Back to the Stone Age: Bone Carving and Caving

The theme of today was not deliberate but somehow we are going back to our early roots as humans to do some bone carving and then check out a cave in the Paparoa National Park. With human settlers only believed to have got to New Zealand in the 1300s, we want to give New Zealand the Stone Age era that it deserves!

In reality, the Maori used to carve bones and greenstone (pounamu) into weapons and necklaces to show status in the tribe (iwi). The designs have different meanings, which has now become a gold mine for souvenir shops in New Zealand. However, what’s more special and personal as a souvenir from New Zealand than making your own?

The hidden bone carving studio

We hit the road from Punakaiki and make our way to the nearby Barrytown. All we have for the Skeleton Crew Carving Studio is an address (well, we do have more instructions only Robin doesn’t read them). We get to the address have a walk around a house and some storage containers aaaaannnnd no one seems to be here.

Just as we’re about to lose all hope, a Stray bus arrives! The hop-on hop-off bus has four or five passengers who are doing the bone carving today. Since the driver comes here all the time, he points us and his passengers in the right direction: open the farm gate, follow the pebbled path into the wood, cross the bridge, and into the small shack. Oh, it seems so obvious now!

A wild bone carving location!

Karen, our bone carving expert, and three enthusiastic dogs welcome us to the studio – a small room covered in all sorts of weird and wonderful things! One wall is decorated with bone carved necklaces with some template designs on a bench in front. The work stations around the rest of the room have carving machinery among piles of cow bones, carved ornaments, and all sorts of tools. Even the ceiling is decorated with vines.

 

The bones of backpackers who didn't pay The bones of backpackers who didn't pay
Choosing a Maori design Choosing a Maori design
How can you not get distracted? How can you not get distracted?
Getting those intricate details! Getting those intricate details!

Choosing our Maori designs

First things first, we need to choose a template design and sketch it onto a piece of cow bone. Although there are many great designs to choose from, we can modify them in anyway. As it is traditional in the Maori culture to gift necklaces (or, at least this is true for pounamu, we’re not sure on bones), we are making a bone carved necklace for each other. This could be disgustingly cute or it could go horribly wrong. We ain’t no artists!

The ground rules

The rules are, we choose the template we want the other person to carve. Of course, the other person has to do a wicked carving and not screw it up!

Twists, hooks and hidden meanings

So Laura goes for a design of a double twist, meaning “Bonding, long lasting friendship and the bondage of two people in love” (Lame!), mixed with a hook meaning “Strength and determination, abundance and prosperity, and safe journey over water”.

Robin goes for a no-nonsense hook.

Then, Robin gets a creative spark and starts designing some subtle carvings for inside the necklace. A line and few dots for Laura’s necklace. And as Laura should have suspected, Robin then makes some carving requests for his necklace. He wants a koru (spiral) in the middle of the hook meaning “peace”.

Karen’s little helpers hard at work

Creating our masterpieces

Now that designs have been established, Karen gets us started by drilling holes in the intricate parts of the designs we would screw up, then gets us on a sanding machine to get rid of the excess bone. From there, we move to another machine to carve some smoother edges around our design. Once that’s satisfactory, we use a pen-like tool to smooth the edges.

Along the way, we are all comparing our progress with the Stray passengers and have a bit of a banter with Karen. The dogs also occupy our time with their ball games!

The end result

Three hours later, we carve our final modifications. (Robin pushing Laura out of the way when he sees the koru she is carving is not curved enough). Karen polishes up the carving and BOOM! We have ourselves some professional-looking necklaces here! They actually look really good – they’re something we can happily gift to each other.

As much as we like to congratulate ourselves, Karen did an awesome job of keeping us on track. But now, we need to get ourselves back on track to explore the Punakaiki Cavern today, so we say goodbye to Karen and the dogs, and hit the road.

What do you think? What do you think?
Exploring the mysterious Punakaiki Cavern Exploring the mysterious Punakaiki Cavern
Robin has the best seat in the house. (Yes, this is our house now). Robin has the best seat in the house. (Yes, this is our house now).

The Punakaiki Cavern

We park up once again at our place of stay, the Punakaiki Beach Camp, and walk just 10 minutes down the road to The Cavern.

Nestled in the nikau palm trees, a wooden staircase leads to the Cavern entrance. Torchlight ready, we crouch through. One tiny side cave leads to a dead end. Other parts of the Cavern follow a small muddy stream – But, dammit we are not black water rafting today!

Beams of light

The cave suddenly opens up to a large opening with light busting through the nikau palms on the outside. It’s pretty astonishing! (See, how we have been reading a thesaurus? We did not say “stunning”).

It’s not a big cave compared to Waitomo or the ones we went to recently near Karamea, but you can’t deny how fun it is to explore a cave by yourself – no matter what the size is!

That stone age feeling

Clasping our bone-carved necklaces and exploring a cave, we feel like we truly achieved a Stone Age lifestyle today. (Did we make that joke already? Damn).

We don’t know if it’s because we have been in the dark for so long, but the walk back from the Cavern to the beach camp seems so much more beautiful. On one side of the road, there are sheer cliff faces with nikau palms impressively hanging on in the most steepest sections. On the other side is the sight and roar of the waves crashing onto the rocky coast – a coast we’ll get to enjoy a lot more of tomorrow as we continue on the coastal road down to Lake Brunner. See you then!

Laura and Robin

Jumping through the Punakaiki cavern!
Jumping through the Punakaiki cavern! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Yipee! Then read these lovely pieces of literature:

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See you tomorrow!

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Comments
  1. This looks amazing! What was the cost for the caving session?

    Comment avatar Camila
    17/05/2018 at 4:33 pm
    1. I can’t recall the price but it was relatively cheap, well under $100 I think.

      Comment avatar Robin
      18/05/2018 at 5:55 am
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