Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 2 NZ - Arataki Honey Center

I awoke this morning at 9, having had the best night's sleep since I left home. After about an hour of puttering around I drove out to Havelock North, passing numerous vineyards, orchards, and fields filled with fluffy sheep greedily tearing up the luscious green turf. I caught sight of the pacific. It shone iridescent-blue, lapping gently against the grey pebbled shore.

On my agenda today is a visit to the Arataki Honey Center, one of the largest beekeeping operations in NZ. As I drove through the lovely countryside I ached to be outside rather than tied to meetings and schedules. However, the Arataki Honey Center did not disappoint. After being shown around their fun and very educational honeybee learning center, I sat down with John, their beekeeping manager and chatted about small hive beetle and beekeeping in NZ.

I learned a lot of interesting stuff about kiwifruit. Did you know that they are dioecious plants (male and female flowers are on separate plants)? Did you know that they only have viable flowers for 4-5 days? That the flowers do not provide nectar? That the pollen is nutritionally poor? Did you know that it takes 70-80 honeybee visits per flower to get full-sized fruit? Basically, it's one of the hardest plants in the world to pollinate. Kiwifruit growers have done everything they can to make pollination happen. They saturate the orchards with bees for the 4-5 days that they are in flower. They hand-harvest male flowers and spray the pollen over the orchards and the bees.

I also learned a lot about New Zealand's miracle honey plant - Manuka. Apparently they still don't really know what makes one batch of Manuka highly antimicrobial and the next batch not as antimicrobial. Each batch has to be tested as it comes in and after it is packaged before it can be certified antimicrobial. Activity seems to increase with storage up until a certain point. The honey produced from Manuka can be light or dark, and it always darkens with age.

I had the best honey in my life at the taste-testing center. It's called Pohutukawa (poe-HOOT-uh-kaw-uh). Fill a chocolate truffle with creamed Pohutukawa honey and I'd subsist on that alone for the rest of my life if necessary.

I learned that there is poisonous honey in New Zealand. It's made from the honeydew of a vine-hopper feeding on the Tutu plant. So now every batch of honey in NZ has to be tested for the neurotoxin called Tutin. It has caused many beekeepers to cease production of comb honey since you have to be able to show that each individual cell of honey is Tutin-free to be able to legally sell the comb honey.

After Arataki, I went into Havelock North to have some lunch, then decided to visit Te Mata peak. It was a scary drive all the way up to the top in my little car, but I and all the drivers, mountain bikers, and hikers that I met on the way survived. I was rewarded with another view of the pacific, of Napier, Hastings, and Havelock North, and of the surrounding country. My Elvish eyes spotted mostly sheep.

Descending from Te Mata, I drove into Hastings and visited the grocery store. A woman was offering wine samples in the aisle. There are so many wineries in this place they're practically pouring the stuff down your throat at every turn. I found a yarn store offering me a selection of yarn from NZ sheep and a "bin shop" offering me everything from almonds to window cleaner in bulk. The place definitely has the feeling of a popular holiday-spot on the off season. Ice cream parlors and posh cafes stand open but few patrons enter. The only other people walking around are the Kiwi school-kids wearing their regrettable school uniforms and fancy purses that play music. Why you would want a purse that plays music, I wonder?

I returned home to my luxury accommodations, greeted by a calico cat and a brand new television. As I ate two kiwifruit, I thought about the 140-160 times that a bee touched a flower to bring me my dinner.

For my NZ pictures, see the new Picasa Album here

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