Carving Greenstone and Flying Over Stewart Island

It honestly feels like life moves at its own pace in Stewart Island. It’s a holiday away from our holiday on the southernmost populated island in New Zealand. In the true holiday spirit we are going to make our own little souvenir to take back with us onto mainland New Zealand. Today, we’re going to carve our own greenstone!

The Stewart Island way

Before we head on over to Rakiura Jade Studio, we have a quick coffee at the famous and only pub in Stewart Island. A lady approaches us asking if we are Robin and Laura. Indeed, that is us – the ones that look like overly keen tourists with all our camera gear. We’re quite easy to spot…

“You need to check into your flight for tonight and I will pick you up from the pub at seven,” says Anna, from Stewart Island Flights. Erm, Ok! Usually you would receive some sort of instruction via email or phone, but no, not in Stewart Island! Your activity operator will find you in the local pub! Love it!

A jade carving studio with a view

Anyway, just a short walk along the waterfront we spot a sign for “Greenstone/Jade/Pounamou”. Whatever you want to call it, you will find it here in the Rakiura Jade Studio!

Upstairs is a jade carving studio with an awesome view! The boats bobbing up and down in the crystal clear waters of Halfmoon Bay with the sun shining through the window on jade carving work stations, finished pendants, and fabric paintings of native New Zealand birds covering the walls.

We are greeted by Dave, the master carver and our tutor today, Bean, an expert in carving pounamu bowls, and their teeny tiny dog, Wharo (apologies for the misspelling of this Maori name – but we are going to nickname him the “unimpressed dog” because he always looks unimpressed). Before getting down to making our own creations, we check out all of Dave and Bean’s works of art and look at all the stuff we will not be making! Paua shells, intricate feathers, kiwi birds… They specialise in original designs not seen anywhere else in New Zealand.

Introducing the toki

As for our designs, Dave suggests that we have a go at a traditional toki – a long thin piece of greenstone shaped like a chisel. It’s productive, plus you can give it slightly different 3D dimensions and choose a type of greenstone that attracts you to truly make it your own.

Although it’s safer to make a souvenir for yourself, with greenstone, it is more traditional to give a greenstone pendant as a gift. For that reason, we’ll be carving a greenstone pendant for each other. The pressure is on!

Laura gets to work on her jade necklace Laura gets to work on her jade necklace
Sanding away at our creations Sanding away at our creations
The unimpressed dog is unimpressed by his new seat The unimpressed dog is unimpressed by his new seat
Tah dah! Our new greenstone necklaces! Tah dah! Our new greenstone necklaces!

Choosing our greenstone

Robin chooses a light greenstone with a mix of black and yellow colours called flower jade for Laura’s necklace, while Laura picks a dark mossy green stone for Robin known as kawakawa jade. And, yes, we know what sort of stone we are carving for each other, thanks to Dave! Dave really educates us about this hugely significant stone to the Maori and New Zealand culture throughout the whole carving process. In between cutting, grinding and sanding our stones, he shares how greenstone is made according to the different iwi (tribes) of Maori in New Zealand.

Let the carving begin!

Despite Dave giving us easy-to-follow guidelines on adding a curve to our stone, Robin has rushed straight into it by chipping off a piece right in the middle of the stone… Oops. Meanwhile, Laura is being so careful that he greenstone has the subtlest of curves… Nevertheless, we are liking how the designs represent their carvers. Robin likes to rush right into things, while Laura completely overthinks it.

The greenstone carving experience

A day in a jade-carvers studio is a pretty relaxed one. About half the time we are sanding away at our stones with different sanding sponges, trying to polish them to as close to perfection as we can get. The other half of the time, we are chatting away, eating lunch, drinking tea, playing with the irresistibly cute but unimpressed puppy, watching the waves gently crash onto the bottom of the building, and learning more about Stewart Island and greenstone in general… It’s all in tune with Stewart Island life.

