Commonly associated with the ancient celts of the UK and Europe, stone masonry was actually practiced in New Zealand hundreds of years ago by Māori, who used it to create paths and walls long before the arrival of European settlers.

When the Europeans did arrive in Aotearoa in the mid-1800s, stone masons performed an integral role in the creation of churches and public buildings from as far south as Invercargill to the tip of Northland. There was no shortage of material, with an abundance of schist and limestone available for the masons to work with, and to this day the aesthetic of the buildings in each province correlates strongly with the geological makeup of the surrounding land.

Old stone quarries abound in New Zealand, the most notable being Halswell Quarry in Christchurch, which was a working quarry right up until 1990. The stunning blue-grey stones that were dug up from this quarry adorn a number of historically valuable buildings in the city, including the Old Provincial Chambers, the Arts Centre, and the Sign of the Takahe.

The art of stone masonry begins with the extraction of the stone from the earth, and the shaping of the stone is called ‘dressing’. Dressing is achieved by chiselling away excess material with various tools, such as chisels, mallets, or in the case of well-known limestone quarry, Oamaru Stone, a state of the art 5- axis cutting machine (let’s face it, the old ways can be a bit time consuming!).

Dry stone walling involves stacking the stones in such a way that mortar isn’t required. A truly ancient skill, this method requires real artistry and a keen knowledge of physics. Stone structures these days are more commonly built using mortar, a combination of water, sand, and cement, to fix the stones together, and a skilled mason will ensure, through adjustments in both colour and texture, that the mortar is a feature in itself.

Traditionally, stone masonry skills have been passed down through families or learned on the job through apprenticeships. The Lavas Family, of Auckland Stonemasons fame, are a case in point. The family’s ancestors practiced the craft of stone masonry for over 1000 years on the Dalmation coast, and their current practitioners are the third generation to practice stone masonry in New Zealand.

For those who haven’t had the fortune to be born into a masonry family, the Otago Polytechnic’s Cromwell Campus offers a two-year course in stone masonry, the only full-time programme of its kind in the country.

Stone is an incredibly long lasting, non-toxic material with a low carbon footprint, and it requires little to no maintenance. Limestone is the easiest stone to work with as it has an even grain, doesn’t crack and is soft enough to cut into a myriad of shapes and sizes.

If you are keen to find out how to incorporate stone into your next build give Dustin from Oamaru Stone a ring on 03 433 1134 or email

Interested in the idea of becoming a stonemason yourself? Talk to the experts at the New Zealand Stonemasons Association at