resonable fitness and we agree, the ground was very rough and some scrambling over slippery rocks but well worth it.

On the way back to town we stopped to look across at the Arahura river and read a notice board on Greenstone and how the crown had vested ownership of the bed of the Arahura River in the Mawhera Corporation, which was set up to represent the original owners, the Ngai Tahu tribe. This, and the other boards round the Blue Spur loop had a background image of a Pounamu pendant which gave us the starting point for a potential design for a pendant for Pauline's 60th Birthday

Two people and a piece of Pounamu - a love story set on St Valentine's Day.

We spent Valentine's day carving Pounamu at Bonz 'n Stonz producing a taonga for Pauline's Birthday.Bonz 'n Stonz claim that no experience is required to create your very own bone, paua shell or jade taonga (treasure) and that a jade carving can take as little as 5 hours. They only use materials found in and around the Hokitika area. Steve provides all the help you need when creating your jade treasure, but he places great emphasis on an individual approach to each piece. He wants each person to "find a design that speaks to their own tastes and is an expression of who they are". Steve is a professional carver and has taught at polytechnic and has all the skills to guide you through the carving process. He helps with the entire process from beginning to end - cutting the basic shape, carving the details, and polishing the piece. A very important factor is that you have access and the basic training needed to use all of the professional tools Steve uses himself when carving his own pieces. He will help and guide when required especially in the early stages but the the final piece is yours and yours alone. Whilst we were there he was being assisted by Andy who has also been a professional designer of jade pieces in Rotorua and a trained carver and it was Andy who helped turn Pete's design dreams into reality - he had an almost telepathic way of turning a few sketched lines into the shapes one had in mind. The last important thing about Bonz 'n Stonz is that they have a pot of proper coffee on the go alll the time - filtered Hummingbird coffee from Christchurch ground from the Beanz - its the little things that tell you about people.

The start of making a pounamu taonga is obviously getting an idea for the design of what you want. Steve or his staff can help with ideas and suggestions however he feels strongly that you must have some ideas of what you want. They also have books and folders of designs and photographs previous peoples work to give inspiration. Pete certainly had definite ideas of some of the themes he wanted to include in the carving for Pauline's Birthday piece including a twist to represent the joining of two lives for eternity but he really wanted something slightly more unique than just the twists. Other criteria were that it should be strong enough to wear on a regular basis without excessive risk of damage and simple enough to be able to be realised well by a perfectionist. Both Pauline and Pete had previously agreed that the darker green versions of Pounamu, probably kawakawa were what we were look for. We were keeping our eyes and minds open for ideas when Pete noticed that the information boards all round the Blue Spur drive had a design as part of their layout which looked as if it satisfied the basic criteria and could be used as a starting point. It was a combination of a single twist and a hook which looked pleasing, robust and feasible and had the correct symbolism - the twist symbolising the bonding of friendship and the joining of two lives for eternity and the hei mata providing strength, determination, peace, prosperity, good health and safe travel over water. We photographed the board and transferred the picture onto the computer to show Steve and provide a starting point.

The day chosen was very appropriately Valentine's Day and as the sketches were made of the layout Pete realised that the 'cut out' portion where the point of the hook sat could, with a little adjustment be turned into a heart shape and it was then only a matter of finalising the shape. The procedure was to draw in pencil the rough design, life size on paper and then Andy, who was assisting, did a refined version through the pencil draft. It was then like producing a photo-fit image - Pete made adjustments to 'improve' or get closer to his aspirations and Andy incorporated them into the next version until finally Pete was satisfied and an inked version was ready. That was then cut out by Pete using a scalpel blade on a special cutting mat to get a stencil ready to transfer to the Pounamu by drawing round the edge.

There are lots of different kinds of greenstone to chose from. The jade used in the workshop is entirely local West Coast jade from one of the local rivers, mostly Kahurangi and Kawakawa Jade although they have an impressive collection of pieces available to chose from - a much larger selection than we anticipated. We had strong views on having a dark green and they immediately found a piece of Kawakawa which was exactly what we wanted. We latter discovered it was from a bolder found in the old gold workings of the Rimu dredge - very appropriate bearing in mind our interest in gold mining.

