Carve Your Own Pounamu – New Zealand Jade


With a deep spiritual significance in New Zealand, Pounamu, also known as Jade or greenstone, has been used by Māori for jewellery, weapons and to denote status. In the past, carving Pounamu was a skill left to those with the know-how, talent and equipment, but nowadays backpackers can get a deeper understanding of this traditional appreciation by carving their own design.

In Hokitika, along the west coast of the South Island, you can create a souvenir of your time in New Zealand. Under the guidance of Steven Gwaliasi at Bonz ‘n Stonz, you will be brought through the entire process and after a day’s work you will leave with a one-of-a-kind carving.

“After you finish your piece the sense of achievement is huge because you have something to show for your creativity,” said Steven. “Carving gives you a freedom to express yourself.”

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To give you a glimpse of the process involved, here is a step-by-step guide into how I designed a pendant.

Step 1 – Choose A Design New Zealand carving designs were developed by the Māori over hundreds of years. These days many pieces are contemporary interpretations of traditional designs such as the hei matua (fish hook), the tiki (representing man) and the manala (serpent form). I decided to go with a koru which symbolises new beginnings, growth and harmony. It has a similar look to a Celtic spiral which I figured was a suiting design to represent my travels in New Zealand (I’m Irish).


Step 2 – Choose Your Pounamu There are many types of pounamu that vary in colour and background – Kawakawa, Inanga, Totweka, Kahotea, Kahurangi, Kokopu and Raukaraka. For my design we went with Kawakawa, which is dark green with black streaks and named after the leaves of a native pepper tree.


Step 3 – Cut & Shape After drawing the design on the stone, it needed to be cut down to size and shaped in order to begin the carving process. Steven cut a rough circle around the Pounamu, showed me how to shape it and away I went. I was advised to turn the stone into a dome or UFO shape because it would make the final product more aesthetically pleasing.

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Step 4 – Drill & Carve Next I drilled a hole in the centre so I would have a place to begin carving the spiral into the stone. This was by far the most difficult stage of the process, but Steven was always on hand to get at the hard to reach places. Traditionally this was done with abrasive stones and hand drills made from flax rope.

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Step 5 – Sand, Buff & Polish Next I smoothened the surface by using a variety of sandpapers before starting the buffing phase. Finally, some oil was rubbed into the stone leaving it with a fine polished look.

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Step 6 – Bind Steven then let me choose a style of string I liked before he wrapped it. After five hours of carving, we reached a finished product and took some time to reflect on our work.

“Carving pounamu is about finding out about yourself,” said Steven. “It can teach you about patience, confidence and spirit.Your carving will always be a reminder of that lesson.”

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Steven also takes on WWOOFers for a cultural exchange. He will teach you how to carve while you help him with his business. It’s a good deal, trust me. Find out more here.


About Author


With a background as a journalist and a chef, Steve loves to travel and find the story at the source of our food. Whether it’s wine, honey, beef, vegetables or fruit, Steve wants to show that volunteer travelling can provide a master class in all things sustainable and delicious.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Steve, Thank you for your well written text. At present , Emmanuel, from german, cabinet maker by trade is woofing with me now. He visited my bonznstonz carving studio about 3 weeks ago. As we started talking regarding his skills and work experiences, he suited to what I have been looking for, and was to build some display shelves to hang more pounamu carved pendants as well as some house and garden repairs work to my family home.Already, Emmanuel had finished pounamu display shelves in the studio. In exchanged for , being taught how to carve his own jade as well as staying and food provided by my familily. Its important a woofer must have some form of trained skills or applied practical skills, Today, he has gone to ChristChurch
    for a short break .

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