Episode 4 - Sweet, Bro
Rob and Lohnie Murray are playing an ever-expanding role in one of New Zealand’s fastest growing export industries.
Eight years ago, they started their Northland manuka honey company, Tai Tokerau, with 350 hives. Today they have 5000 hives, 20 bee-keepers and their own million-dollar processing plant.
The Murrays’ first hives went on Rob’s family land at Whangape near Kaitaia but these days they lease blocks all over the North Island.
There are many blocks of manuka scrub around New Zealand. In the past they were seen as wasteland with no earning potential, but all that has now changed.
Much of the under-utilised land is Maori-owned land in multiple ownership.
When disputes between shareholders prevent effective management of the land, Te Tumu Paeroa, an arm of the Maori Land Court, steps in and appoints a trustee to manage the block.
That’s when Rob Murray offers to lease the land. It’s a win-win partnership because the share-holders get income and Rob has access to manuka for his bees as far afield as the East Coast, Central Plateau and Taranaki.
Central to Rob and Lohnie’s operation is specialist helicopter company Heliworx Aotearoa.
Most of Rob’s hives are in inaccessible places and the only way to transport them and harvest the honey is by helicopter. It’s expensive, but with a jar of honey costing as much as a bottle of French champagne, it’s worth it.
Like jobs, reliable labour is scarce in the Far North, so Rob and Lohnie depend on whanau. Nineteen of their 20 staff are family. “I think it’s awesome to have a job that can sustain us to work in and around our whenua and whanau,” Rob says.
And this family works hard – especially during the harvesting season.
Their son George left the army to join the family firm. Being part of a family business means having your Dad as boss – and a boss has to be tough sometimes. “He’s hard out – a slave driver,” laughs George. “No, he’s a gentle boss!”
“You’ve got to keep pushing your boys, because the hours that we do,” Rob says. “We’re moving the bees at night and working the hives during the day. It can be seven days a week. It’s pretty intense for a few months.”
But Rob’s employees don’t work as hard as his bees. “They’re little workaholics,” he says. Bees only live for four to six weeks. “The first two weeks of that bee’s life is to work as a nurse bee in the house doing all the housework. As it gets older it becomes a field bee and once they hit the field they just work till their wings wear off.”
Read more about Rob and Lohnie's business here.
Find out more about moving beehives by air here.
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