Pounamu is found only in the South Island. Because of this, the South island was originally named Te Wāhi Pounamu (the place of pounamu), but over time this name changed to Te Wai Pounamu (the greenstone waters).
Traditionally, the pounamu in the Arahura River has been most important for Poutini Ngāi Tahu (Ngāi Tahu people on the West Coast), with the junction of this river and Waitaiki (Olderog) Stream being particularly important. Te Ara: Encyclopedia of New Zealand
The Legend of Poutini
Poutini, the guardian of Pounamu and a taniwha (a giant water being), snatched a beautiful Māori 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.
Buying and fossicking Pounamu
Pounamu is a strong stone known for its beauty.
Māori and local artisans have been drawn to its power over the centuries and it is widely used in making jewellery and sculptures.
There are 5 main types of Pounamu:
Each type has their own unique look and features.
Many arts and crafts stores on the West Coast, 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.
For those who like to fossick 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 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.
Find out More About Pounamu/New Zealand Jade
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