Pounamu - The Main Varieties of New Zealand Greenstone 

Pounamu - The Main Varieties of New Zealand Greenstone 

Maori recognised four main types of Pounamu

  • Kawakawa pounamu

    is the most common variety of pounamu. It comes in many shades – from strong rich green to dark green – and often has small dark flecks, called inclusions, which add to its character.

    Variations of kawakawa include the olive-green raukaraka pounamu and totoweka pounamu, which has reddish spots and streaks.

    Kawakawa pounamu is named after the common native kawakawa tree (Macropiper excelsum). Its colour is likened to the leaves of the tree. Pare kawakawa (garlands of kawakawa leaves) were sometimes worn by grieving women at funerals.
  • Kahurangi Pounamu

    is the rarest variety of pounamu. It is highly translucent and often comes in vivid shades of green.

    Kahurangi is named after the clearness of the sky. Small, feather-like markings in the stone can give a cloud effect – although in order to be classed as kahurangi, this effect must not reduce the stone’s clarity. The word kahurangi also indicates nobility and refers to precious jewels.

    Kahurangi pounamu is particularly esteemed by Māori. In the past, it was the preferred variety of stone for the blades of toki poutangata (ceremonial adzes) owned by rangatira (chiefs).

  • Inanga Pounamu

    The inanga variety of pounamu takes its name from inanga – a native freshwater fish (Galaxias maculatus). The young of this species are commonly known as whitebait. Inanga pounamu resembles the pale colour and transparency of the mata (young whitebait).

    Inanga pounamu is described as pearly-white or grey-green, and varies from translucent to opaque. It can change colour over time, developing a light-olive tint as it ages and oxidises. The mere pounamu (nephrite weapon) is an example of this aging.

    Māori sometimes heat-treated other varieties of pounamu at low temperatures to give them inanga’s silvery characteristics. 
    Inanga is found in most of New Zealand’s seven pounamu source areas, and is especially prized by southern Māori.

  • Tangiwai Pounamu

    is clear like glass, and ranges from olive-green to bluish-green in colour.

    Tangiwai is the most ancient form of pounamu. It is bowenite rock, which is different in composition to the more common nephrite. Most tangiwai is sourced from two isolated areas at Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). 

    Tangiwai takes its name from the tears that come from great sorrow. Tangi means "to cry" and wai means "water", or "tears". Koko-tangiwai, the longer name for this stone, refers to a deep sorrow that is never completely healed.

    There are many sad stories that tell of tangiwai pounamu’s origins. In one of them, Waitaiki – stolen from her husband, Tamaahua, by Poutini, a taniwha (supernatural being) – weeps onto the rocks at Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). Her tears form tangiwai, the tear-water stone.


Kawakawa, Kahurangi and Inanga are a type of Nephrite. Nephrite jade is comprised of a calcium magnesium silicate material and contains small amounts of iron which determine the green colour depth.

Tangiwai Pounamu is Bowenite and differs from Nephrite by being made of an iron magnesium silicate material giving it an unusual translucent form.

Pounamu is only found in the South Island of New Zealand giving the South Island its name "Te Wai Pounamu" or "the waters of greenstone". The main greenstone deposits are located around the Taramakau and Arahura rivers in Westland, along the coast in south Westland, Lake Wakatipu in Otago, and Milford Sound in Fiordland.

Global Culture carry a large range of New Zealand Greenstone necklaces and jewellery.

Older Post Newer Post