Honey would have to be one of the most versatile natural products in the world and since ancient times there have been references to its use as a currency. In recent years the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of manuka honey in particular have raised both awareness and the price of the product. Honey is widely used in health and beauty preparations, and of course it’s sweet and flavoursome. Honey can’t be reproduced artificially; to have honey you need bees.
There have always been native bees in our own country. It’s just that they don’t produce honey. The bees that we now refer to as ‘wild bees’ or ‘bush bees’, the bees that have been so badly affected by the varroa mite, are actually descendants of the European black honey bees that were imported into New Zealand in the 1800s. These bees did so well that, due to their exploding numbers in our temperate climate, they could not all be contained in hives and (flying round at about 27kph) most became feral.

Seven-year-old Hector Goldie proudly holding a frame of bees

It’s generally accepted that the honey bee was first introduced to New Zealand in 1839 when Mary Bumby, sister of a missionary, brought two hives with her from England to Northland’s Mangungu Mission Station. It wasn’t long afterwards that bees became a regular import, and by the end of the 1800s a new strain of bee, the golden and black striped Italian bee that we know today, became the preferred choice of beekeepers. This was due to attributes such as lower aggression than the European black bee and greater honey production.

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