Pounamu Pathway: Journey to a land of legends

The Pounamu Pathway is a groundbreaking tourism initiative on the South Island’s West Coast, celebrating the region’s cultural, historical, and natural heritage.

Through creative storytelling and world-class experiences within four interconnected experience centres — Māwhera (Greymouth), Awarua (Haast), Kawatiri (Westport) and Hokitika — it offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime journey through the rich traditions and history of Aotearoa and the people of Poutini Ngāi Tahu.

A joint venture between Poutini Ngāi Tahu and Wētā Workshop, the pathway was opened by Regional Development Minister Shane Jones in February this year, and is already boosting local economies through visitor numbers and employment growth on the West Coast, with experience centres now open in Greymouth (Māwhera) and Westport (Kawatiri). Two more centres will open in Awarua and Hokitika.

The growth in job opportunities spurred by the Pounamu Pathway has been significant, with numerous local businesses, suppliers, and personnel contributing their expertise and dedication to the project.

This includes a diverse array of roles, from skilled labour, to the creative input of a design team and project management professionals and front of house staff. Additionally, the collaboration with local Poutini Ngāi Tahu artists underscores a commitment to showcasing regional talent and enriching the cultural fabric of the project.

Behind the builds
The Pounamu Pathway has been managed by Sam Summerton of Smart Project Management. Māwhera was designed by RM Designs and built by Tony Wilkins Builder, with creative input from Wētā Workshop, and Christchurch-based Art Fetiche.

Poutini Ngāi Tahu
Poutini Ngāi Tahu are the people of the West Coast region of New Zealand’s South Island, specifically the related hapū of Ngāti Waewae, and Ngāti Māhaki. They have a deep connection to the land and its cultural heritage, which they share with the world through the Pounamu Pathway.

Wētā Workshop
Wellington-based Wētā Workshop brings imaginary worlds to life by delivering concept design, physical effects, collectables, immersive visitor experiences and games to the world’s entertainment and creative industries. Established by Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, they’re well-known for work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and Dune, various immersive visitor experiences, and Wētā Workshop Unleashed.

Walking the pounamu path

Get ready for an immersive experience like no other on the West Coast, with the opening of the impressive, immersive Pounamu Pathway.

A  cultural experience transcending boundaries,  the pathway beats through the heart of Te Tai o Poutini (the West Coast). A vision sparked by Ngāti Waewae chair Francois Tumahai, this vibrant, interactive, cultural experience, offers a window into the resilient culture of Poutini Ngāi Tahu.

“We really are creating a world-first cultural experience. We’re putting Poutini Ngāi Tahu on an international stage, while also bringing opportunities to the whole region,” says Francois.

The milestone was achieved with the support of  Kānoa – Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit, which is aimed at enhancing economic development in the regions. The pathway centres are set to be a cornerstone of the West Coast’s economic revitalisation, providing local jobs and attracting visitors from near and far.

For the centres, the Government granted $17.87 million from the provincial growth fund in 2020, and it was matched with $17m from Poutini Ngāi Tahu, which is made up of Makaawhio and Ngāti Waewae rūnanga.


Māwhera (Greymouth)
The experience focuses on the core themes of the Pounamu Pathway: Ancestors, Settlements, Battles, Legends and Trade, all represented in a ‘whare’ built around a central ātea (courtyard) space.   The free-roaming environment invites visitors to choose their own path and explore the incredible stories within.  They’ll encounter the Poutini Ngāi Tahu ancestors, Tūhuru, Papakura, and Moroiti up close, visit battlefields, and learn about the sacrifices made for Ngāi Tahu to become the Guardians of Pounamu.

Kawatiri (Westport)
Westport’s Coaltown Museum has undergone a significant update to unveil its new identity as The Museum of Kawatiri, the second experience centre to open along the Pounamu Pathway. An enriching journey through the cultural and historical treasures of the region; its primary focus is on coal, gold, and pounamu, allowing visitors to delve into the rich history and cultural significance of these precious resources. Four exhibits – Wealth of the Land, Early Settlement, Ecstasy of Gold, and People Pou – take visitors on a captivating journey to learn about the geological (and galactic) origins of three highly prized and precious elements, each shaping the face and history of Kawatiri.

Awarua (Haast), Hokitika
Two more Pounamu Pathway experience centres are under way. The Haast centre in the existing Department of Conservation visitor centre will be the next to open in June 2024. The Hokitika centre will be in a new building after the rūnanga’s pounamu store is demolished, and is expected to be open by the end of 2025.

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