Fossicking for Greenstone in the Shaky Isles

By Ann O’Driscoll

After attending a family wedding in Auckland we had the opportunity to try our hand at fossicking for gemstones in the South Island of New Zealand and our base was to be Hokitika, the home of greenstone. Although NZ doesn’t have the brilliant gemstones of Australia, it does have Nephrite Jade (known as greenstone or pounamu), kyanite, obsidian, agate, and a gem so rare we knew we’d never find any, namely, goodletite, which is a form of ruby rock made up of ruby, sapphire and tourmaline crystals, set in emerald green fuchsite unique to the Hokitika region.

A couple of days after the wedding we took the short flight to Christchurch, picked up our hire car and drove to the city hotel we’d booked. When we arrived we were horrified to find the once beautiful centre of Christchurch no longer existed. We knew a lot of the buildings had been destroyed or damaged in the dreadful earthquakes of 2011 but we hadn’t expected to see this amount of devastation almost a year after the event. We were feeling more than a little depressed as we left Christchurch the following day to continue our trip through the Southern Alps via scenic Arthurs Pass.

The journey from Christchurch to Hokitika only takes around three hours but we detoured via Greymouth to visit the historic Brunner Mine where 65 men died in 1896 in a dreadful explosion; the worst mining disaster in NZ’s history. There was also a memorial to the 29 men who died at Pike River in 2010, which is only 25km from Brunner Mine on the same coal seam.

Late afternoon we arrived at the batch (beach cottage) we’d booked for just A$65 per night and while we were getting organized the owner called in and told us of some interesting relics that had been found on the beach out front. A while ago, after a severe storm, an early morning beachcomber had found dozens of gold sovereigns strewn along the water’s edge, and more recently, a visitor staying at the cottage had found a beautiful greenstone adze, now on loan to the local museum. He told us to look for the telltale seam of black sand that signified a washout where relics might be found.

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