“I’m so happy to have a job that I enjoy and am passionate about. But also the fact that I can be at home, here on the family land that I was brought up on. In this area, to have a job is a really big thing. So the fact that I can have a job and a lifestyle that suits me is really great.”
Norm Parata grew up in Te Poia, East Cape, NZ. His mother is also from East Cape and he is now proud to be able to watch his grandchildren grow up here. “To me this is heaven on earth – you’ve got the rivers, the sea, the land. It’s beautiful here. This is home, this where I belong. I love the lifestyle and the people.” Each day starts with Norm meeting his beekeepers at their shed and making a plan for the day depending on the weather.
On a fine day they will get out beekeeping but on a gloomy or rainy day they work in the shed preparing boxes or frames. But beekeeping is not just about making money for Norm, it’s also about relationships and being able to live in this beautiful remote coastal region. “You wake up here, the birds are whistling and the cows are mooing,” explains Norm. “There’s real freedom and peacefulness living here.”
“We’re a tight community. It’s like we are all related and we know each other so well so we look after each other in general. Kids are a big part of our lives.” Norm grew up with many of the people he is now working with, which is why he is so pleased to see the landowners finally get paid a proper return for allowing hives to be placed on their land. “It’s good to see the landowners finally getting paid properly, instead of being ripped off by all these hit and run beekeepers.” NZ Mānuka is the first business in New Zealand to establish an open partnership between the beekeepers, landowners and manufacturer.
This partnership ensures everyone who contributes to the process, from land to customer, gets a fair and equal share of the income generated from sales of the honey or oil products. “NZ Mānuka pays our landowners well,” agrees Norm. “They’re finally getting paid what they’re worth. Instead of the other way where the outsiders came in and took all this honey off poor old nanny’s land that has been handed down to her through generations.
They would just drop off a couple of jars of honey at the gate. But how much had they taken from her land?” Norm started beekeeping in 2002/2003 when his brother and sister bought 250 hives, and asked if I would be interested in beekeeping. Since then, he has never looked back. Now Norm is hoping his sons and grandchildren might continue with beekeeping as well. “When you come up here, you respect the land. It’s a spiritual place up here.”
At 20yrs old, Mere Vaka has her sights set on a long and successful career as a beekeeper. “I think it’s an exciting job. It’s a bit of a challenge because there aren’t a lot of female beekeepers but I really enjoy it.”
Originally from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, Mere called her grandfather, Eddie Matchitt, in 2013 to ask if she could move back to the East Cape and live with the family there. She wanted to return to the land and lifestyle of the East Cape, and she saw beekeeping as an opportunity to earn a living as well.
After two years as an apprentice, Mere is very happy with the decision she made. “It’s more than just a job, it’s also the responsibility of caring for the bees. I really wanted to do something that I was passionate about.”
Mere clearly has a passion for beekeeping, “Spraying is my favourite part of the whole year. During the winter the bees look weak, a little bit hungry and the colony sizes are quite small. Then spring hits, and you go from a colony of 3-4 frames to a full box in a matter of weeks. That’s a drastic change.”
“Another fun part is harvesting,” says Mere. “We do all this stuff during the rest of the year, and we finally get to harvest the honey and we get lots of extra people in to help us out.”
Mere would like to eventually have her own hives, and run her own beekeeping business.
East Cape landowner, James White (on right), owns and manages the 2000 hectares in partnership with his older brother and sister. “Most of our work is done on horseback as the land is pretty steep. It’s summit country here so we get snow in the winter.”
Predominantly a sheep and beef farm, James also keeps sections of his property as Mānuka bush as part of his partnership agreement with NZ Mānuka Group. James is also pleased the honey is now bringing a new income opportunity for everyone in the region. “It’s a beautiful lifestyle – there’s the sea and the mountains – and we can make a living on the land.” Norm (pictured on left) is the beekeeper, and a good friend of James, who manages the hives on James’ farm. James is always happy to welcome Norm onto his property, and enjoys seeing him there.
“Norm was a beekeeper before it became popular,” says James. “It’s always interesting to see him.” James’ two boys have also discovered a passion for beekeeping. While one lives and works on the East Cape, his other son is now beekeeping in Australia. “Everbody knows everybody here, so you have to get on. That’s the lifestyle.”
