For many New Zealanders Pounamu, also known as NZ Jade or greenstone, is more than a souvenir - it has a treasured spiritual significance. Pounamu is found in many places on the West Coast and is prized for its strength, durability and beauty. Historically it was used by Maori for weapons, tools and personal ornaments and it also denoted great status. These days its beauty is still well appreciated as it is found in many West Coast shops and galleries. The Arahura River in Jade Country just north of Hokitika is the birthplace of pounamu.
Legend has it that Poutini, the guardian of Pounamu and a taniwha (a giant water being), snatched a beautiful Maori woman, Waitaiki, from the North Island. He brought her south eventually to the Arahura River but her husband Tamaahua gave chase. Fearing Tamaahua's strength and determination, Poutini decided that if he could not have Waitaiki, no-one would. He transformed her into his likeness, Pounamu, and laid her in the cold waters of the river. The jade fragments that break off and roll down the river to the sea are known as Waitaiki’s children.
Pounamu is a strong stone known for its beauty. Maori and local artisans have been drawn to its power over the centuries and it is widely used in making jewellery and sculptures nowadays. There are five main types - Kawakawa, Kahurangi, Inanga, Kokopu and Tangiwai - each with their own unique look at features. Many arts and crafts stores on the West Coast, especially in Jade Country have working carvers who are happy to tell you about the stone, where it came from and the design they are carving. A piece of Pounamu is a beautiful and meaningful memory of your time on the West Coast. Due to demand, carvers do work with imported jade so if you want New Zealand sourced Pounamu make sure you ask. Maori tradition says it is bad luck to buy Pounamu for yourself so make sure you have someone there to purchase it for you.
For the fossicker there is still the chance you can find a piece of your own to take home. It’s not uncommon to find small pieces on the beach that have been washed down in a storm. The outer skin of the stone can be grey to milky in colour and has a "soapy" feel to it. Sometimes you might really luck out and find a green piece already smoothed by natural processes. Please note that any Pounamu found elsewhere cannot be taken - you can only fossick on the beach.