It was however only at the point of positioning the 'cut-out' of Pete's design for Pauline's 60th birthday gift on the Pounamu that the final element turning it into a love story fell into place - there was enough space on the Pounamu for Pauline to be able to make a simple pendant for Pete from the same piece of Pounamu. We originally thought a very simple design would be appropriate for Pauline to make and Pete to wear when we saw a design which included a small raised koru on part of the surface of a simple shape. The original very chunky concept gradually became more rounded as she refined the design. Finally it was only left to juggle the two shapes round for the best fit to the Pounamu.The final lines were drawn in an ink which was not only water resistant but also showed up through the water and cutting dust as it seemed to repel the water.

Once you have your design drawn onto your jade slice it is time to trim off the excess and start shaping and grinding your work.The initial trimming down to remove excess material and give a shape close to the outline is normally done by Steve using a large (and expensive) diamond circular saw. All the diamond tools use a flow of water for lubrication and cooling so one needs big overalls and, of course, safety glasses. Water also removes the dust generated by the tool and prevents stone dust from getting into the air. Some of the cutting and grinding is also very noisy so ear defenders are also provided. The next stage is to use a course large diamond impregnated grinding wheel to get down to the exact outline in the vertical plane. After that it is time to get some of the excess material cut away in the horizontal plane where there are, for example, twists going to be released. After this roughing out Additional shaping is done using a finer diamond grinding wheel with a 400 grit which cuts on the edge as well as on the rotating face. This allows one to rough out the design.

Holes are now drilled where material will be removed. In Pete's case this was through the top of twist and a couple at either end of where the hook would be shaped - this also helps position any carving from the back of the piece. This used a fine burr to mark the start and then about a 1.5 mm flat ended diamond drill/burr in a dremel to go through.

Dremel is a generic name these days like Hoover is used as a synonym for vacuum cleaner. They are the devices which are used for the 'carving' once the bulk material has been removed. A dremel is a very high speed rotary tool with a handpiece holding cutters which are called burrs in a collet (chuck) so they can easily be changed like a bit on a conventional drill at home. The big difference is that they rotate at a much higher speed - over 10,000 rpm. Again there is a need for cooling and lubrication of the diamond burrs so the work is done holding the piece in one hand using a wooden block to stabilise it whilst the dremel is in the other hand and controlled by a foot switch. There is a drip feed of water over the work to lubricate and cool it. The burrs come in a great variety of shapes from straight diamond cutters of various diameters which cut on the sides as well as the ends, circular cutters like miniature circular saws up to a cm diameter and truncated cones with the wider part at the bottom again cutting on the sides as well as the flat end which is excellent for bulk shaping without giving unwanted groves. Carving is the most important and enjoyable stage, it is where you see your design come to life in your hands. Use gentle pressure and smooth strokes of the tool to bring out the details. It time to make any kind of jade carving, even with power tools if your design has a lot of fine detail. Be very patient and do not try to rush your work. The quality of your work is, as ever, defined in these initial stages - it is thinking one will be able to remove unwanted dips and groves as one polishes the work - all you do is make the same shape smaller!

The final contouring of the inside shapes was done by clamping the piece in a soft jawed vice which could be adjusted and turned to any angle then locked in place and using fine strips of a 200 grit diamond covered cloth pulled back and forth by hand. it is also possible to get various diamond tools like files to assist in this phase. During the whole process Pete's design was evolving - in particular it became less chunky with smaller cross sections and the twist was separated rather than being joined. This made more work but the result was much more elegant and there was still enough material left for it to be reasonably robust.

