South Island Stone Collecting Trip, May/June 2020 – Days Six to Ten

As mentioned in the first Post of this Series, I am undertaking a three-week stone collecting trip to the South Island by car. I am posting up-dates on Facebook for family and friends, then re-posting them here. 

Day Six, Gore to Riverton, Visit to Back Beach – A cold but sunny day in the south! Arrived at Riverton at lunchtime. Visited the Back Beach for about 45 minutes as the late afternoon sun was going down. Were a few people there, enjoying the end of the first long weekend under Alert Level Two. 

The stones on the Back Beach are a very mixed bunch. Most are rough and don’t look good candidates for polishing. However, I have often been surprised at how well they turn out after spending time in the tumbler barrel. The key is to see the potential of the colours and patterns. I found very few fossil worm cast stones despite them having been much easier to find earlier this year.

Day Seven, First Visit to Gemstone Beach – Warmish cloudy day, spent three hours on Gemstone Beach with my sister Helen. About 10 other people were on the beach at different times as well, one was a local collector of hydrogrossular garnets I had met before, and three were Czech people stranded in NZ by the Covid-19 pandemic, undertaking a South Island tour in Level Two. Helen and I first went to the left of the carpark where stones are not usually deposited on the beach. Today there was a good selection there. 

We then dropped our initial finds off in the car before walking to the right, past the Taunoa Stream. About 500 metres in that direction we started to find a few small hydrogrossular garnets. Overall, many interesting stones on the beach.

Day Eight, Second Visit to Gemstone Beach – Another warm day, spent four hours on Gemstone Beach with my sister Helen. We timed our arrival for just after high tide and decided to move westwards along the beach towards the Waimeamea River mouth, just over one kilometre away. However, we were initially unable to cross the Taunoa Stream so spent 30 minutes or so on the beach near the carpark until the tide went out a bit more and the Taunoa Stream went down. We then made our way towards the Waimeamea River, arriving there about two and a half hours later, collecting stones all the way. 

Another hour saw us back at the carpark, just as a cooler breeze was getting up. We found a few hydrogrossular garnets, as well as some nice specimens of fossil worm cast stones, along with a good number of colourful and interesting patterned stones likely to respond well to tumble polishing.

Day Nine – Too wet and windy, stayed inside.

Day Ten, Third Visit to Gemstone Beach – A cold front moved through yesterday and the temperature has dropped. However, I dressed warmly and headed to the beach. Ended up spending five hours there. Arrived just before high tide, and the waves were high and powerful, forcing me initially to look for stones at the foot of the cliff at the back of the beach. 

I went about one kilometre past the Waimeamea River mouth, further than I have gone before. I dropped off a couple of stashes of stones along the way to pick up when returning, so my backpack would remain as light as long as possible, though by the time I got back to the carpark it was quite heavy!

See here for the next Post in this Series.

Stay-at-Home Day Twenty-Two, Thursday 16 April 2020: Stone Twenty-Two

Stone Twenty-Two is a hydrogrossular garnet found on Gemstone Beach last month, polished last week. Stone Eleven was the classic gooseberry-green hydrogrossular whereas this stone is a light grey colour with white clouds within it.

The “white clouds” up close are reminiscent of ice floes in a fog-covered freezing sea.

Riverton Museum Te Hikoi has a collection of hydrogrossular pebbles that display the range of colours and types.

Hydrogrossular garnets in Riverton Museum. Photo taken by me in December 2016, with permission of Museum staff.

The next Post in this Series is Stay-at-Home Day Twenty-Three, Friday 17 April 2020: Stone Twenty-Three. The first Post is Stay-at-Home Day One, Thursday 26 March 2020: Stone One

Stay-at-Home Day Eleven, Sunday 5 April 2020: Stone Eleven

Stone Eleven is a green hydrogrossular garnet. It was found on Gemstone Beach early in March this year, only a couple of hundred metres from the car-park, on the edge of Taunoa Stream. It is still undergoing the polishing process, having just come out of the pre-polish tumble and about to go into the final stage, the pro-polish tumble.