Once our greenstone pendants look sexy and shapely enough, we polish the stones with nature’s best polish: our own oily skin! We admit, it looks pretty weird rubbing a stone on both sides of your nose, but, man, it really works! Our creations are looking kinda professional!

Master carver Dave inspects Robin’s work

Plaiting our way to magic!

Carving a greenstone pendant was half of the job. Now we need to plait a string to create a necklace! Dave shows us the ropes – literally. He has four pieces of string attached to the wall and starts doing a four-way plait. This blows Laura’s mind who, as a female species, has been brought up knowing how to do a three-way plait. Robin and Laura have to work together to achieve anything close to what Dave has started for us.

Despite punching each other a few times, we finally get into a rhythm. The hardest part is the string so we are able to adjust the size of the necklace, which is a whole new looping process! (Admittedly, Dave does most of this part for us).

The finished product

Tah dah! We finally have our very own Stewart Island greenstone necklace! There’s no better souvenir than one that you can associate a whole experience with it. We’ve had an awesome day with Dave, Bean and the unimpressed dog in what we bet the most scenic jade carving studio in New Zealand.

Stewart Island from the sky! Stewart Island from the sky!
Hiking our way to the Mason Bay Hut Hiking our way to the Mason Bay Hut
The night's sky as seen from the Mason Hut! The night's sky as seen from the Mason Hut!

Jetting off to Mason Bay

A change of pace from greenstone carving, we are now power-walking back to the Stewart Island Backpackers wearing our newly-made greenstone. We need to get packed and prepared for our flight over across Stewart Island to Mason Bay!

As arranged with Anna from Stewart Island Flights at the pub, we are picked up outside of the pub and taken to the Stewart Island airstrip where a small plane is landing right in front of the van. Once the plane has stopped, Anna drives us right up to plane where we meet Raymond, our friendly pilot!

Stewart Island from the skies

Robin’s taking the co-pilot position in the front of the plane, while Laura is in business class of this, say, 10-seater plane. No matter where you’re sat, the views from this plane are incredible! We fly over the undisturbed forest of Rakiura National Park, which covers 80% of Stewart Island.

Inlets, bays, rugged coast: we get a a whole new perspective of the dramatic coastline of Stewart Island. As we fly over a winding river, Raymond tells us that this is the river we are going to be walking to tomorrow, Freshwater River. By taking this flight to the other side of the island, we are able to do a coast to coast journey back by hiking a water taxi tomorrow!

Meanwhile, in Stewart Island flight 143…

Landing on the beach

The scenery quickly changes to rolling sand dunes as the plane gets lower in preparation for landing. And where are we landing? Right on the beach!

Mason Bay is a long-stretching beach (it needs to be to land a plane on it!) backed with sand dunes and completely deserted apart from a few shorebirds (and sandflies). We land with the sun starting to slowly make its way over the horizon. Magic!

“Welcome to Mason Bay. It takes three days to walk here; six minutes to fly here,” Raymond announces. Yep, we kind of cheated but it’s not everyday you get to experience a super scenic flight like that!

Kiwi spotting at the Mason Hut

From Mason Bay, we find the orange markers and pick up the track through the sand dunes and to the Mason Hut – our digs for tonight. After nattering for far too long with the other hut-dwellers, we sort of miss the sunset when we head on top of the sand dunes. Nevertheless, dusk creates a sensational view of the sand dunes and coastal cliff silhouettes in the distance. It’s an amazing feeling, being alone in the wilderness as far south as we will ever go.

A night full of stars

Night finally falls when we get back at the Mason Hut. The sky is full of stars thanks to the lack of light pollution for kilometres and kilometres around. This is what camping on Stewart Island is all about: stargazing and searching for kiwi birds. We are unsuccessful with our kiwi spotting tonight, but join us tomorrow where we continue the search early in the morning and start making our way back to Oban through the Stewart Island wilderness. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Watching the sunset from the sand dunes
Watching the sunset from the sand dunes Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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