Bone Carving with a Side of Pancakes


Pancakes. Fluffy, home style warm pancakes served with crispy bacon, caramelised bananas and smothered in maple syrup. That was our incentive for an early start from the picturesque YHA in Westport where the weather was less than enticing. I am not even sure where most of us thought we would put the pancakes. I had vowed never to eat again after devouring Nippers mouth watering burgers complete with beetroot, fried egg and a side of chips from the local chipper the night before. Yet there I was along with everyone else up and ready to go by the crack of dawn for pancakes.

Of course, there were other incentives though too. The Pancake Rocks Cafe is situated across from the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, which we were told was well worth a brisk walk around the cliff path at 7:45 in the morning. The cliffs are made from limestone and unbeknownst why to geologists, quite literally resemble stacked pancakes jutting out of the ocean. The erosion by the constant crashing of the sea has created blow holes along the coast and that coupled with the pancakes give the area an otherworldly look. It is beautiful!

The main reason though for doing all of this at a fast forward pace in the early hours was that seven of us had signed up for bone necklace carving with Skeleton Crew Bone Carving. It hadn’t been on my list, nor in my budget but I figured I wanted to buy one so why not learn to do something different and make something at the same time that will have much more meaning behind it.  It turned to be one of my favourite things I did over the course of my trip.

We were dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere. A large farm gate led to a large chicken coop, lush garden and a pathway down to the workshop. The sky threatened rain and everything around us was magnified in colour after the evenings rainfall. We were led down a moss covered rock trail through the woods over a babbling brook. I felt like I had walked into “Frozen”and “Brave”. I expected rock trolls to emerge at any moment and to then find ourselves at the witches cottage. The path came out to a small clearing with a floor of round polished beach stones, a little campfire smoking away and the workshop itself which seemed to have come to an agreement with Mother Nature on using the space. Inside, vines crept through cracks and bone dust covered most things with a thin white layer. Carvings, tools, papers, covered the room. It was fantastic.

We were all introduced to our two teachers, Karen and Dana and then asked to choose our design from the wall behind us. A selection of finished pendants hung on the wall with a piece of paper beside them explaining what each meant in Maori traditions. Hei Matau- The Fish Hook for strength, determination, abundance and prosperity, safe journey over water.  The twist or crossover – one twist represents eternity and the path of life, two twists represent a last friendship or the joining of two people, and lastly the Koru, the new bud of a fern represents peace and tranquility, new beginnings and regrowth. For someone who has a hard time make decisions on a regular day trying to pick a pendant design that “spoke” to me took a bit of time. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one as we all hummed and hawed. Finally I landed on one that combined the hook with the spiral/Koru (at least I thought it did) but it had a whales tale as the end of the hook. For me, the ocean cures most things. It is mystifying, powerful, calming and beautiful all at the same time. If I ever have had a bad day the first thing I want to do is be by the sea and I felt that the design I had chosen said that in a nutshell. The trick would be to make it look like that.

I was given a piece of bone about the size of my palm and asked to trace the pattern onto it. Karen then got the piece started by cutting out a very rough area around the pattern. She then showed me how to use to two different sized sanding belts so I could sand down the sides, the tail and around the curl in the middle. I couldn’t hear everything over the other machines but I followed how she did it visually and got down to the business of making it my own. Once this part was done, you start sanding it by hand. There are three different sand papers to use and it’s a lot of sanding! It felt like forever but wasn’t probably that long. I’m sure Karen and Dana  got tired of us asking whether we could stop yet. The end product was well worth the sanding.

At the end we walked away with pieces that were uniquely ours. Each one somehow seemed to have taken on the qualities of whomever had made it, looking a bit like them at the end. I am still amazed that I made mine when I look at it and know that couldn’t have come away from New Zealand with a better souvenir.



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