“The New Zealand Rockhunter” Magazine – 1972-2000


This magazine began life in 1972, “incorporating The New Zealand Lapidary”, a previous magazine that I have yet to find out much about.  I have been looking to access any of these “early” sources of information about rock hounding and stone polishing as there is no doubt much of relevance still to be found there. I have previously searched unsuccessfully online for any copies of “The NZ Lapidary” for sale and have only now realised that “The NZ Rockhunter” succeeded it. I have also just discovered that the Otago Rock and Mineral Club’s website has a link to scans of many of the issues of “The NZ Rockhunter”, the link being found on the New Zealand Geology Information page. Issues from the years 1972 to 1988 and 1998 to 2000  can be found here. A plea has been made for copies or scans of missing issues to be sent. The Otago Rock and Mineral Club’s website also has a section called “The Library”, organised by region, in which are posted a range of articles from “The NZ Rockhunter” and some other sources. This kind of information from many years ago can still be invaluable to rock hounds and stone polishers today.

“Step outside, take a look at the stars…”

Paradoxically, stones are in stars and stars are in stones. In his book The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History (2010), British geologist Jan Zalasiewicz tells the story of a pebble’s history, stretching back billions of years. In Chapter One, “Stardust”, he points out how, at the atomic level, a pebble is a microcosm of the Universe, made up of that which goes back to the singularity of the beginnings of everything: 

The pebble, in this respect, is as deep a mystery as is everything else in the Universe. How did the matter of that pebble, and of the…hills it was torn from, and of the world it sits atop – and of the Solar System and of the Milky Way, and of countless galaxies near and far – manage to unpack itself from a point: a ‘singularity’, as many think, of no size at all? (page 7)

A pebble is made of stardust and in it we encounter not only the depths of the Earth but also the heights of the heavens. Looking down is a way of looking up. Looking into a stone is also to glance across deep dark space and even time. In a stone we make contact with that which is closest to home as well as that which is furthest away. 

“Making Contact” by Bruce Cockburn

Step outside, take a look at the stars
Catch a glimpse of the way things are
Making contact…

Smell of sweet fresh oil on skin
When you move on me like the tide coming in 
Making contact…

So many ways to understand
One for every woman and man
Been that way since the world began

I hear the drumming of the surf and I have to dance
Stepping to the rhythm of circumstance
Making contact…

I feel so huge,  I feel so small
I feel so good I want to swallow it all
Making contact…

Making contact
Swimming in an ocean of love
We move together like the waves
Swimming in an ocean of love
Every night and every day
Swimming in an ocean of love
One world, one human race
Swimming in an ocean of love
One kiss from a smiling face
Swimming in an ocean of love
See that sign coming into view
Swimming in an ocean of love
Mother sea welcomes you
Swimming in an ocean of love
Making contact…

“Beach Stones” by Josie Iselin and Margaret Carruthers (2006)

This is a book celebrating the beach stone in its raw form. Josie Iselin is a photographer and installation artist from San Francisco. She has published seven books which focus on those forms in nature that can be found “at hand” and, in particular, at the beach. She explains in the “Artist’s Note” on page 139 of “Beach Stones”, about ten years previously she abandoned her camera and instead started to use her flatbed scanner to gain a different level of detail in her images. All the pictures of stones in this book are scanned. Margaret Carruthers is an Earth Science writer from Baltimore and confesses to having “a vast collection of rocks” (dust jacket). Among her other books is the co-authored”National Audubon Society First Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals” (2005).

“Beach Stones” is a reflective rather than an investigative work. Stones are objects of intrigue and contemplation. The book collects stones from around the world, including a pair from Greymouth in New Zealand. One review expressed disappointment with the book in that there was not enough information of each stone. But that is not its aim. Its aim is more to get the reader to “really look” at the stones, as Josie has done, and to speak of them in a way that arouses curiosity and leads to further personal engagement with beach stones.

 Physically, the book is 18 cm by 18 cm, consisting of 144 pages. Pictures of stones make up just over half of the book, and many of the pages of text contain just a few lines – the images of beach stones are its preoccupation. It is not expensive (Fishpond.com in New Zealand has it for sale at just under NZ$30). Every now and again, I enjoy spending time with a stone or three from its pages.    


Birdlings Flat I: What the Books say

Birdlings Flat is a beach about an hour’s drive from Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand.