I had planned to highlight hydrogrossular garnets as one of the three main polished stones from Gemstone Beach in the display I was preparing for the now-cancelled Whanganui Rock and Mineral Club Show later this month. The photos below are of a rough mock-up of the display in my office at home.

I had written the following to accompany the stones: 

Gemstone Beach is most well-known amongst collectors and craft jewellers for the hydrogrossular garnets that can be found there. Unlike the garnets we know as precious gems, hydrogrossular garnets come from dense masses, not crystals. Generally, a hydrogrossular stone has some transparency (you can see some light through it) and it feels waxy. It shines brightly on the beach when wet. The “grossular” part of its name is derived from the Latin word for gooseberry, because of the light-green colour of many hydrogrossular stones. However, white and brown are two other common colours, with pink and grey also known. Hydrogrossular stones are easily polished and make excellent pendants. Maori used hydrogrossulars as hammer-stones because of their hardness. Garnets are types of stones which tend to form in metamorphic rock, under intense heat and pressure. Technically, hydrogrossular garnets are a calcium aluminium garnet with hydroxide partially replacing silica. The other main place to find hydrogrossular in New Zealand is around Nelson. The first ever identification of hydrogrossular garnet in the world was in 1943 from Nelson, and it is the most widely spread of the 13 minerals first described from New Zealand.

Stone Eleven is pendant-shaped and is a medium-sized stone. When held up to a light source, it is only partially translucent, with light being able to shine through solely along the thinner edges. 

For more on hydrogrossular garnets, see my previous Posts, What are Hydrogrossular Garnets?,  Why are Hydrogrossular Stones Called Garnets? and Why are Hydrogrossular Garnets found in Nelson and Orepuki?

Note: The next Post in this Series is Stay-at-Home Day Twelve, Monday 6 April 2020: Stone Twelve. The first Post in this Series of Stones is Stay-at-Home Day One.

TumbleStone Calendar 2020

Happy New Year wishes to everyone!

In December I moved house from Cambridge to Whanganui. Everything was shifted by Christmas, and most of the unpacking has now been done.

However, the shed I will use for tumble polishing is still in the process of preparation.

Early in January, after the moving and unpacking, I quickly put together a calendar for 2020, using Diamond Photo online. For each month, the Calendar has a set of photos, just slightly smaller than an A4 page, with another A4 size page below it containing the month’s dates. The main internationally-recognised holidays are noted, along with some of the main New Zealand ones.

I was very pleased with the quality of the finished product.

If you want to buy one for yourself, email me at It will cost you $25 (postage included, in New Zealand).

The following are the sets of photos for each month in the Calendar – these are all photos I took in 2019, most but not all of which appeared on TumbleStone blog last year:
January – Riverton scenes
February – Close-ups of Gemstone Beach stones
March – Fossil worm casts in rocks at Tihaka Beach, near Riverton
April – Hydrogrossular garnets
May – Gemstone Beach scenes
June – Fossil worm cast stones
July – Larger stones found on Gemstone Beach and the beach near McCracken’s Rest
August – Polished stones from Gemstone Beach
September – Henderson Bay scenes, Riverton
October – Polished stones, collected by my sister Helen on Gemstone Beach
November – Close-ups of fossil worm cast traces
December – Polished stones, collected by Sam, my sister’s grandson, on Gemstone Beach.

Why are Hydrogrossular Garnets found in Nelson and Orepuki?

At the end of my first Post in this series, What are Hydrogrossular Garnets?, one of the questions I raised was why hydrogrossular stones are found in New Zealand primarily in two regions more than 400 kilometres apart, in the Nelson area as well as around Orepuki, at the top and bottom of the South Island.

