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About New Zealand Jade


Jade goes by several names in New Zealand, it also referred to as:

  • Nephrite,
  • Greenstone,
  • or Pounamu.

Where does Pounamu come from?

The West Coast region of New Zealand (South Island) is a primary source for Pounamu. The minerals that are present in the earth where the stone is formed give jade its colour and texture. Jade is a metamorphic rock formed under intense heat and pressure within the earth’s crust approximately 300 million years ago.

Tectonic plate movement moved the rock up towards the surface of the Southern Alps. Here the lenses were worn down by the elements, and jade was slowly exposed from its softer enclosing rocks. As historical glacers shifted Pounamu travelled down the valleys and rivers. Today it can be found in West Coast rivers, mountains and the sea.

We do not mine jade in New Zealand and regard it as our taonga (treasure).

The legend behind Pounamu

The legend begins with Poutini, a taniwha that swims up and down the west coast of the South Island. Poutini protects the people and the mauri (life force) of Pounamu.

One day Poutini comes across a woman named Waitaiki bathing in the Bay Of Plenty sea. Poutini is captivated by her beauty, kidnaps her and flees to the south.

Upon discovering she is missing, Waitaiki’s husband, the chief Tamaahua, tracks them south. His pursuit of his love was persistent. Poutini took refuge on the West Coast, eventually stopping in Milford Sound.

Once he realised that Tamaahua would not give up his pursuit, Poutini decided that the only way to keep Waitaiki with him was to turn her into his essence. He transformed her into Pounamu and laid her down in the Arahura River.

When Tamaahua discovered his wife had been turned to stone he let out a tangi (song of grief).

Types of jade found on the West Coast

Māori looked to their environment before giving names to all the different colours of Pounamu or Nephrite jade they encountered.


Bright to dark green with black spots and marks. Named after the leaves of the native pepper tree.


Pale green to pearly-whitish. Prized for translucent qualities. Named after whitebait, a small native fish.


Speckled or streaked with red. ‘The blood of the weka,’ extremely rare.


Bright green with white cloud or snow-like inclusions. ‘Upland Snowflake’ – commonly found in South Westland.


Quality carving stone, light (apple) green with light streaks which can resemble clouds. Free of flaws and very translucent. ‘Of the sky.’


A light coloured opaque stone with obvious brown spots. Named after the native trout.


A green stone with orange or rust colours included. ‘Flower jade’ – named after the blossom of the karaka tree. One of the rarest jade varieties found in the world, found in the Marsden area of the West Coast. Highly prized by Māori and jade collectors alike.

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