New Zealand Jade (Pounamu) – A Special New Zealand West Coast Experience In Hokitita

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Back on the road and having special experiences everywhere I go…

Now back on the road, I’ve been experiencing more of New Zealand’s South Island, focusing on the West Coast. When I arrived in Hokitika, close to Greymouth, I figured I’d see its Gorge, walk through another small touristy town, and then be off. Instead, I found friends, experiences I loved, and had such a special time I didn’t want to leave. 

I’ve been filming a video series about my travels through New Zealand. I’m simultaneously sharing my travels with you, reflecting on lessons from travel, and trying to support the local business owners I meet along the way. How I meet them is always a surprise, and Hokitika was no exception.

penguins in Ushuaia

The Hokitika Gorge.

I walked around town to film my episode of travels and found myself in front of one of the many jade stores in town. New Zealand jade is otherwise known as pounamu, and after you’ve been here a while, it can become an obsession! If you’re in the market for a greenstone pendant, there are so many jade stores in Hokitika, it’s like Starbucks in New York City – at least two on every street. But what caught my eye was the “carve your own” in the store name of “Bonz N Stonz”. “Carve my own jade?” I had to learn more.

I entered the store and met Steve. He was working on a macrame chain and I found out he’s from the Solomon Islands. I’ve never met anyone from there before! I wondered around the store and noticed someone drilling on jade in a workroom and asked about it. That’s when I learned you can, literally, carve and drill your own pieces of jade at the workshop. My interest was peaked, but then it got better.

“What I thought would be a simple excursion turned in to so much more.”

Hokitika sign on the beach. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

I was introduced to Tina, a lovely Maori woman with bright red hair who caught my eye right away since I love having red hair! Tina does tours to one of the nearby rivers, owned by the Maori, so that we can look for pounamu stone with their consent. To say that the situation with pounamu in New Zealand is complicated, is an understatement. From the brief conversation I had with Tina, I understood that her extended Maori family has gotten a formal, signed contract, that they officially own the land where pounamu can be found in the South Island of New Zealand. Essentially – you aren’t allowed to collect pounamu from Maori-owned land without their consent. They feel that pounamu is sacred and belongs to them. (More on this to come in my upcoming video walkthrough of Hokitika, as well as the beautiful story of how pounamu came to be.)

In any case, incredulous at my luck meeting Tina and having the chance to go look for pounamu stone, I agreed to meet her the next afternoon at the shop. I thought we’d simply venture to a river and look for the stones. Instead, I got an intimate Maori experience.

Tina’s dad joined us for the afternoon, as did her uncle’s dog, Lucky. As we drove, windows down, and lucky bounced off our laps to stick his head and paws out them, I feared he would jump right out of the car. (He didn’t.) We stopped at the remnants of a raised train track. There, we shared an intimate ceremony of introduction. I learned the point was to bring our land, our families, and ourselves into the circle and connect before all else. I was not allowed to film this because it was considered a private, and intimate exchange, just for us. That made it all the more special.

Next, Tina took us to sacred burial grounds and introduced us to some of her family before showing us their beautiful Marae – meeting grounds. Unlike the ones I’ve gotten accustomed to, which are red and black, this one is green and black, and absolutely stunning. More fierce and sensual than some of the other carvings I’ve seen.

Tina’s family’s Marae – printed with permission.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.

We then walked through the land on which Tina and her family live. We passed the chief’s home and she explained who lives in each place. There’s even a signpost, like those you see indicating how many thousands of miles away the nearest countries are, but with the names of family members.

At last, we arrive at the mouth of the river. We pick up a few stones on the dry land, and Tina shows us how important it is to rub them into your skin. Your oils show you whether there might be jade within the stone. This is why she said she prefers to seek the stones in water – when wet you get a much better feel for what type of stone they are.

We walk to the water, remove our shoes and enter to search for our stones. It’s a lot harder than I realized. I thought the green jadestone would glisten at us from everywhere. I quickly become an expert at finding serpentine. It’s often confused with jade, but isn’t jade. It does, however, have a beautiful blue color. I collect a number of stones that could be jade, but we won’t know till we’re back at the workshop.

Once there, I do the work of polishing my stones. Most are a bust, but one, amazingly, as I rub it, turns out to be dark green jade! It may be lower grade quality, but it is jade, nonetheless, and I found it. Like the store, I was drawn to this stone, and it to me. As I have traveled the world, it has traveled down mountains and through rivers. We found each other at the perfect moment, and will continue our travels together.

What To Do, Where To Stay, Where To Eat

In case you get to go to this delightful town, here are a few recommendations:

Stay at the Beachfront Hotel Hokitika if you want a nice, quiet sleep in a clean and comfortable room. Hostel options include Mountain Jade Backpackers and Stumpers.

You must eat at two divine places; Fat Pipi pizza is amazing – no crust on the pizza and loaded with your yummy toppings, including seafood! And, if you ever thought a sandwich is just a sandwich, get your mind and taste buds blown at The Hokitika Sandwich company.

Three not-to-be-missed activities are visiting the Hokitika gorge. If you’re without a vehicle, contact Rachel at Hokitika Scenic Tours. And, of course, go to Bonz N Stonz to carve your own new zealand greenstone pendant, and they can connect you with Tina for a tour!

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