I have come to associate hydrogrossular stones with Gemstone Beach at Orepuki because they are not found anywhere else on the southern coast. I have heard third or fourth hand of someone who found one on a Riverton beach but the point of that story was how unusual this was. I have spent more time on Riverton beaches than Gemstone Beach but have found hydrogrossulars only on Gemstone. Sources of information such as Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand often mention only Gemstone Beach as where you can find them in New Zealand.

When I undertook more careful research on hydrogrossular garnets it came as a surprise that the area around Nelson was treated as a key source area.  In the entry on “Hydrogrossular” in “A Photographic Guide to Rocks and Minerals of New Zealand” by Nick Mortimer, Hamish Campbell and Margaret Low (2011), it is noted that the world’s first occurrence of the rock was described from the Nelson-Dun Mountain area by Colin Hutton in 1943 (more on this in a later Post). It does go on to note that hydrogrossular can be found on Gemstone Beach as well as in the streams and rivers east and south of Nelson city.

Photographic Guide p34 bottom Jocelyn Thornton, in “The Field Guide to New Zealand Geology” (2003), reports that “grossular garnet” can be found in the Dun Mountain area, “found in translucent green masses that can be polished” (page 69), as well as in the Roding, Lee and Maitai Rivers in Nelson (see first photo below for Thornton’s geological map of Nelson area). She points out that rodingite, a rock named after the Roding River, a mixture of grossular and diopside or diallage, can also be found in Cascade Creek in the Eglinton Valley near Milford Sound (see the second photo below, from Te Ara The Encyclopeida of New Zealand). “From there the grossular garnet makes its way through the lakes and down the Waiau [River], being tumbled into the rounded pebbles that can be found with a little effort on Orepuki Beach” (page 70). A 1969 research paper by J. G. Williams at the Department of Geology at the University of Otago had identified hydrogrossular in rocks in the area around Cascade Creek in the Eglinton Valley. Thornton’s book includes a photo of hydrogrossular from the Nelson and Orepuki areas (Plate 1E, opposite page 136 – see third photo below). Riverton Museum has a sample of hydrogrossular from the Eglinton Valley (see fourth photo below). In a  2018 “Southland Times” column (second item), local journalist Lloyd Ester reports: Southland’s Gemstone Beach has the best assortment of unusual pebbles in New Zealand. A combination of ocean currents, shape of the coast and the proximity of the Waiau River – the source of many of the stones – means that the rarities are concentrated along a short strip of beach. The best known of the “gemstones” are grossular garnets which are distinguished by their gloss and weight.” Nevertheless, the Waiau River is relatively young, in geological time. For instance, Thornton presents a map of what the Western Southland-Fiordland area would have looked like about 50 million years ago, the Waiau Valley being under sea (see fifth photo below). It’s possible that some of the hydrogrossular rock that became pebbles on Gemstone Beach were swept there by ocean tides millions of years ago.  

To return to the question being examined in this Post: Why are hydrogrossular stones found in New Zealand primarily in two regions more than 400 kilometres apart, at different ends of the South Island? This distribution is not random but is in fact part of a much larger pattern. The first map below, found in a Google image search, shows that the sequence of terranes in Fiordland, Southland and Otago is repeated in Nelson and Marlborough. A “terrane” is a floating bit of the earth’s crust that butts up against a continent (New Zealand is part of the Zealandia continent, much of which is under water – see second map below). This disjunction in the terranes leads to the idea of there being western and eastern geological provinces making up the South Island (see third map below, from a 2013 article in “Gondwana Research”).  New Zealand consists of at least 10 terranes (see pages 41-42 of Peter Ballance’s, 2017, “New Zealand Geology: An Illustrated Guide”  for a list and description). But these have been partially rotated and then split by the Alpine Fault. As shown in the map by Jocelyn Thornton (fourth map below), the rocks (terranes) demonstrate that Northwest Nelson and Fiordland were once together. The two sources of hydrogrossular garnets may be 400 kilometres apart now but they are in the same terrane and 25 million years ago were in the same locality.  