The final stages are sanding, polishing and buffing. Due to the abrasive nature of diamond tools, the Jade appears white as a result of diamond marks or scratches and following completion of the actual carving, the stone requires sanding with a wet & dry (silicon carbide) sandpaper to remove all of the diamond marks. The polishing uses various grades of grit paper up to 800 glued onto a flat rubber backing disk spinning at high speed to smooth all the outside surfaces and rolled up grit paper in a chuck to get to the internal surfaces. The paper was again, I believe, a standard silicone carbide 'wet and dry paper' and was used dry when on the backing disk. In Pauline's case she did most of the sanding and polishing using loose pieces of grit paper from 400 to 1200 grade by hand with the piece wet. These stages removed any fine marks left over from earlier work and leave a shiny surface but do not making any significant changes to the shape.

The final stage was buffing on a high speed cloth wheel which had a polishing compound added to it - this turns the shiny surfaces into ones with a high polish. The buffing is not as easy as it looks as one has to keep a very good grip on the piece or it will be pulled from ones fingers by the drag of the cloth wheel and polishing compound and if it is thrown off the wheel it could easily be shattered - Pete watched somebody 'lose' a small piece several time without damage but did not want take chances after 7 hours. It was then time for the black plaited braid to be added - Steve did this for me as it was getting close to 1700 and everyone was getting short of time. The pieces were then lightly oiled - it looked as if it came from a PAM's baby oil bottle but the contents might have been very different. Then all that remained was to put them into their presentation box.

Pete was working continuously and intensely all day with only a ten minute stop at about lunch time for a cup of coffee which Steve had insisted on - Pete had completely lost track of time. It was now obvious why they supply unlimited and excellent strong coffee, perhaps they should change their name to Bonz, Stonz and Beanz - only joking Steve. The end results were well worth all the effort and it will be a day to remember for many years, like the day Pauline and Pete met - but that's another story.

Pictures of our finished Taonga

We found it very difficult to take pictures of our taonga to begin with because they change in appearance with the lighting and background. We then realised that was, of course, the beauty of pounamu - it is not a simple material and keeps changing. The taonga are polished so they catch and reflect the light yet are also semi translucent which gives he depth of colour and they are not uniform so you see the dark and light inclusions and structure which makes each piece so unique. Alfred Moreton's book mentions the difficulties taking pictures of Pounamu. So what we have done is taken a sample of the pictures we have taken agianst weathered wood, black felt, white card and cloth backgrounds to show the colours and moods in different lighting. The pictures below were predominantly taken outside on a partially cloudy day. The camera (Canon A720 IS) tended to 'correct' the pictures slightly so there has been some changes made using google picasa to match the pictures to the real items - slight changes in colour balance were needed to correct the backgrounds and a slight increase in saturation seems to work well if you want to do the same yourself. Enjoy our experiment - if you hover over them they may have some extra details (front view, back view etc.)


Background on Pounamu

Pounamu is in many ways more significant in the development of New Zealand than Gold, Kauri and Coal although it is written about much less. When Captain Cook first discovered New Zealand in 1769 he observed the Maori working a green coloured stone they wore as ornaments and used as tools and weapons. It is thought this is where the name 'Greenstone' originated. Pounamu, It is said that the discoverer of Aotearoa, Kupe, and his voyaging companion, Ngahue, took several pounamu boulders back to Hawaiki. According to tradition, the adzes used to shape many of the voyaging canoes that brought the various tribes to New Zealand were made from the stone that Ngahue brought back.

