Hokitika. How to get your own Greenstone (Pounamu) | New Zealand
It was time to leave Arturs Pass and return to West coast. We decided not to go to Chrischurch just yet. There was so much to do and see in the West coast. We had to see Hokitika, and famous Glaciers.
Hokitika is a small town in the West Coast region. As many other little towns Hokitika was found on gold mining in 1864, it was a centre of the West Coast Gold Rush.
The major industries of greenstone (pounamu), gold, coal, and forestry have all dwindled over the last century, but a growing ecotourism industry has grown up and the town is starting to show signs of recovery. It has become a major tourist stop on the West Coast's main highway route, with carving of greenstone as an important local industry.
Historic Hokitika is a place to appreciate history of the West Coast. There are a lot of things to do and see in the town and around it. This was also the place where we finally tried the local delicacy - whitebait. They are tiny fish that locals love to make in whitebait fritters.
We were hungry so we decided to try out the famous Fat Pipi Pizza. And so we did two things in one go - tried the pizza and the whitebait (on that pizza). I have to be honest - it was delicious (28NZD if i remember corectly.)
What is greenstone?
Another important thing in this town for me was getting my own Ponamu.
If you know something about New Zealand then concept Greenstone or jade is already familiar to you. A lot of people visit Hokitika just for this reasone. They call it the Jade Capital of New Zealand. And really this is the place to explore New Zealand's most various collection of handcrafted greenstone necklaces and art. Meet local greenstone artists in their workshop and watch them carving jade.
The town is full of stores and boutiques that sell jewellery, figurines and even dishes made of this precious and traditional stone. You can see a lot of people wearing them around their neck. It is said that you can never buy or look for a stone for yourself. You have to give it to someone as a gift. Only then the stone will get it's protective and spiritual power. In most families jewellery made out of it is passed on in generations.
The locals call greenstone - Pounamu. There are several types of hard and durable stone found in southern New Zealand. They are highly valued by the Maori, and hardstone carvings made from pounamu play an important role in Maori culture. Geologically, pounamu are usually nephrite jade, bowenite, or serpentinite, but the Maori classify pounamu by colour and appearance and color. You can read more about it HERE.
In modern usage pounamu almost always refers to nephrite jade. Pounamu is generally found in rivers in specific parts of the South Island as nondescript boulders and stones. These are difficult to identify as pounamu without cutting them open. Normally they don't look that green from the outside.
Pounamu is known as the God Stone of the Maori people, and modern Maori who wish to give a gift of pounamu will always seek out New Zealand nephrite. Traditionally, Maori have embraced this stone as a talisman and believed in its spiritual powers to evoke strength and prosperity, to protect, express love and kinship, and to depict growth and harmony.
Maori designs carved in jade are steeped in religious and spiritual belief. The symbols and patterns that you see carved into stone, wood, and bone have strong spiritual meanings. You can learn more about the pounamu carving shapes and their meanings HERE.
It was believed by Maori that as a pounamu carving was worn against the skin it absorbed some of that persons essence. As carvings were passed down through the family they absorbed essence from each family member, creating a direct ancestral connection through the necklace itself.
So now when you understand the importance of greenstone in Maori culture and how popular it is in New Zealand, you can probably imagine that almost everyone wants to take a piece of this stone home as a reminder of the precious time in beautiful New Zealand. Me included.
The prices vary from maybe couple of NZD for a scarp piece to many hundreds and even thousands for detailed jewelry, dishes and bigger pieces. The good thing is, you can find this stone for free. That's what I decided to do instead of buying it. But before that you have to follow some rules to honor the Maori culture.
How to get your own Greenstone?
As I said before, greenstones are mostly found in rivers. There is one river in particular that is really rich of these stones. It is called Arahura river. BUT it is forbiden to take and even look for pounamu in this river if you are not Maori. Another one is Hokitika river. And basically in all the rivers from Greymouth to Milford Sound you can find pounamu. I DO NOT suggest you to look for them in the rivers itself. As it can come across offensive for the local Maories. We have to respect their culture and traditions. So I higly suggest you to keep in mind some rules when looking for greenstone:
Look for pounamu pebbles and stones on the beach only! Closer to river mouth.
Look on West Coast beaches between Greymouth and Milford Sound
Go after a rain or not long after the rivers have flooded – that’s when pebbles and stones are moved with river currents to the coast
Look for stones that look dark green and feels really hard
They should look even greener when rubbed against your bodies natural oils, so rub it against your forehead and see if it's green.
Take only as much as you can physically carry.
If you find a greenstone it is better that you give it to someone else instead of keeping it
Check with professionals is any of the stones you found an actual greenstone.
I really wanted to have a geenstone, so my fiance looked for one to give it to me. So I was kind of following the rule not to find or buy one for myself. He asctually found some green pebbles on the beach closer to Arahura river mouth. So we went to famous Bonz n' Stonz store to check with the professionals. The girl that sat at the cashier wasn't really convincing. She said that none of the pebbles are greenstones not even taking a propper look at them (so I had a feeling that they are not really happy if someone finds a stone instead of buying one here).
She agreed to double check with the carvers and one of them said that one of the stones might be some kind of greenstone, but it's hard to tell unless he actually cut it open or polish it. As it was too small to do that (and I didn't want to pay for polishing), I ended up asking him to make a hole in it. If I remember it corectly it was 5NZD. Another 5 - 10 NZD for a string to hang it. But I decided not to get it. It felt way too overpriced for a piece of thread. So I can higly suggest to polish your own stone wih sandpaper or even paper nail file that I used. You can't really make it glossy, but you can polish it smooth. You can find strings for your new necklace for less than 1 NZD in Paua shell store "Ocean Paua 2000 LTD" (see picture below) coordinates -42.717868, 170.962791 .
Another good way to get your own greenstone is to buy one. As easy at it sounds, I wouldn't recommend all the shinny and bright stores, but actual carvers directly. We heard that a lot of those fancy stores actually import greenstone from other countries and sell it as New Zealands. So I suggest you to do your research and maybe find some locals who do the carvings.
We found a couple who sell necklaces carved out of pounamu at the Hokitika beach. They costed around 10-20NZD and looked more natural and raw, appreciating the natural look of the stone. You can contact the carver Brett Phillips on facebook and see when they are found on the beach.
After getting my own greenstone (or at least stone that was green) we made a little roat trip to famous Hokitika Gorge to see Hokitika river and it's stunningly beautiful blue waters. When I saw pictures online I thought it's definitely photoshop, but turned out this place doesn't need any.
A short walk from the parking lot will take you through the bush walk. The first thing you notice is the blue green color of the Hokitika River. The color can change and be bright or even milky blue, because it depends of the day, sun, rainfall and a lot of other things.
After you cross the swing bridge (I do not like those) turn to the left, there is a rough track running down to the river. You can climb the rocks to get closer to the river. One thing you should definitely be aware of are those little nasty sandflies. There are a lot of them, so take some repellent with you.
We spent the night in a cheap campground where we saw a lot of peacocks.