From Hokitika to Rotorua

news - 09,Oct,2018

From Hokitika to Rotorua


Hidden away in a remote corner of the South Pacific, the island nation of New Zealand boasts a natural environment renowned for its pristine beauty and formidable biodiversity. Known to the indigenous Māori as Aotearoa, the country consists of two main islands, Te Ika-a-Maui (North Island) and Te Waipounamu (South Island), separated by the tempestuous Cook Strait. The tiny Stewart Island (Rakiura in Māori) is New Zealand’s southernmost point.

One of the last parts of the world to be settled by humans, Aotearoa's natural environment possesses a unique beauty thanks to its isolation. From towering fiords and enormous glaciers to never-ending black sand beaches bordered by primeval forest, Aotearoa has a boundless array of natural wonders that are breathtakingly diverse. Perceptive travellers will sense a cohesive spirit that unites the diversity of Aotearoa's landscape into a spiritual whole. This spirit, or wairua in Māori, is what connects the towering height of Aoraki in the Southern Alps with the vast Canterbury plains; the magnificent glaciers and fiords with the subtropical evergreen forests and striking volcanic plateaus.

This spirit can be found in a lot of what we do at Mountain Jade and our designs are often infused with the unique diversity of Aoteroa’s geography. The fish hook design, hei matau in Māori, reflects the close relationship that all Kiwis have to our oceans and rivers. The koru design depicts the unfurling frond of the native silver fern. Pounamu is one of Aotearoa's most notable precious minerals and was always highly valued by Māori, historically and to this day, who appreciated not only its economic value but also its spiritual significance. The locations of our two main stores are a testimony to the diversity of New Zealand’s landscape and the way in which greenstone can embody the cohesive spirit that unites that diversity. Our South Island store is located in the spiritual home of New Zealand jade, while our North Island Store is located in Rotorua, an area that is steeped in Māori history.

Hokitika: our spiritual home

Our South Island base is in Hokitika, a picturesque seaside township on the west coast of the South Island. As well as two smaller retail outlets, our primary store and workshop can be found just next to the town's iconic clock tower. This store is home to our biggest collection of greenstone carvings, and as our largest Mountain Jade workshop, it's where our expert carvers work their magic. Our Mountain Jade Discovery Tour that runs out of our main Hokitika store is the perfect place to learn about how science and culture come together to create an iconic Mountain Jade pendant. The tour accommodates groups of all sizes and is essential for any serious jade enthusiast as well as the newly acquainted. Learn all about the metamorphic processes that create jade, occurring deep in the earth’s crust, as well as the global cultural influences that our carvers draw upon when designing a Mountain Jade pendant.

Hokitika was established during the gold rush of the 1860s and was populated at the time mainly by prospectors. Prior to the gold rush, few Europeans had visited the area and according to the local history, the gold was first discovered by two Māori men named Ihaia Tainui and Haimona Taukau near the Taramakau River in 1864. In 1865 and 1866 more gold was found at and around Charleston and along the Grey River. This attracted more miners from the gold rush in Centr­al Otago and even from as far afield as Australia, where the Victorian gold rush had nearly come to an end. By the end of 1864, there were an estimated 1800 prospectors on the West Coast, with many in the Hokitika area. Thanks to the gold rush, by 1866 Hokitika was the most populous settlement in New Zealand, boasting a population of more than 25,000 (and more than 100 pubs).

The importance of Hokitika during this period is reflected in Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize Winning novel The Luminaries, ­­­­which is set in Hokitika during the gold rush of 1866. The glory days of the gold rush are well and truly over, and Hokitika’s population is now under 4000, but while the gold may be gone, the rivers of the West Coast can still divulge a highly prized treasure: jade. In fact, jade has a longer, deeper history in the area than gold, and the region around Hokitika was once prized by Māori as an important source for this sought after mineral.