Pounamu, Greenstone and New Zealand Jade are all names for the same hard, durable highly valued stone, used for making adornments, tools and weapons. It is a mineral strictly called Nephrite which is an extremely hard stone made up of interlocking fibres which give it great strength; it is one of the toughest gem minerals known because of the inter-grown nature of the individual crystals - it will actually bend before it breaks and even then the parts have to be pulled apart. This what gives it the ability to be turned into tools which hold their edge better even than steel.Nephrites are Metamorphic rocks forged by the heat and pressure deep in the earth - when hot fluids caused a chemical reaction in zones where volcanic and sedimentary rocks were in contact and produced narrow deposits of pounamu. from simpler materials and liquid inclusions. This was followed by the upthrusting, folding and crumpling of the alpine ranges of the South Island over the last few million years during which the narrow bands containing pounamu were lifted up to the earth’s surface. This was followed by laying down of the giant ice sheets which only left the tallest peaks peaking through. As the ice sheet advanced it carried away the mountain tops containing the small bands and outcrops of Pounamu. The action of rivers and glaciers released the stone from its host rock into screes, river gravel and glacial deposits. Successive ice sheets continued the process. This is basically the same process that produced the alluvial gold deposits in the valleys carved by the glaciers and like gold, nephrite is a very dense (SG ~ 3.0) and sank to the bottom of the deposits and survived whilst lighter rocks were washed out to sea.

The area where Pounamu was produced, or certainly where it is found, is much more restricted than that of gold although they are usually found together. Chemically nephrites, it is a calcium magnesium silicate mineral of the amphibole group which in pounamu also contains small amounts of iron, which determine the depth of the green colour.Pounamu is found only in the South Island. Because of this, the island was originally named Te Wahi Pounamu by the Maori (the place of pounamu), but over time this name changed to Te Wai Pounamu (the greenstone waters). Pounamu is largely restricted to the area round Hokitika in the districts around the Taramakau and Arahura rivers. It is usually found as nondescript boulders and stones in the river beds and on the beaches although smaller pieces may have been waterwashed to reveal their true nature.

Maori classify pounamu by appearance, the main classifications are kawakawa, kahurangi, inanga, and tangiwai. The first three are nephrite jade, while tangiwai is different and is actually a form of bowenite. Inanga pounamu takes its name from a native freshwater fish and is pearly-white or grey-green in colour and varies from translucent to opaque. Kahurangi pounamu is highly translucent and a vivid shade of green. It is named after the clearness of the sky and is the rarest variety of pounamu. Kawakawa pounamu comes in many shades, often with flecks or inclusions, and is named after the leaves of the native kawakawa tree. It is the most common variety of pounamu.
Tangiwai pounamu is clear like glass but in a wide range of shades. The name comes from the word for the tears that come from great sorrow.

Maori valued pounamu in the same way Europeans valued gold and it plays a very important role in Maori culture. It is considered a taonga (treasure).The South Island Ngai Tahu people have a particularly close relationship with pounamu, which, in fact, is only found within their tribal area. Its value transcends the aesthetic and practical properties. Because of its link with chiefs and peace making, it is considered to have mana (status) and to be tapu (sacred). The stone is however highly treasured by all tribes throughout New Zealand, and it was extensively traded in the North Island.Pounamu taonga increase in mana (prestige) as they pass from one generation to another. The most prized items are those with long hisories and these gain their own mana and were often given as gifts to seal important agreements. Pounamu taonga include tools such as chisels and adzes, fishing hooks and lures, and bird leg rings ; weapons such as mere (short handled clubs); and ornaments such as pendants (hei tiki, hei matau and pekapeka), ear pendents, and cloak pins. Pounamu taonga with great mana, were often exchanged as a symbol of a peace agreement.Pounamu was also used in a metaphorical sense to seal peace agreements – in the concept of a tatu pounamu (a greenstone door). This symbolised a passageway between the territories of warring parties. Each party to the peace pact chose a hill to represent the greenstone door. The door was closed to all who wanted to draw blood and the enduring nature of pounamu symbolised the permanence of the peace agreement.

