While Pounamu is only found in a limited number of South Island sites, these locations are nothing short of spectacular. From the area surrounding the Taramakau and Arahura Rivers in the northern part of Westland, to coastal South Westland, the Lake Wakatipu area and Fiordland, the chief Pounamu deposits are found in some of the most scenic parts of New Zealand.
The Taramakau River reaches the ocean between Hokitika and Greymouth, north of the Arahura River. The township of Kumara, once a flourishing gold-mining centre, is located on its southern bank. It has been noted that gold diggers often found pounamu boulders in the same areas where they searched for gold. Many of those were sold but who knows how many more stones and boulders could lie hidden under old gold tailings?
In South Westland, nearly all the rivers from the Jackson River to Big Bay have produced jade. This region boasts some of New Zealand’s most beautiful, most remote and most rugged terrain and much of it is under the protection of National Park conservation laws. Given the evidence in unearthed artefacts, it is believed Māori discovered pounamu in this area very early in their history here. A number of early European explorers also noted the presence of small, isolated settlements where Māori worked greenstone.
The Arahura jade field has supplied both Māori and Pākehā with thousands of tonnes of top quality pounamu and is known for its dark kawakawa stone. Any pounamu found in this area since 1997 is owned by the Mawhera Incorporation, which has the sole right to harvest it.
The Cascade River runs through the Cascade Plateau. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has never given permission to outside parties for the collection and sale of the distinctive pounamu from this region. The first time this treasured Tahutahi (snowflake) pounamu was legally used was when it was carved into 380 pounamu pendants by Hokitika carver, Jeff Mahuika for New Zealand’s London Olympic team.
Inanga Pounamu is typified by its pearly white or grey-green tones, with varying degrees of translucency. It transcends the greens with blue, grey, silver and white tones. It is named for the native Inanga fish - the adult form of the juvenile whitebait, a popular New Zealand delicacy.
Kokopu Pounamu takes its name from the native kōkopu trout with its speckled or mottled texture. Kōkopu pounamu is very diverse with tones of reddish-brown and even blue, with a speckled or mottled texture resulting in a diverse character and appearance.
Tokoweka Pounamu is a deep green with tints and variations of reddish-brown and black adding interest and depth. This stone takes its name from a native bird, the Weka, which is a protected species.
Kahurangi Pounamu, meaning 'precious or prized possession', is the lightest and most translucent of the greens. Kahurangi was the most valued stone variety, and was used to carve highly treasured items.
Kawakawa Pounamu is the strongest and darkest of the stones, ranging from medium to dark forest green. It is not typically translucent, and in some cases a black fleck occurs bringing a noticeable character. It's named after the native kawakawa plant which was traditionally used for its culinary and medicinal properties.
Raukaraka Pounamu has striking yellow and orange tones that blend throughout the greens. This stone takes its name from the native Karaka tree which has a yellowish tinge to its leaves and produces orange coloured fruit.
Auhunga Pounamu, meaning 'frosty', is a pale green opaque colour. It is likened to the southern New Zealand mountains and cooler regions.
Tahutahi Pounamu is the rarest of all the stone types, found only on the Cascade Plateau, south of Haast. It is a rich and intense green, with a striking white snowflake effect.
Pounamu has a diverse range of colours with a myriad of variations in colour and pattern combination. The strong spiritual connection Māori have with pounamu is reflected in the way the various stone types were named with - each pounamu type being given an identity that corresponded to the world Māori lived in. The stone was named after native birds, fish and plants. Others are linked to pakiwaitara or storytelling and others linked to specific locations.
Endless combinations of pounamu types occur, ranging from the yellow/orange enriched tones of flower jade to the rich green and white tinted snowflake jade. No two pieces of pounamu are the same, guaranteeing every carving is unique to you and your loved ones.
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