Like all unique symbols that identify a nation, greenstone jewellery and ornaments can now be picked up all over the country. You can find it in jewellers, museum and souvenir shops, and at markets. What a lot of visitors to Aotearoa don’t realise though, is that a substantial amount of the trinkets that you can buy are actually carved from jade that is sourced and imported from China and Siberia.
Now, this doesn’t in any way detract from the immense level of skill that is required by the carvers to work the material. But if you want the genuine, 100% article, then there are only a handful of places that you can get it from.
Here are some of – not all – of the places that you can find art carved from New Zealand-sourced pounamu.
This is, for all intents and purposes, ground zero for the mining and crafting of New Zealand pounamu. Here, on the west coast of the South Island, the Arahura River is where New Zealand greenstone was born. As a result, there are many skilled artists and carvers and shops to be found in the main town in this area called Hokitika. As well as being able to pick up a nice item carved from the good green stuff, you can take tours, visit the information centre to gain more of an insight into the birth of this cultural phenomenon, watch carvers at work and quiz them on what they’re up to, and even carve a piece of greenstone yourself. As Hokitika is the biggest full-on beach town on the west coast, you have all the amenities you could wish, as well as being able to fossick around on the beach to see if you can find your own piece of NZ jade that’s been washed down from the hills.
Westland Greenstone 34 Tancred Street, Hokitika, +64 3-755 8713
Of course, with such a large Maori and Pacific Islander population, Auckland has its fair share of greenstone carvers and stockists. Being the largest city in New Zealand by a considerable margin, there is also always going to be a lot of foreign imported jade products out there – carved with consummate skill certainly – and those products will not be advertised as being non-New Zealand pounamu. However, there are markets in Auckland where, if you’re diligent, you can pick up some local pieces for very fair prices. Shane Macintosh is one carver who lives just out of the city and has been making quality products for years.
Shane Macintosh Greenstone, 489 Rangiuru Road, Te Puke, +64 7-573 9411
Rotorua is the only place in New Zealand that still retains a working Maori village at Whakarewarewa. Here you can experience traditional Maori weaving, get your own Maori tattoo done by the resident artist, and watch master-carvers carving greenstone. In a city that is referred to as being the centre of Maoridom, it’s of no surprise that there are quite a few boutique shops in which you can purchase something of the greenstone persuasion. Of these places, 99% will supply you with a certificate of authenticity when you buy a pounamu item, telling you of its history, the symbolic meaning behind it and a little about the skilled carver who made it. Mountain Jade is a New Zealand favourite.
Mountain Jade Rotorua, 1288 Fenton Street, Rotorua, +64 7-349 1828
Wellington is a city in which it is possible to view one of the largest collections of greenstone anywhere in the country. All you have to do is duck into Te Papa and lose yourself for a few hours in their extensive collection of pounamu-related art, photographs, carvings, jewellery and weapons. There are numerous Wellington shops that sell New Zealand-sourced greenstone, as well as heaps that sell items carved from British Columbian jade. Take a stroll along Cuba Street and its tributary streets to find jewellers that sell the much-loved NZ icon. Keep your eyes peeled for Lazulé Limited.
Lazulé Limited, 151 Cuba Street, Te Aro, Wellington, +64 4-385 8418
This isn’t to say that these establishments are the only places where you can pick up greenstone pieces that are guaranteed to have been made from locally sourced pounamu. Far from it. Shopping at these places, though, will ensure that you definitely walk out with a 100% genuine Zealand product – made by Kiwi carvers with an affinity for the New Zealand-sourced material. Also, you’ll leave with an idea of just how important greenstone is to New Zealand’s cultural identity, and what skill is required to create it.
To learn more about the origins of greenstone, and the role it plays in New Zealand culture, read our other article, here.