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Art, culture and history

Follow the greenstone trails

West Coast pounamu


Old trails and new cultural footprints. Exciting new visitor experiences, unique cultural experiences, passionate story tellers and talented carvers can help you uncover the fascinating history, cultural identity and treasures of the West Coast. Pounamu is the unique green thread that binds these stories together.

Rarer than gold, valued for its luminous beauty, incredible strength and durability, pounamu was fashioned into tools, weapons and beautiful objects to wear and trade. Te Tai Poutini / the West Coast is the primary source of pounamu, found only in certain areas on the western fringe of the South Island, which became known as Te Waipounamu (the greenstone waters).

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Pounamu Pathway, Māwhera, Greymouth

The new visitor centre now open in Māwhera/Greymouth

Pounamu Pathway – Māwhera, Greymouth

For centuries Māori adventurers came from afar, over the sea, mountains and waterways, to travel ancient routes through Te Tai Poutini. They came seeking pounamu – nephrite jade often referred to as NZ greenstone.

With two new visitor centres open in Māwhera/Greymouth and Kawatiri/Westport – and two more on the way – the Pounamu Pathway is a ‘trail’ of visitor attractions creating a fascinating new footprint on the old routes. While the old stories belong to local tangata whenua, Ngāti Waewae and Ngāti Mahaki, a thousand years of history comes to life through immersive state-of-the-art technology created by special effects maestros Wētā Workshop. Together this collaboration delivers a powerful, visual, cultural storytelling experience.

In an eye-catching new centre rising from the site of the historic Māwhera Pā settlement, the self-guided Greymouth experience is the flagship and the best place to start. It features six compelling narratives weaving across Māori legends, history, pounamu wars and folk-lore surrounding pounamu. Sit at the feet of a legendary Māori warrior ancestor, Tūhuru, a giant in stature whose larger-than-life, surrealist sculpture dominates the story and the exhibition, and experience a fascinating day-in-the-life of pre-European Māwhera Pā.

There’s a different story to experience at Kawatiri / Westport celebrating the heritage and endeavour of the people of Buller District. Discover the incredible past, present and future of Kawatiri, exploring themes of triumph and treasure - the taonga (treasures) of the earth (pounamu, coal, gold), and the bravery and innovation of human endeavour they inspired. It also features artefacts found at an early pā site at Carters Beach. More Pounamu Pathway experiences are scheduled to open at Haast (late 2024) and Hokitika (2025).

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Te Rua & Sons Pounamu Trails

Walk, learn and maybe even find a piece of pounamu to take home.

Go to the source – Te Rua & Sons Pounamu Trails, Arahura

Pounamu was formed in ancient times from a combination of minerals under intense heat and pressure. Most of the pounamu found in New Zealand comes from a handful of rivers that bring glacial moraines down from the Southern Alps. The green stone is found among river boulders, either naturally polished by the waters or encased in other rocky crusts. It rolls down the river beds during heavy rains.

The main gathering places are between Greymouth and Hokitika. Close to Hokitika, the Arahura River is a major source of pounamu and that’s where local man Te Rua Mason, assisted by his son Henare, guides small groups looking to learn about pounamu’s place in Māori culture. Tours with Te Rua & Sons Pounamu Trails start at beautiful Arahura Marae where the Tūhuru wharenui (meeting house) features striking green carvings that tell the story of the connection between pounamu and the people of Ngāti Waewae.

Te Rua’s tours are a family story of ancestors, past and future. He founded the business to share his deep knowledge of the fabled stone and pass it on down his family. Down on the riverbank below the marae, Te Rua shows his guests what to look for and they may even find their own piece of the precious stone. He’s personally found and sourced many large boulders, some of which are now on show in other parts of the world.

Discover Hokitika
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West Coast Jade/Pounamu

No piece of pounamu is identical to another.

Garth Wilson Jade – Greymouth

To protect local culture and sources, New Zealand pounamu benefits from an exceptional protected status. The guardians are the South Island’s Ngai Tahu tribe which includes West Coast Māori. Authenticated pounamu must be sourced from one of a limited number of West Coast rivers, and only by tribal members – although anyone can take home a pebble off the beach.

Pounamu artist Garth Wilson, whose family traces back to the Māori tribes that first traded pounamu – and early European arrivals on the other side – personally sources every piece of stone that he carves. He welcomes visitors into his studio workshop in the countryside near Shantytown to watch him carving and learn the stories behind the traditional forms and designs.

Garth was eight years old when he carved his first piece of pounamu, learning his craft the traditional way, passed down through the family. Over 17 years working full-time as an artist, he has built up an international following and, along with jewellery and other smaller pieces, he has also completed notable large sculptural commissions. It can take him up to a month to complete just one piece and he sells all his work directly.

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Left Bank Gallery, Greymouth

Boutiques, workshops and museums

Over many generations, skilled carvers and artists have transformed raw pounamu into a wide range of tools, weapons, and precious adornments. Their works can be found in museums and collections all over the world.

Te Papa – Museum of New Zealand (Wellington) has a large collection of pieces dating back hundreds of years, testimony to the considerable skills of the artists who created them. The Left Bank Art Gallery in Greymouth has an expanding collection of contemporary pounamu art works that showcases some of New Zealand’s finest artists.

The West Coast is home to a vibrant community of artists and carvers working with pounamu and keeping the ancient art forms alive. Hokitika, a little town bursting with creative energy, has many artist workshops, galleries and pounamu specialists. Learn about the different types and origins of pounamu, and see examples of large boulders and cut stones at Waewae Pounamu. Watch carvers at work in the workshop behind the Westland Pounamu shop, or in Traditional Jade – a small second-generation family business.

Bonz n Stonz offers a hands-on experience where you can create your own pounamu treasure. If you find a piece on the beach, they will help you to correctly identify whether it’s the real thing or not.

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Hokitika Beach, West Coast

Look for pounamu pebbles on a West Coast beach.

Fossicking and finding pounamu

Pounamu is only found on the West Coast of New Zealand, and in only a few rivers. Formed millions of years ago under extreme heat and pressure deep beneath the earth’s crust, the rock emerged from the mountains as glacial moraine carried down the mountains to be deposited as boulders and pebbles on river beds and beaches.

No two pieces of pounamu are the same. There are eight types of pounamu, each with a unique appearance and beauty, which then distinguishes the origins of each stone:

  • Kahurangi
  • Kawakawa
  • Inanga
  • Kōkopu
  • Putiputi
  • Raukaraka
  • Tangiwai
  • Tokoweka

For those who like to fossick there is the chance to find a piece that's washed up on the beach. Look out for pebbles with a grey, milky-coloured outer skin and a 'soapy' feel, or the occasional green piece that's already smoothed by natural processes.

Please note that while fossicking is permitted on the beach, any pounamu found elsewhere cannot be taken away.

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