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'I just love it, I can't stop' - Auckland beekeeper with life-threatening allergy braves backyard to look after 50,000 pets

"It’s part of beekeeping you're gonna get stung," says beekeeping enthusiast Gary Pointon, "and for the first 20 stings I was fine. Then I got stung in the head and went into anaphylactic shock and the doctors decided I was allergic ... hasn’t stopped me!"

Meet Gary Pointon, he's one of more than 6500 hobby beekeepers in New Zealand, chasing swarms, building beehives and experiencing the occasional sting.

He discovered his passion after wife Eve redirected his dreams of climbing Mt Everest, like his idol Sir Edmund Hillary, towards beekeeping.

"I know what happens to people who climb Everest," says Eve Pointon. "They stay there. I thought this is a way he can be like Sir Ed - but maybe a little bit safer, I thought at the time."

The ill-fated sting last October saw Gary collapse unconscious in the bathroom while his flatmate and fellow beekeeper Hadley Taylor called an ambulance.

"I was on my stretcher and I said, 'wife please can you bring my phone charger, I know how long it takes at the hospital'," laughs Gary. "I wasn’t taking it very seriously."

The day we meet Gary, he's carrying an EpiPen and wearing a beekeeping suit, and adding a new hive to his beeyard.

With a casual thump on a cardboard box a freshly caught swarm of bees is released – filling the hot Auckland air with an irritated buzz.

"Hopefully I’ve got the queen in there," Gary says, as the bees settle onto sugar-coated frames set into a wooden beehive nestled in his Mt Wellington garden, in Auckland.

It’s an increasingly common scene in backyards across the country, as the beekeeping industry continues to see exceptional growth, mostly driven by the value of manuka honey. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries reported a 16 per cent increase in registered beekeeping enterprises in 2017, and over 100,000 new hives.

The Auckland Beekeepers Club, the oldest and biggest in the city, has swelled 30 per cent in three years to 680 members.

Gary’s unabated enthusiasm for his bees also extends to the day he proposed to his girlfriend in March last year.

"It was just a happy housewarming and he went over to the beehive and everyone was clustered around there, so I thought here we go, all right," recalls Eve, "then Gary went down on one knee and I had to pick the ring out from a cluster of bees."

Gary's neighbours also benefit from his obsession, planting purple flowers to attract more bees and enjoying the honey that is regularly delivered over the fence.

Adjusting the hive direction and providing a water source for the bees are simple steps to keep your neighbours happy, says Gary.

"I think the perception of bees has changed now days.

"People know we need them and they're a big part of our environment. The general public are much more accepting. I've been really lucky, all my neighbours are totally fine with it."

After two years of successful beekeeping Gary and Hadley have started up Beeboys, a beehive hosting business. For a monthly fee the Beeboys will set up a hive with a swarm of bees, manage the inspections and guarantee the property owners at least 10kg of honey.

"They don't have to do anything," says Gary, "they're bee landowners but if they want to get involved and put some gloves on, we’re more than willing to help them out."


A routine hive inspection ended with call to 111 and an ambulance ride for Gary Pointon. Source: 1 NEWS