Hokitika Stories and Tips

Pounamu Shopping in Hokitika

Jade Factory Hook Photo, Hokitika, New Zealand

After our hearty breakfast at Café de Paris, we wandered through Hokitika in search of jade (also called pounamu or greenstone) which isn’t hard to find here. Greenstone is big business in this town and you will find many shops to browse. Your head will spin when you start looking at all of the different pieces, prices, designs, and shops. Tom and I definitely needed some education before we made a purchase.

Jade is more confusing that you could ever imagine. There are two different kinds: Jadeite and Nephrite. Jadeite is principally found around the northern Burmese border with China. The more common Nephrite is found in New Zealand, Australia, Wyoming, British Columbia (main source), Russia and other areas around the world.

What is the difference between Jadeite and Nephrite? Jadeite is a silicate of sodium and aluminium and Nephrite is a silicate of calcium and magnesium. They look different and can easily be differentiated. Jadeite is rarer and is of lighter, brighter colours. Nephrite is darker and has inclusions, colour variations, etc. The colour can range from blackish-green all the way to light green, almost white in colour. Different artists have different preferences for which kind they like to carve. Maori artists prefer the Nephrite with all of the inclusions and colour variations. Maoris used jade to make many useful items: chisels and adzes for carving, clubs for combat, and pendants for jewelry just as you can buy today.

The South Island’s Maori name is Te Wahi Pounamu, "the place of greenstone" which tells of its importance to New Zealand. Claims to the greenstone on the South Island are highly guarded rights. Export of greenstone is prohibited and greenstone in national parks must remain untouched.

You really have to be careful when you are shopping around for jade. I wanted a piece of New Zealand jade, not Russian, American, etc. The shops didn’t have as much New Zealand jade as I would have imagined. If you are looking for jade from a specific area, ask for it. It isn’t always labeled and it seems they don’t offer the information outright.

Pendants are carved into many different designs. The traditional Maori designs consist of Hooks, Twists, Korus, Manaias (seahorses), Tikis, and a few others, but you can find a wide variety of designs such as crosses, animals, hearts, etc. Some workshops will even do them to your specifications if you can’t find what you want. I decided I wanted a traditional Maori design and I wanted a big enough piece that you could actually see!

Tom offered to buy me a pretty pendant but I just couldn’t decide on which one I wanted. We browsed through several shops and finally decided on The Jade Factory. I wandered around the shop while Tom picked out a pendant for me. It was wrapped up and I opened it once we got on the road out of Hokitika. It was beautiful, a large sort of Koru-inspired design (representing the opening of a fern). I was in for a surprise when I realized there was a bit of a chip on the inside edge. Tom apologized profusely that he didn’t look close enough. For something that cost in excess of NZ$250 you wouldn’t expect this. I wasn’t worried, though, because the Jade Factory has another shop in Queenstown where we would be going in a few days. Hopefully we could get this sorted out there.

The Jade Factory is a chain of jade shops with several locations around New Zealand: Auckland, Queenstown, Hokitika, Rotorua, and Christchurch. They have a wide variety of styles and prices. We found the shop in Queenstown to be much more friendly and helpful than the shop in Hokitika. It could be that the shop in Hokitika is overrun by tour buses all the time!

A few days later when we arrived in Queenstown the manager at The Jade Factory was more than happy to help with my pendant. The only issue with this shop is that it didn’t have the same style as I had purchased because they don’t carry an extensive collection like the Hokitika shop. She offered to post one to me, but I didn’t want to wait. So began the hunt for another one I liked. We finally settled on one a bit larger and a bit more expensive than the one we had originally chosen. I was very happy with my choice and to this day I simply adore my New Zealand jade pendant.

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