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  • Writer's pictureTwo Skies

The Great McIntosh Family Adventure (Part 2: New Zealand to Australia)

Updated: Jun 29

The next intriguing part of our journey took us to the picturesque west coast of the North Island, near the cool little town of Hokitika.

Hokitika is a captivating town where a beach stroll reveals stunning views of snow-capped peaks, an abundance of cafes, a vibrant arts scene, and friendly local characters eager to share stories.

Can you guess what we were hoping to find there? It was the renowned nephrite jade of New Zealand, known as pounamu to the Māori people. Pounamu is considered sacred and has protections in New Zealand - in order to legally gather the precious stone, you must be a direct descendant of the local “Iwi” or tribe.

Fortunately, in nearby Arahura, Jasper and I were lucky to meet and receive a very warm welcome from Rory and Willow - the Tauwhares are a local family who are traditional custodians of the stone in this area. The Tauwhare family offered to take us out on an exploration along the Arahura river to look for our own pounamu with their blessing. Peter Jnr is well-known for his incredible eagle eye and effortlessly spotting pounamu hiding amongst ordinary rocks in the waters!

Situated along the western coast of the South Island, this river meanders its way into the Tasman Sea. In earlier times, the lower sections of the river played a significant role in gold production (now depleted). The river's beautiful turquoise glacier waters now yield pounamu as the only remaining natural resource extracted from its depths.

The Tauwhares also graciously granted us permission to set up camp along the idyllic banks of the river. It was there that young Jasper embraced his role as an explorer, while I attended to our nightly camp duties. I have to say, this boy really has an uncanny talent for discovering hidden treasures - look at the whopping piece of gorgeous pounamu he found! No one can deny that he's a real chip off the old block!

The following day, with Peter and Rory leading the way, we embarked on a mission to retrieve a mammoth jade boulder that had been washed down from the majestic Southern Alps which bear this remarkable stone. We followed all the necessary protocols, seeking permission from the landowner and even enlisting the help of a friendly farmer and his trusty tractor.

We arrived to find a massive 300kg pounamu boulder, a behemoth of impressive size - the likes of which Rory and Peter reckon had not been seen since the 1970s! The work was challenging, but our determination knew no bounds and we emerged triumphant. We proudly transported the magnificent specimen back to the Tauwhare workshop, ready to unlock its hidden potential.

Pounamu mere at the Tauwhare workshop

The skilled Tauwhares intend to slice and carve the boulder into "mere," the legendary ceremonial battle clubs wielded by fierce Māori warrior chieftains. This transformation will serve as a powerful tribute to the raw power and rich heritage of the land. Māori artisans also take great pride in creating traditional, chunky jewelry carved from pounamu, and the family generously provided us with smaller offcut pieces for a future Two Skies jewellery collection. We are so excited to be able to offer genuine Māori pounamu to our customers, obtained with full blessing and permission. Here's a wee glimpse of the exquisite pounamu offcuts we acquired - each piece carries with it a wealth of stories, embodying the grandeur of the Arahura River and the profound generosity of the Tauwhare family - such an honour. We are so thankful for this beautiful part of our journey; and our last gem-hunting adventure on the New Zealand leg of our travels.

After enjoying some much-needed quality time with Roberta and Jasper, the time came for us to temporarily part ways. We shared concerns about Jasper, given his young age, joining me in the inhospitable environment I was about to venture into. With Roberta and Jasper remaining in New Zealand for their own series of adventures, I embarked on a solo journey to southwest Australia, driven by one singular goal - to engage in some serious opal hunting!

Embarking on an 11-hour bus journey from Adelaide, my final destination was the unique and intriguing town of Coober Pedy. This nostalgic trip held a special significance, as it was a rough parcel of Coober Pedy Opal received during my first visit 20 years ago that jump-started the 'Two Skies' business.

Arriving in Coober Pedy at the crack of dawn, the bus dropped me off at the local church. Half-asleep, I found solace outside the church's entrance, unknowingly settling down to catch up on sleep on the edge of the nearby graveyard. An unintended camping spot, to say the least! I gathered myself and eagerly awaited the arrival of the local miners, who would gather for the church service at 10 a.m. It's true that not many miners attend religious services anymore, but the chance to witness an underground chapel firsthand was definitely a worthwhile experience.

And so, my hunt commenced, only to hit an unexpected roadblock - the miners at the church were unable to assist me, as mining operations had significantly declined over the past 20 years. Disappointed by this turn of events, I abandoned the idea of meeting miners at the church and instead stationed myself outside the beer store, eagerly approaching anyone likely-looking or wearing muddy boots, hoping to strike a conversation about opal. Surely I could get a foot in the door here?

However, during the initial days, my frustrations loomed large. As the churchgoers had warned me, the mining community had dwindled, with only a handful of individuals pursuing this line of work. The few active miners chose to remain inconspicuous, preferring to keep tight-lipped and to themselves. Many of them harbored distrust towards questioning newcomers in the town, their wariness heightened by the surge of unwelcome attention brought upon their industry by the popular television series "Outback Opal Hunters."

I didn't expect to spend long, hot days with no leads - find out how my luck went in the next blog!

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