Display in Birdlings Flat Gemstone and Fossil Museum

Lyn and Ray Cooper (1966), New Zealand Gemstones, Chapter 2 “Where to Find the Stones”: Birdlings Flat in Canterbury was, at one time, an excellent source for agates, but supplies are now much harder to find there, mainly because of the area’s close proximity to a large city and the swarms of collectors who have combed it over the past year or so. Good agates can still be found there, but the best time is immediately after a storm, when the sea has turned the surface stones over. (page 28) 

Mrs A. Niethe, “Gemstone Localities: New Zealand” in Bill Myatt (ed.) (1972), Australian and New Zealand Gemstones: How and Where to Find Them: Birdling’s Flat (it is named after the late Mr Birdling, who had a farm there) is part of the shingle spit, some 15 miles long, enclosing Lake Ellesmere. Half-a-dozen rivers along the coast to the west carry these gemstones from the hills inland to the sea. For millions of years the set of the current has swept the gravels north to pile against the basalt cliffs of the Banks Peninsula…  This is the Mecca of New Zealand’s rockhounds, famed for a variety of gemstones that reads like a geological dictionary. Coloured quartz of many types is the most common – jasper; chalcedony, mostly clear or grey or white, sard, sardonyx. petrified wood of various colours – a lot are fractured, after a while you only keep the perfect ones… Stones reached this beach from many parts of the South Island, presumably through glacial action in the ice ages. Rhodonite has been found here, quartzite, jasper from the Livingstone Mountains to the south-west; prase and plasma from the Hinds River, 60 miles away to the west, and true jade as Maori artefacts. Beware, this beach is extremely dangerous. Turning one’s back on the sea to pick over the rising bank of pebbles is almost involuntary, but it is very risky at Birdling’s Flat where the big waves knock you off your feet. (page 436)

Natalie Fernandez (1981), The New Zealand Rockhound, Chapter 5 “Locations”: Hundreds of rockhounds have cut their teeth on Birdlings Beach – just a short run from Christchurch. Here great rollers break on the stony shore throwing forward stones with a roar as the waves thunder up the steeply shelving beach and sucking them back with a clatter as the waves recede. You can look for your agates and jaspers well back from the water-line but they do not show up clearly unless you dig down, for only the surface layer is dry. More exciting is to hunt along the water’s edge. As a wave slides back an agate is spotted. You leap for it but miss as the next wave roars in, driving you back. You never see that agate again. The beach is steep and the undertow strong. The breakers are especially powerful in a southerly and on the in-coming tide. Few can play this game and keep dry. (page 14)    

Fernandez Birdlings Flat
“Birdlings Beach” following page 16, Fernandez, The New Zealand Rockhound

Natalie Fernandez (1981), The New Zealand Rockhound, Chapter 5 “Locations”: Birdlings Flat is 26 miles from Christchurch on the Akaroa Road. Shingle beach for 15 miles. There are still some pickings especially with a N.W. wind and an incoming tide. During a Southerly with rough seas the stones are sucked away again. A slight easterly with calm weather builds up the beach again. There is a strong under-current. The great rivers flowing into the Canterbury Bight bring material from inland to the sea. The current brings them north to be deposited where Banks Peninsula forms a barrier. Petrified wood, jasper, grey clear chalcedony, sardonyx, agate. In 1965 the beach was gazetted as a reserve. It is dangerous. (page 114)

Other TumbleStone Posts on Birdlings Flat:

Birdlings Flat II: Location Map and Satellite View (May 2016)
Birdlings Flat III: Selection of Online Sources (May 2016; up-dated 2019)
My Visit to Birdlings Flat, Day 1 of 2 (May 2016)
My Visit to Birdlings Flat, Day 2: Gemstone and Fossil Museum (May 2016)
My Visit to Birdlings Flat, Day 2: Stone Collecting (May 2016)
Birdlings Flat Stones After First Stage of Polishing (May 2016)
Polishing Agates from Birdlings Flat: Stage One (May 2016)
Another Visit to Birdlings Flat, Late June 2016 – Part One: Taumutu
Another Visit to Birdlings Flat, Late June 2016 – Part Two: Birdlings Flat Gemstone Museum Again
Another Visit to Birdlings Flat, Late June 2016 – Part Three: Seven Types of Stones Collected
TumbleStone Calendar 2019 – February, March, April and May

“The Pebbles on the Beach” by Clarence Ellis (1954/1965)

This book was first published in 1954 (this paperback edition appeared in 1965) but in many ways it is the best book I have so far encountered on the topic of beach stones. It is 20 cm by 13 cm and has 163 pages. Published by Faber and Faber of London, it deals with beach pebbles in the UK but most of its content is relevant to many other localities. This is particularly so of the first four chapters about the beach processes that shape pebbles and the different kinds of  pebbles.

