Pounamu: NZ Greenstone

Article index

  1. Māori Legends
  2. Pounamu: NZ Greenstone
  • Pounamu is New Zealand’s iconic mineral material, and Ngāi Tahu have a desire for it to be managed under the principle of ”Tiakina he tino taonga Pounamu mō tātou, ā, mo kā uri ā muri ake nei” (Care for the precious treasure Pounamu for all of us and our children who follow us). GNS Science are providing scientific research and information to assist Ngāi Tahu with achieving these aspirations for now and the benefit of future generations, click here for more information.

    Pounamu Journey:  Schematic diagram illustrating the ‘geological system‘ of pounamu as a journey from the mountains to the sea.  Pounamu is uplifted in the mountains, liberated from in-situ outcrops, carried by rivers and glaciers, and transported out to sea. Exposed pounamu resources (green) and potential pounamu resources (purple-pink) are found in a variety of geological settings, and may vary or change with time (red arrows and lettering).  This cartoon outlines the basis behind GNS Science’s research to address the question of how pounamu resource assessment might be carried out.

    Pounamu Journey: Schematic diagram illustrating the ‘geological system‘ of pounamu as a journey from the mountains to the sea. Pounamu is uplifted in the mountains, liberated from in-situ outcrops, carried by rivers and glaciers, and transported out to sea. Exposed pounamu resources (green) and potential pounamu resources (purple-pink) are found in a variety of geological settings, and may vary or change with time (red arrows and lettering). This cartoon outlines the basis behind GNS Science’s research to address the question of how pounamu resource assessment might be carried out.

  • South Island Pounamu: Map showing the main occurrences of ultramafic rocks (pink) with which pounamu is associated, and the principal management regions. Click the picture for a more detailed map.

    Pounamu is the Māori collective term for semi-precious stone scientifically referred to as nephrite (kawakawa, kahurangi, inanga), semi-nephrite, or less formally termed New Zealand jade or greenstone. It is composed predominantly of metamorphic mineral amphibole (tremolite-actinolite varieties) in a felted, fibrous texture. Bowenite (tangiwai) is a variety of serpentine that is included under the term pounamu in GNS Science’s study, but other serpentine minerals and talc are excluded.
  • Ngāi Tahu is the kaitiaki (guardian) of pounamu, the prized greenstone found in Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand). The Crown vested ownership of all naturally occurring pounamu within the Ngāi Tahu rohe (territory), with the exception of pounamu owned by other private mineral owners under Crown licence, in Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in September 1997, as part of the overall Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement. The pounamu in the Arahura river catchment was subsequently vested in the Māwhera Incorporation. After many hui (meetings) a tribal resource management plan was approved in September 2002 (Ngāi Tahu 2002). It outlines policies in relation to the protection, collection, extraction and commercial supply of all the naturally occurring deposits of Pounamu within their tribal area, as well as the policies and processes for the management and protection of pounamu. It facilitates the devolution of authority to the local Kaitiaki Rūnanga (local guardian council) to manage pounamu in their respective takiwā (regions). Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio have just completed and ratified their management plan.
  • Pounamu Wahi Figure: Map showing the principal areas where pounamu is found in the South Island of New Zealand (Te Waipounamu). Click the picture for a large scale map.

    Māori stories of pounamu, and indeed great articles and pictures, can be found on websites of Te Ara, Ngai Tahu, Treaty of Waitangi Deed of Settlment and in their management plans.
  • There are six main wāhi (areas) where pounamu is found: Tai Poutini ki te Raki (Central and North Westland); Tai Poutini ki te Toka (South Westland); Piopiotahi (Milford); Mararoa/Murihiku (Mavora, Southland); Whakatipu (upper Lake Wakatipu); and Wānaka (upper Lake Wanaka). Management is different in different areas, and the management plan outlines how pounamu may be collected and extracted. It allows for public fossicking on the beaches of Te Tai o Poutini (the West Coast of the South Island), limited within a 24 hour period to what an individual can carry on their person. All other collection and mining of the taonga (treasure) is restricted, requiring cultural rights or approval from Kaitiaki Rūnanga. Where rules about fossicking and discovery have been broken, there have been instances where individuals have been prosecuted and been sentences to terms of imprisonment as this is taken very seriously.