“This land belonged to our people before me. I came back and I purchased it free-hold but it was never the intention to up and sell it. It was never an intent to purchase for profit. To me, this land is Māori land, Maori title,” explains landowner, Eddie Matchitt, pictured here with his grandson, James. “I hope the next generation will value that too.”
Perhaps that is also what gives the land so much meaning to him. “We are right out on the limb of NZ. A job and an industry that will last is a good thing for all of us,” says Eddie. “People here have tried many different activities to try to make the land productive – from ostriches to pine trees. Right now the honey industry is booming for us.” Eddie is particularly pleased to see the high level of professionalism and transparency brought into the industry by NZ Mānuka Group. He believes this sound base platform for doing business with integrity is what will stand them all in good stead if there were to be a downturn. “In the past, it was a bottle of wine and a bucket of honey that was left at the gate in return for the use of the land.
At the time we thought this was a kind gesture,” says Eddie. “The change started to happen when one person came and offered $5 per hive to use their land, then another person came along and offered $10.” It didn’t take long for the landowners to realise that the Mānuka on their land was of value, and many started to wonder if they were getting a fair price for keeping this scrub plant on their land. Indeed Eddie is still concerned about the practices used by some beekeepers to bypass the process. “There are so many beekeepers that drop their hives without asking, and their bees are robbing our resources. They might put them on the other side of the fence but their bees are flying onto our Mānuka. They travel from all over New Zealand and use our Mānuka”.
NZ Mānuka Group company founder, Phil Caskey, saw how badly the industry was being run in 2010. The honey industry was relying completely on the beekeepers yet the landowners, on whose properties the Mānuka plant is growing, received little to no return at all. “Phil was the main driver with his belief that the landowner was important and must have an advantage as well,” confirms Eddie. “Phil was the main driver with his belief that the landowner was important and must have an advantage as well.” Phil and Eddie met over a cup of coffee one day.
Phil expressed his concern that the landowners were not getting a fair return for the use of their land. Eddie is pleased to note that the deal they made that day is still in place today. “It is a long way from a bucket of honey at the farm gate. Now most of the big land blocks that I’m on receive an entry price of $50 per hive plus there is a top-up at the end of the year to bring us up to the 35% profit share with the beekeeper and NZ Manuka.”
Eddie believes that the landowners who took up a partnership with NZ Mānuka are much better off. “Other companies are now coming in and offering higher percentages but there is no transparency. I now get three times more return from the same amount of hives.” “It’s working for me,” says Eddie. “I’m comfortable.”
A farm and forestry worker most of his life, Bill always enjoyed working with machinery. Being mechanically minded, he immediately started thinking about how to use machinery to cut down Mānuka during his years as a scrub clearer. Today his dream has finally become a reality, although instead of clearing Mānuka for forestry he is now trimming the plants for processing into Mānuka oil.
Although fine-tuned and adjusted to the specific needs of the Mānuka tree and oil processing business, Bill is proud to see his original idea for a mechanical harvester finally become a reality. Working in partnership with New Zealand Mānuka Group, it was a pure coincidence that Bill walked into the office looking for a job when he mentioned is backyard project.
Bill McClutchie, plantation, harvest and development manager at New Zealand Mānuka Resources, part of the New Zealand Mānuka Group, explains his fateful meeting with company founder and managing director, Phil Caskey. “Phil had just taken over the business when I walked in the door, and he was looking for someone to do mechanical harvesting.”
“I said, ‘Well you don’t have to look any further then, I’m your man!”
Hand harvesting 300kg per day of Mānuka brush, Phil was understandably sceptical of Bill’s claim that his home-built mechanical harvester could cut up to two tonne per day. A month later, after numerous trials and further development on the machine, they soon surpassed all expectations and were cutting five tonne of brush in a day.
“Phil’s got a good way of putting things,” Bill explains. “He inspires you to do things and he lets you do them. When I come up with an idea, he always listens and generally supports the things I come up with.”
The development of Bill’s mechanical harvester has been so successful that NZ Mānuka Resources has already invested in a second harvester which is currently being built, and expected to be operational in the New Year. This means more people will need to be employed and trained to not only drive the machines but also process the brush and all other inputs of the business from the Mānuka plantation to the final oil produced.
“We’re a true local industry, so everyone working for us will be local,” confirms Bill. “It’s a huge investment what we’re doing but Phil has always been very clear about ensuring all work goes to the local people, and that the local community is supported.”