When visiting Hokitika it is easy to be transported several centuries back, to the high and smooth fields of the riverbanks, and bits of sliced jade can be viewed as a reminder that some stones were trimmed down by primitive flake knives. Hokitika later became an important hub for the greenstone trade between New Zealand and Germany. The trade began in the 1860s with Joseph Klein, a watchmaker and jeweller who collected greenstone from the area and eventually began to purchase large quantities from local Māori. He would send the greenstone back to Germany where it would be cut and polished, later to return as beautiful greenstone earrings and crucifixes.

Rotorua: a cultural heart

Our Rotorua store is located in the North Island of New Zealand. Rotorua is known throughout the country as the home of ‘Māoridom'. The thermal activity that is at the heart of much of Rotorua’s tourist appeal can be famously smelt before it is seen. There are also stunning botanical gardens and historic architecture located within the town centre. Visit Lake Tarawera, located 18 kilometres to the east of Rotorua, which is the scene of the famous Pink and White Terraces that were destroyed in the Mt Tarawera (Te Otukapuarangi) eruption. Discover the geysers and boiling mud pools as well as piping hot thermal springs and Te Wairoa ("The Buried Village") which is named after it was buried by the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption.

Rotorua is a hub of key tourist activities that showcase and celebrate Māori culture. From being fully immersed in cultural performances like 'kapa haka' (the term for Māori performing arts), to enjoying piping hot food cooked in the ground (known as a hangi), or to take an exhilarating jet boat tour of Lake Rotorua. Rotorua specialises in being a centre for both entertainment and knowledge and is considered to many as the heartland of New Zealand Māori culture. Global visitors have the opportunity to experience the warm spirit of Te Māori (te, meaning 'the') amongst the bubbling geysers and geothermal activity.

Rotorua, a Māori word meaning literally "second lake", was originally settled by the Māori of the Te Arawa iwi (meaning tribe). Various important Māori legends and stories are based in this area including Hinemoa and Tutaneka, which is perhaps one of New Zealand's most famous love stories. The founder of Rotorua was a Māori explorer named Ihenga in the 14th century. The first Māori inhabitants arrived shortly after his discovery, transported by canoe from Hawaiki in Eastern Polynesia.

Take a tour of our inviting Mountain Jade Rotorua store, where our friendly and knowledgeable staff will take you through the workshop and share the knowledge they've accrued over 25 years. Learn all about the symbolic meanings behind your favourite designs, and spend time in the workshop where you’ll meet our carvers and see the tools that they use to carve jade into art. You’ll leave feeling inspired and appreciative of this marvellous mineral, as well as the skill and artform of our master carvers. The guide will discuss where our jade is found, how it is formed, the variations in colour of the stone as well as the many cultural influences our carving artists draw upon. Our tour guides will go over the cultural significance and meaning of the designs and symbols we often reference, and you'll be given the opportunity to ask questions and watch our carvers transforming jade into an art.

Each Mountain Jade pendant is more than just an object or possession, it's a gift for generations. Our carvers all feel a deep sense of artistic responsibility with each stage of the carving process, and there are many things to consider, from the geographical origin of the stone, the colour and texture, through to the cultural inspiration for the design. In his book, Jade Country, prominent New Zealand and Dutch artist Theo Schoon spoke of the deliberation a carver must go through and the aspects he or she must consider when approaching a design for the first time. He states that are many factors which play a part in designing and carving with jade and each one needs to be carefully considered. Mountain Jade honours the unique cultural importance of greenstone in many ways,  from our 100% sustainable courier bag to our commitment to ensuring our designs last for generations. Combined with the sustainable sourcing of our precious New Zealand pounamu, we also source greenstone from all over the world including Canada, Russia and Australia to ensure we are supplying our customers with the highest quality jade. You can discover more about our Mountain Jade stores and tours here.

If you're after an in-store experience like no other, our Mountain Jade Auckland Airport store offers a unique way to discover and learn all about greenstone. Our approach has always been to educate people about New Zealand pounamu and international jade, and our Auckland Airport store plays big role in this. The shop space is designed to guide customers on their own journey of discovery and using the interactive displays you'll be able to uncover the meanings behind the designs and the unique origins and properties of the stones.