The Europeans started making a number of items of jewellery from pounamu during the 1860s with the establishment of a number of workshops in Dunedin, which remained the centre until the mid-20th century. Much of the work involved the reproduction of Maori artefacts such as mere, pendants and in particular, hei tiki. Now every shop in New Zealand has greenstone jewellery for sale to locals and visitors alike. Typical are earrings such as the kuru (long and straight), kapeu (long and curved at the end), and the koropepe (shaped like a curled eel) and pendants such as the pekapeka, in the form of a native bat, the hook-shaped hei matau and the hei tiki which is arguably the most well-known piece of Maori jewellery. It has been suggested that the hei tiki is in the form of the first man, named Tiki. The hei tiki looks like a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged, its large head tilted to one side. The Manaia is usually depicted as having the head of a bird and the body of a man, though it is sometimes depicted as a bird, a serpent, or a human figure in profile. The Manaia is traditionally believed to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits, and its symbol is used as a guardian against evil. In this form, it is usually represented in a figure-of-eight shape, the upper half culminating in a bird-like beak.

Overseas workshops also started to show an interest at the start of the 20th century in the use of pounamu, particularly in Germany. Much of the pounamu that was exported returned to New Zealand, particularly in the form of hei tiki. This trade reduced with the decline of goldmining and after the two world wars. The export of uncut pounamu was prohibited in 1947 to preserve the limited supply the first step towards total control of Pounamu by the Maori Iwi.

Because pounamu is found only as boulders, the development of the local stone-working industry was limited by supply and the difficulties of transport. From the early 1960s, helicopters made it possible to retrieve large boulders from formerly inaccessible places like Waitaiki (Olderog) Stream, which resulted in a boost in the available material. This led to the establishment of a factory, Westland Greenstone, in 1963, and others followed. Hokitika has the unofficial title of ‘Greenstone capital of the West Coast’. This is a story told in detail by Alfred Moreton in "Te Wahi Pounamu - The Place of Greenstone" published in 2008 by Alfred Moreton ISBN 978-0-473-13217-0. Another major source has been Pounamu boulders uncovered during alluvial gold mining and dredging. A major problem is the difficult in identifying boulders of suitable quality because they usually have a weathered rind on the outside. Unlike most rock it is almost impossible to chip or cleave it in any direction although there is evidence that Chinese gold miners collected pounamu and succeeded in creating sheets of pounamu which they used to make fire surrounds. The only reliable way to check on quality is to use a diamond saw to open them up and many stones so tested were rejected.

Modern workshops use fast-cutting diamond tools – a far cry from the traditional labour-intensive methods. Boulders are generally sawn into thin slices with diamond slab saws, then cut down on a diamond circular trim saw to the rough shape. The pieces are then fashioned, using abrasive wheels and/or hand-held diamond cutting instruments (burrs) before various stages of polishing. As in earlier periods, most of the output reproduces Maori artefacts, many of them mass-produced for souvenirs. One has to take great care purchasing such souvenirs as many greenstone items sold in tourist shops are cheap copies of Maori designs, made overseas from inferior jade and even those that say, 'Carved on the Westcoast' or 'Carved in New Zealand' are often not Pounamu, they may be made by new Zealand craftsmen but are likely to be using jade imported from sources such as British Columbia unless it is also specifically stated they are using New Zealand Jade, Pounamu or Greenstone.

It is clear that there has always been considerable symbolic importance and legends associated with the various artefacts which Maori created. What is less clear to me is whether the folk lore have been embellished by the tourist trade for the mass produced and simplified shapes that are now available. That said, it is now accepted that one must never buy pounamu for oneself, it must always be a gift - that seems completely consistent with tradition. The current conventions and interpretations are that:

The collection and use of Pounamu is now also closely controlled. The export of uncut pounamu was first prohibited in 1947 to preserve the limited supply. This was a first step towards restoring control of Pounamu to Maori and more specifically the Ngai Tahu tribe. It is a long story which began in the the 1860s. Poutini Ngai Tahu began negotiations in 1859 to sell the Arahura and Kaikoura blocks with James Mackay, who had been appointed by the government to purchase land in the area. The tribe believed that it had made it abundantly clear during the negotiations that retention of their pounamu was paramount. Mackay assured them that they would keep this right, and guaranteed them ownership of the Arahura river bed and stated that the government had little use for pounamu:"I informed them that the Greenstone was of no use to the Government, and if it was all they wanted, they might have the whole of the Arahura bed, that it was of no use to anyone and even if they sold it to the Government, no objection would be raised as to their procuring Greenstone from it." The Poutini Ngai Tahu also wanted to reserve land along the banks of the river but Mackay was only prepared to grant them 2,000 acres. However, he agreed that Ngai Tahu would later have the option to buy back the rest of the land at a cost of 10 shillings an acre, although he was only paying a penny for 100 acres. In practice no legislative recognition was given by the Crown to Ngai Tahu’s relationship with pounamu in the Arahura or in any of Ngai Tahu’s tribal area and the river bed was not reserved.