The Alpine Fault runs for about 600 kilometres along almost the entire length of the South Island. It is a segment of the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate (see map below, from Wikimedia). The Southern Alps have been uplifted on the fault over the last 12 million years in a series of earthquakes. However, most of the motion on the fault is sideways, with the Tasman district and West Coast moving north and Canterbury and Otago moving south. Horizontal movement of the Alpine Fault is about 30 metres every 1,000 years, which is very fast by global standards. Each time it has ruptured, it has also moved vertically, lifting the Southern Alps in the process. GNS Science estimates that in the last 12 million years the Southern Alps have been uplifted by  20 kilometres, and it is only the fast pace of erosion that has kept their highest point below 4,000 metres. Glaciers and rivers have removed the rest of the material and spread it out across the lowland plains or onto the sea floor (and beaches!). The Alpine Fault was not recognised until 1941 because the area was rugged and isolated, and earlier generations of geologists did not have the advantage of having an aerial view.

In conclusion, hydrogrossular garnets are found primarily in two regions in the South Island more than 400 kilometres apart because of the way that the Alpine Fault has split whole terranes of rocks and moved them sideways, south to north. 

The next Post in this series looks at how hydrogrossular garnet is one of 13 minerals that were first described in New Zealand. 

Information on the four photos at the top of this Post:

First photo: A sample of hydrogrossular garnet from the Eglinton Valley, in a drawer of rock samples in the Riverton Museum, Te Hikoi.
Second photo: A compartment of hydrogrossular stones and at least one quartz stone, from my own collection of polished stones.
Third photo: Handful of hydrogrossular garnets from Gemstone Beach, on page 155 of “The Story of Murihiku/Southland – A synopsis: An overview of Southland’s Heritage” by Russell Beck, Cathy Macfie and Lloyd Esler, April 2007
Fourth photo: Rodingite rock sample, from Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Why are Hydrogrossular Stones Called Garnets?

These four photos are of hydrogrossular garnets discovered on Gemstone Beach, near Orepuki (the last two photos are of the two sides of the same stone). They don’t look like garnets, do they? We are used seeing garnets like this:


The word “garnet” comes from the 14th‑century Middle English word “gernet”, meaning “dark red”. It is thought to be derived from the Latin “granatus”, from “granum” (meaning “grain, seed”), and possibly a reference to “pomum granatum”, the pomegranate, a plant whose fruits contain abundant and vivid red seed covers which are similar in shape, size, and color to some garnet crystals. In fact, garnets can be found in a wide range of colours, although red is the most common.

In a previous Post, What are Hydrogrossular Garnets?, it was noted that the chemical composition of hydrogrossular garnets is hydrous calcium aluminium silicate and that hydrogrossular garnets hardly ever occur as good crystals but rather as dense masses. This Post aims to explain why hydrogrossular garnets are called garnets and why they are not crystals.

Stones are made up of at least one mineral, often more. A mineral is a solid chemical compound that occurs naturally in pure form. These ideas have led to the view that rocks are to be officially named and identified by means of a scientific description of, among other things, the chemical make-up of their constituent minerals. (Other things that help to identify minerals include hardness, “specific gravity” meaning density, “lustre” or how it reflects the light, “cleavage” meaning its tendency or not to break along smooth planes parallel to zones of weak bonding, and colour.) So what is a “garnet” or not depends on its chemical make-up. I am not a chemist so my understanding, as presented here, is based on what sense I can make of a range of material, some of it quite technical.

In the section on “Garnet” in, it is noted that Garnet is the name used for a large group of rock-forming minerals: These minerals share a common crystal structure and a generalized chemical composition of X3Y2(SiO4)3. In that composition, “X” can be Ca, Mg, Fe2+ or Mn2+, and “Y” can be Al, Fe3+, Mn3+, V3+ or Cr3+.

