One of the best known icons of New Zealand is Pounamu, also known as nephrite jade or greenstone. It is found on the west coast of the South Island in the rivers and on the beaches, especially after wild weather. Māori people have used Pounamu for centuries in their tools, weapons and ornamentation and it is considered an honour to receive a worked piece as a gift.
The little town of Hokitika, which means “place of return”, is the centre of Pounamu carving and sales on the west coast. There are several shops and Pounamu carving factories in the main shopping area of Hokitika. The Te Waipounamu Maori Heritage Centre has an excellent range of carvings and beautiful jewelry. In the workroom visitors can watch as artisan carvers shape the stone into traditional and modern designs.
Further along the street the Bonz’n’Stonz Carving Studio is a hive of activity with students creating their own masterpieces under the watchful eye of their tutor.
In another carving studio Des shares not only his work but his love of the stone through his stories. He tells how the Māori would come to the west coast to find Pounamu, take it back to their homes and carve it with sandstone. He is making several Tiki, good luck symbols associated with fertility.
Away from the main street is the Traditional Jade Co, a family owned shop with a carving factory at the back and unique jewelry and other pieces for sale in the front. Almost all of their stone is local, unlike some of the other shops which stock more imported jade than New Zealand stone, and the jewelry is locally made and reasonably priced.
The young woman behind the counter explains how her grandfather and father go fossicking for Pounamu after storms and heavy rain. They bring back the best pieces to add to their collection.
One day these stones will be transformed into objects of wonder and beauty; prized possessions and honoured gifts.