The relationship was finally acknowledged in 1976 when the Crown vested ownership of the bed of the Arahura River in the Mawhera Corporation, which was set up to represent the original owners. Even so it was doubtful that this actually returned the rights to pounamu as all mining and extraction of pounamu was controlled by the Crown under the Mining Act 1971.

The next step came in the The Waitangi Tribunal, which in responding to the Ngai Tahu claim dealing with pounamu, said that ‘the unique nature of pounamu and its deep spiritual significance in Maori life and culture is such that every effort should now be made to secure as much as possible to Ngai Tahu ownership and control’. The Crown then agreed to return the legal ownership of pounamu to Ngai Tahu and passed the Ngai Tahu (Pounamu Vesting) Act 1997. Under this, ownership of all pounamu occurring in its natural state in Ngai Tahu’s tribal area, including the coastline, was vested in Ngai Tahu. Following this settlement, Ngai Tahu vested ownership of pounamu in the Arahura area in the Mawhera Corporation, in recognition of the special relationship of Poutini Ngai Tahu with this pounamu. To protect the sustainability of the resource, Ngai Tahu developed the Pounamu Resource Management Plan, which was approved in 2002.

The current situation, as I understand it, is that only members of the Ngai Tahu can collect Pounamu from the Ngai Tahu’s tribal area and then only boulders which can be carried by hand. As a concession any pounamu found below high tide mark on the beaches can be collected by anyone although it is not clear to me if this can be exported uncut.

Minerology of Pounamu - Nephrite Jade

Nephrite is a variety of the calcium and magnesium-rich amphibole mineral actinolite (aggregates of which also make up one form of asbestos). Amphiboles are an important group of generally dark-colored rock-forming inosilicate minerals, composed of double chain SiO4 tetrahedra, linked at the vertices and generally containing ions of iron and/or magnesium in their structures. The chemical formula for nephrite is Ca2(Mg, Fe)5(OH)2(Si4O11)2 . Nephrite jade possess mainly grays and greens (and occasionally yellows, browns or whites). In the green varieties a little iron replaces some magnesium. The name nephrite is derived from lapis nephriticus, which in turn is derived from the Greek for 'kidney stone'. It is technically a rock rather than a mineral and occurs among metamorphosed rocks that have suffered from intense metamorphism. It shows no crystalline form, being found in the form of a tough, compact mass of interlacing crystalline fibers and no cleavage is observable. Fractures are splintery. Hardness: 6 to 6.5. Density: 2.9 to 3.10. Refractive Index: 1.62.


This page has drawn on many sources of which the most authoritative has to be Basil Keane. 'Pounamu – jade or greenstone', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 2-Mar-09 ( http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/pounamu-jade-or-greenstone ). Another book giving valuable insights into recent extraction and use of Pounamu as well as it's history is "Te Wahi Pounamu - The Place of Greenstone" by Alfred Moreton published 2008 by Alfred Moreton ISBN 978-0-473-13217-0 . Other sources have been local museum and other displays in the Hokitika area and background from many websites found from search terms such as pounamu, jade, nephrite, metamorphic and amphibole combined with New Zealand.

Much information on the design and techniques of carving of Pounamu came from Steve and Andy at Bonz and Stonz where we had the ultimate experience of carving our own taonga (treasures). We have also spent many hours on the internet getting a better understanding of all the techniques in carving we were introduced to with searches such as "jade carving techniques"

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