Click on the Table below to see how different types of garnets have different chemical compositions in which the X and Y position for chemical elements vary: 

The Note on this Table (above) points out that “the compositions listed…are for end members of several solid solution series”. In other words, there are gradations in the series of stones we call garnets and when we group them we are breaking up a continuum, creating “end members” at the start and end of each group. “Garnets are a related group of minerals whose chemical compositions can vary continuously from one to the other” (p. 160 in Busbey et al., 2013, “Rocks & Fossils“). There is actually a wide range of types of garnets that are grouped in various ways. Wikigempedia reports that the garnet family is divided into two sub-groups, Pyralspite which is Calcium-free garnet and Ugrandite which is Calcium-rich garnet. Almandine (iron-aluminium silicate), Pyrope (magnesium-aluminium silicate), and Spessartine (manganese-aluminium silicate) are the main members of Pyralspite sub-group, and Grossular (Calcium-aluminium silicate), Andradite (calcium-iron silicate) and, Uvarovite (calcium-chromium silicate) are the members of Ugrandite sub-group.

The excellent article on Garnet in Wikigempedia presents a table which summarises the common properties of all garnets as well as the variations in chemical formulae for three types of garnets: 

We are now able to make a little more sense of the Wikipedia entry on hydrogrossular, mentioned in the previous Post, where it states:

Hydrogrossular is a calcium aluminium garnet series (formula: Ca3Al2(SiO4)3−x(OH)4x, with hydroxide (OH) partially replacing silica (SiO4)). The endmembers of the hydrogarnet family (grossular, hibschite, and katoite) depend on the degree of substitution (x):
grossular: x = 0
hibschite: 0.2 < x < 1.5
katoite: 1.5 < x < 3.

The latter part of this statement is in effect saying that there are slightly different types of hydrogrossular caused by varying degrees of replacement of silica by hydroxide in the stone.  

The article points out that garnets in general have a “vitreous [glassy] luster, a transparent-to-translucent diaphaneity [transparency], a brittle tenacity, and a lack of cleavage.” Furthermore, they can be found as individual crystals, stream-worn or beach-worn pebbles, granular aggregates, and/or massive occurrences (“massive” meaning lacking internal crystalline structure).

Wikipedia explains that hydrogrossular is “found in massive crystal habit, sometimes grown in with idocrase [another mineral]”. In terms of its transparency, hydrogrossular is “translucent to opaque”, and can be found in the colours of green to bluish green, pink, white, and gray. The cause of the green color is chromium, and possibly iron. Pink hydrogrossular is caused by the presence of manganese. Hydrogrossular may also have dark gray to black small inclusions.

Wikipedia mentions that hydrogrossular garnet has similarities to jade. This can perhaps be seen in the way in which it can be carved – see Russell Beck’s carvings in Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

I am unsure why hydrogrossular garnets are not clear translucent crystals like other garnets can be. I have not found any explanation for that. My suspicion is that it has to do with their water content, the “hydroxide” component. This might “cloud” the stones in their composition.

The next Post in this series, Why are Hydrogrossular Garnets found in Nelson and Orepuki?, will consider why hydrogrossular garnets can primarily be found in two main regions in New Zealand, the Nelson area and the south-west of the South Island, some hundreds of kilometres apart.

What are Hydrogrossular Garnets?

I first came across reference to hydrogrossular garnets when gathering information online about the stones that could be found on Gemstone Beach, Orepuki, on the south coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Some brief descriptions of Gemstone Beach include comments along the following lines:  “Semi-precious gems such as garnet, jasper, quartz and nephrite can often be found on the beach. A few hours beachcombing could easily yield gems such as hydrogrossular, jasper, fossil worm casts and the elusive sapphire” (quoted from information about the Riverton–Aparima South Coast Heritage Trail. See also Nature’s Edge: Tuatapere and the entry on Gemstone Beach.) The source of this description could be a Heritage Trail sign that, to my knowledge, is no longer at Gemstone Beach (I don’t recall having seen it on any of my visits).

