ONE FOR THE HONEY
Nursing the O Hua Tahi sanctuary in New Zealand back to life has also created some of the world’s best Manuka honey
When Suzan Craig and her team at Tahi in New Zealand harvest Manuka honey, they leave behind one box per hive for the bees. “Very few producers do this because you’re giving away something you could sell,” says Suzan. “However, honey is filled with the pollen, nectar and nutrients that bees need.” The bees seem to respect this gesture and, in turn, the keepers hardly ever need to wear gloves. “Happy, healthy hives lead to good honey, too,” she says.
The ethos of reciprocated love runs through Suzan’s sanctuary, situated in a remote corner of the country’s North Island. Since buying what was initially a neglected cattle farm in 2004, she’s planted more than 335,000 indigenous trees, restored 75 hectares of wetlands and invested in pest control. The results have been dramatic. More than 71 species of bird have returned – more than many national parks in New Zealand – alongside native fish, lizards and insects not seen since European settlers decimated the forests. All profits from Tahi honey go directly into the area’s community, culture and award-winning conservation projects. “Our philosophy is governed by an old Maori proverb: ‘Possessions are temporary things compared to the land’,” says Suzan. “That’s crucial to us.”
Suzan herself grew up in New Zealand and spent much of her childhood rehabilitating land with her father, one of the country’s foremost conservation experts. After moving to London to work two decades ago, she longed to return. “I wanted my children to have a real sense of place,” she says. The first big indicator it was working came when many birds returned by themselves. Her favourite is the fantail, whose tail is folded into flaps but spreads out wide when foraging. “When you’re walking along the paths, they will flit all around you,” she says.
Today, Tahi employs around 35 people, and, alongside producing honey, it welcomes guests to stay in three refurbished bungalows. Soon, Suzan is set to launch a skincare range that comes in sustainable packaging. “Of course, I have lots of ultimate goals,” she says. “We have to be patient because we’re working with nature. We plan at least 10 years in advance – in a lot of ways you could say we’re preparing for the next 100 years, too.”