The Great McIntosh Family Adventure (Part 1: India to New Zealand)
November 2022 marked the beginning of an incredible journey for the McIntosh family - myself, my wife Roberta and our wee son Jasper - as we were setting off on an epic quest for the next 6 months. Originally planned before the onset of the global pandemic which understandably put our plans on ice, we were excited to be travelling New Zealand and Australia before Jasper started school, with the intention of hopefully grabbing the opportunity to collect new rare and precious gems for Two Skies as we went.
FIRST STOP - JAIPUR!
I went first as one of my first stops was a visit to my workshop in India for a few weeks, where I developed some new designs, oversaw the cutting of some fantastic high-grade Ardownie Agates and purchased gems from some of our trusted gemstone friends. Work done, it was then time to travel onto New Zealand! Before the rest of family joined me there, I was tasked with securing a camper-van (“Delica”), which was relatively easy thanks to the help of my Kiwi mate Craig Robertson. I also had to plan our travel itinerary, a much trickier task - how on earth to fit everything we could possibly want to do, see and experience?! I think I did a good job, as all went to plan and everything was organised by the time Roberta and Jasper joined me in NZ soon after. And with that, we were officially off on our family adventure!
THE NORTH ISLAND - NATURE CROWNS, FOSSIL CHRIS & MOA BIRDS
For the next month we explored the North Island, our travels leading us to Kerikeri, where a chance meeting with a local known as 'Fossil Chris' would yield a particularly rare gemstone. At the Old Packhouse Market, our son Jasper had been selling some of his handmade 'nature crowns' for a dollar each, and it was there we met Chris.
Taking us on a special adventure, Chris brought us to Cooper's Beach, where we spent the day fossicking for rare fossilised coconuts. Afterwards, he invited us back to his house, where he showed us a rare and unusual gemstone collection he had acquired, which comprised of “Moa Gems” – stones found within the habitat of a species of extinct native bird, which collected and eaten them in order help digest its food. The rough rock is typical to the carnelian, agates, jasper, chert, chalcedony and even opal found in the area. It is very sharp , angular and rough - this is why the Moa chose these stones, as they were harder than other stones and therefore more effective at grinding up their food!
A fantastic excerpt from a geological survey by Bruce W Hayward reads:
"A study of records and available collections suggest that Moas all over New Zealand roamed the countryside in search of semi-precious gemstones, which they proceed to collect and tumble-polish in their gizzards. Moas were surely the forerunners of our present day rock-hounds."
This type of gemstone can only be collected if it is found in its natural environment - lying in a pile on the forest floor, in bundles - or crops - weighing anywhere from 1kg to 2kg. These special gems rely on the provenance and honesty of the person who finds them as they have to be found in-situ to authentically determine their origin. Chris was kind enough to give us a handful of these gems to take away, which we will now polish and facet, to create exclusive “Moa Gems” for Two Skies – we do love to be different! Despite being somewhat camera-shy, Chris even allowed us to take a few photos, on the condition we masked his face for privacy. All in all, it was an incredible experience, one we will never forget!
SOUTH ISLAND - PAUA PARADISE
After touring the North Island, we crossed over to the South Island and landed by the stunning Marlborough Sounds, which is a picturesque collection of sheltered inlets, clear waters and sandy bays created by ancient sunken river valleys, filled with the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Here there's a small island, Arapawa, which hosts a special and unique homestead. This is the home of Mike and Antonia Ranon and their family, who are engaged in sustainable pearl farming. In New Zealand, they have a native abalone (a marine gastropod mollusc - aka sea snail!) called Paua, which is eaten as a commercial seafood. The discarded shells, when polished, become an awe-inspiring blue and purple mother-of-pearl. Mike is an expert at raising the Paua, feeding them wild seaweed and nurturing pearls.
We were privileged to join the family for a week, helping with tasks around the homestead, such as feeding the Paua and collecting the pearls to be sold. It was a fantastic experience feeding the young Paua a mix of ground fresh wild seaweed and fish pellets - they can smell the food coming and can become quite animated!
We purchased some of the rejected shells and tumbled them in a cement mixer to make beautiful rounded shapes for our range of new Paua jewellery, to be supplied with both cotton cords and sterling silver settings. We are so grateful to have had an absolutely wonderful week with this amazing, kind-hearted and extremely hard-working family!
Next blog coming soon -
It wouldn't be a gemhunter adventure without searching for Pounamu Greenstone!
*Reconstruction of a South Island Giant Moa (Dinornis robustus) in a domed diorama in the Second Bird Hall, 1972-1996. The model was built much earlier by L. T. Griffin using Emu feathers. Photograph: Auckland Museum. All other photos by the McIntosh family.