Gemstone Beach Heritage Trail

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand mentions hydrogrossular garnets in the following terms:

Calcium-rich garnet is called grossular. A red form, found in South Westland, is known as hessonite. Another variety, containing some water, is called hydrogrossular and was first identified at the Roding River near Nelson. It is also found on the beach near Orepuki in Southland. Rounded lumps of pale green hydrogrossular take a good polish and have been used for jewellery.   Hydrogrossular pebbles, being heavy and exceptionally hard, were used by Southland Māori as hammer stones for the making of stone implements

In many ways, all this information raised more questions for me than it answered. What does a hydrogrossular garnet look like? Is it a valuable gemstone, like other garnets? Why is it a garnet? How often can these stones be found on Gemstone Beach?

For a while, I mistakenly referred to them as “hydroglossular” (“…gloss…” not “…gross…”), thinking that because they were likely to be shiny they would be glossy. On my first few trips to Gemstone Beach, I decided that there was a particular stone that was probably a “hydroglossular”, even thought it seemed quite dull. It was a grey stone that was kind of a dull quartz-like thing, looking like there was water within its fabric (the “hydro” part).

I collected some and tried polishing them but they were very unremarkable stones.

So what does “hydrogrossular” mean? Wikipedia gives an answer that refers to the physical-chemical make-up of the stone: 

Hydrogrossular is a calcium aluminium garnet series (formula: Ca3Al2(SiO4)3−x(OH)4x, with hydroxide (OH) partially replacing silica (SiO4)). The endmembers of the hydrogarnet family (grossular, hibschite, and katoite) depend on the degree of substitution (x):
grossular: x = 0
hibschite: 0.2 < x < 1.5
katoite: 1.5 < x < 3.
Hydrogrossular is a garnet variety in which a Si4+ is missing from a tetrahedral site. Charge balance is maintained by bonding a H+ to each of the four oxygens surrounding the vacant site.

So the “hydro” refers to “hydroxide”. Consulting Wikipedia again, hydroxide consists of an oxygen and hydrogen atom held together by a covalent bond, and carries a negative electric charge. It is an important but usually minor constituent of water. (I will comment on other aspects of the above physical-chemical description in the next Post in this series.) 

If you look up “grossular” in Wikipedia, you discover that “the name grossular is derived from the botanical name for the gooseberry, grossularia, in reference to the green garnet of this composition that is found in Siberia”. 

It wasn’t until someone I met on Gemstone Beach about a year ago showed me some hydrogrossular stones he had just picked up, and actually gave me a couple, that I realised what they looked like and, just as importantly, what they felt like. They feel waxy, not the same kind of smoothness as a quartz stone, which is cool to the touch in contrast to the more “warm” feel of a hydrogrossular.

The Riverton Museum, “Te Hikoi”, has a small room which displays stones from the area, linked to an exercise of stone collecting set up for children on holiday. It includes a few hyrdrogrossular stones. With the permission of Museum staff, I took some photos of the display and of the drawers of rock samples in this room.

The Southland Museum in Invercargill, now closed due to problems with Earthquake strengthening, had a Minerals display which included a non-smoothed rock of hydrogrossular garnet. 

On page 34 of the excellent “A Photographic Guide to Rocks and Minerals of New Zealand” by Nick Mortimer, Hamish Campbell and Margaret Low (2011) is an entry on “Hydrogrossular”: 

Five key points made in this entry are:

1) Its chemical composition is hydrous calcium aluminium silicate.  

2) Hydrogrossular garnet hardly ever occurs as good crystals but rather as dense masses.

3) It can be found in the Nelson area as well as around Orepuki.

4) It is one of 13 minerals first described in New Zealand. 

5) It was first identified by Colin Hutton in 1943.

In the next Post in this series, Why are Hydrogrossular Stones Called Garnets?, I will look at the first two points, with Points 3, 4 and 5 the subject of later Posts.