There are four colour plates of stones with accompanying interpretive diagrams labeling and describing each stone. Many of these stones can be found in New Zealand too. 

I bought this book for NZ$26 (including postage) through Amazon, and it came from Langdon e-traders, a UK charity business established in 2014 to employ and support young men and women with disabilities. 

“Australian and New Zealand Gemstones: How and Where to Find Them” edited by Bill Myatt (1972)

This large hardcover book was published in 1972 by Paul Hamlyn – it measures only 24cm by 19 cm but its 511 pages makes for a thickness of 5 cm. It had a nice sized font which makes easy reading, is well-illustrated and well-written, and is a mine of detailed information written for the interested layperson (only some of which is dated).

Aust NZ Gemstones cover

I obtained my second-hand copy, in excellent condition, from K-books in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, through online retailer Abebooks, for just over NZ$50 (shipping included), with only 2 weeks between ordering and arrival.

The book is made up of four main sections: “General Information” pages 9-59, including fossicking methods, mining law and making jewelry (there is great advice on fossicking in the Australian outback, where safety considerations are significant); “Geology” pages 61-137 (with pages 123-130 being on New Zealand); “Gemstone Identification” pages 139-283 (very readable text on the major types, with only the rare black and white photo but with a 32 colour plate section showing many rock types in their natural form); “Gemstone Localities” pages 286-503 including 35 high quality colour map guides to main gem-bearing areas. New Zealand localities are discussed in pages 430-448 and 497-503, sections written by A. Niethe (“New Zealand Gemstones”), W.F. Heinz (“Gold”) and M. Jepsen (“Thermal Regions”). There are entries on the following areas: Coromandel Peninsula, East Coast, Northland, Canterbury, Dunedin, Greymouth, Invercargill, Nelson, and Oamaru. Detailed comments are made of where certain types of rocks have been found, as well as on very practical topics such as road conditions and accommodation in these areas. Of course, most of this information is now out-of-date, written over 40 years ago, but it provides great starting-points for the contemporary rockhound as well as much interesting historical material.

The publisher aimed to produce “a comprehensive book on Australian and New Zealand Gemstones, suitable for the ordinary reader”, with the Localities section presented as “the most detailed account ever attempted”. Lapidary, Gem and Mineral Clubs contributed significantly to the book, as did academic and technical experts on geology and minerals – the result was outstanding and much of its value has not been lost over the decades.      





“A Photographic Guide to Rocks and Minerals of New Zealand” (2011)

This book, published in 2011, has been written by three employees of GNS Science, Nick Mortimer (a geologist), Hamish Campbell (a palaeontologist) and Margaret Low (a science photographer). GNS Science is a Crown Research Institute, New Zealand’s “leading provider of Earth, geoscience and isotope research and consultancy services”. According to the GNS Science website, the Institute’s role is “to understand natural Earth system processes and resources, and to translate these into economic, environmental and social benefits” for the nation.

This book measures 19 cm by 10 cm, has quite a small font size, and consists of 143 pages, in what is referred to on the back cover as a “compact field-guide format”, able to be carried in a knapsack or even back pocket. It sells for NZ$25.99 on the GNS publications web-page but can be purchased in many other places online and off.   

The first 21 pages contains an overview of minerals and rocks. This is followed by a large section of 112 pages of descriptions and photographs of different minerals and rocks to be found in New Zealand. The photographs are numerous and excellent. The text is to the point, readable, and often refers to places in New Zealand where various minerals and rocks are to be found.

Sources of Detailed Instructions for Tumble Polishing Stones

The following are a number of sources I have found useful for the beginning (and also for the not-so-novice) rock tumbler. They share a number of things in common but also often have their own unique ideas or pieces of advice. (I will add to this List as I become aware of more sources).

1) RockTumbler.com “Rock Tumbler Instructions” – A reasonably detailed set of illustrated instructions. This site is based in USA and is the commercial site of a rock tumbler gone into business. It is noted that the owners of this site “publish what we believe is the largest library on the web of articles, videos and blog posts about tumbled stones and rock tumbling”. It is a mine of information – like stumbling upon a whole beach of colourful and already-rounded stones.

2) Alan Silverstein’s site “Collected Information on Rock Tumbling” – Sections on “Quick Start (Rotary Tumbling)” (updated 2008) and “More Detailed Advice on Rotary Tumbling” (updated 2011) – A no-frills but very informative set of instructions and advice. Alan is a software engineer from Colorado, USA.

3) Steve Hart’s book, “Modern Rock Tumbling” (first published 2008) – This whole book is full of useful information and advice on rock tumbling. The middle part of Chapter three is on “Understanding the 4-Stage Rock Tumbling Process”. Available from Steve himself and from all good online book sellers for about US$25.

4) “Professional Gemstone Tumbling” by Lortone (2011) – This is the 21-page booklet that came with my Lortone tumbler when I bought it. It is a set of basic reasonably-sound instructions, a very good starting point. I have not come across a copy of this online anywhere. Note that it is different from the “Rotary Tumbler Instructions and Parts List” that also came with the tumbler and is available online on Lortone’s website.

5) Lortone’s Instruction Videos – These consist of “How to fill a Lortone barrel” and three videos of how to change a drive belt on different Lortone tumblers. 

6) “Rotary Tumbling Guide” from Aussie Lapidary Forum – A more cryptic and informal set of instructions and advice but valuable in how the author shares their rock tumbling experiences and experiments. 

7) YouTube series on Rock Tumbling – Constructed by a US tumble polisher who uses his tumbler a handful of times a year, this series of six videos shows how he goes through the four stages of rock tumbling, using what looks like a 4lb barrel. The fifth video shows the resulting polished stones and the sixth video discusses what he does with his stones (he’s not into jewellery making). [Added 5 July 2019]

The Best Rock Tumbling Book Around – “Modern Rock Tumbling” by Steve Hart (2008)

In 2008, Steve Hart published “Modern Rock Tumbling”, sub-titled “The only complete and up-to-date guide to tumble polishing rocks and stones”. It has just become available as an e-book. I wholeheartedly endorse it. The author, from California, is a mechanical engineer in the mining industry and has a wealth of experience as a home-based rock polisher using both rotary and vibratory methods.  He has a small web-based company, The Little Red Store, started in 2008, which not only sells Steve’s book and rock tumbling equipment and material but also contains some very useful technical tips for those new to modern rock tumbling.

I purchased Steve’s book from Fire Mountain Gems, a US beading and jewelry supply company, as I was not at that stage aware of Steve’s own website. I had seen the book referred to on RockTumbler.com where it is stated: “We have read every book about tumbling that we could find. From that reading we have found that there are only a few books that explain tumbling with great clarity and genuine knowledge. Of those, we believe that Steve Hart has produced the best one. It explains the tumbling process completely and provides enough detail that you should produce excellent results if you follow his instructions.”

“Modern Rock Tumbling” measures 23 cm by 15 cm and is 96 pages long. It sells for about US$25 and is great value-for-money. It is very well organised and the writing is clear and good humoured. There are colourful photographs illustrating key parts of the tumbling process. 

The best attributes of this book are: it is very practical, dealing with the details of rock tumbling, and all advice is based on the author’s wealth of experience; it explains technical issues when of relevance, and Steve’s background in mining is useful here as is the range of people he has consulted in the preparation of the book; and it presents the various options available to the rock tumbler, such as types of tumblers, the various grit sizes, and the characteristics of the various polish powders. I read it after only a couple of weeks of my own tumbling venture and found it directly relevant, immediately useful, and the best I have come across.

(See the review from “Rock and Gem Magazine”, which agrees with me.)    

“Gemstones” by Jocelyn Thornton (1985)

“Although New Zealand lacks the commonly accepted ‘precious gems’ (diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald), many local stones deserve our recognition” (from the Introduction to “Gemstones”).

This booklet, originally published in 1985 in the Mobil New Zealand Nature Series, is long out-of-print but now available online as a pdf file. It is 36 pages long and a great source of information on the range of precious and semi-precious gemstones to be found in New Zealand – from greenstone to agate to jasper to petrified wood, and many more. It contains some great photos of the many different types of stones, supplemented with notes on where these specimens have been found (see below for the entry on “Carnelian”). Reference is often made to places such as Birdlings Flat, Rangitata River,  Orepuki, Kakanui, Mt Somers, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Takaka.

Joyce Thornton also wrote the entry on “Gemstones” for Te Ara, the Online NZ Encyclopedia. This entry has some excellent photos of different types of stones, such as “Silicified Wood and Plant Material“. “Chert, Flint and Jasper“, and “Greywacke Pebbles with Quartz Veins“. In 2004, she received the NZ Order of Merit for services to Earth Sciences.