Unprecedented prices for Manuka honey is driving a mini goldrush on the Coromandel and creating huge challenges for the local bee industry,including the devastation of hives.
Beekeepers with decades of experience say every year from now on will be a challenge as more landowners and out of town corporates try to muscle in on the lucrative New Zealand honey market, creating the risk of undernourished and diseased bees.
The Coromandel has a productive local honey industry including several small businesses that sell purely for export. However they report difficult times, with the death of hives from undernourishment or disease, competition from out-of-town companies putting lives in diseased areas o fthe Coromandel, and an expectation from landowners that they can now charge unsustainable fees for hosting hives.
One local beekeeper of 30 years says he was shocked to see a 500gm pot of Manuka honey being sold at an Auckland Airport shop for $145. With the price of honey so high, hives were popping up everywhere and landowners that had longstanding relationships with local beekeepers had been approached by out-of-towners and promised "ridiculous" prices to host hives.
"It's fair that the landowner gets paid because the price of Manuka honey is so high, but it's unrealistic," he said.
"Landowners are being told they'll get $60 per hive, which is going to ruin the industry.
There's a limit to the number of bees that can be fed but these corporate guys don't care."
This was confirmed by two other beekeepers on the Peninsula and marketer Binnie Brown of Organic Living, who has worked within the industry for two decades. She says overstocking a place with hives encourages disease, and different beekeepers around the Coromandel had been experiencing this over recent years.
"That's how this industry is going at the moment. It is a huge challenge just trying to stabilise where your hives go and keep your bees healthy.
"If you go back historically and look at all the goldrushes, like we're seeing in this industry - when people are madly putting hives on the roadside in diseased areas and encroaching on each other's land - that's when the bubble bursts."
One of the biggest beekeeping business on the Coromandel - and one of Tairua's biggest employers - is struggling to stop thousands of its bees dying from a gut disease.
Molly Hayward of Hayward Honey Ltd says for the past few weeks they have been using a sea kelp to try to combat the new parasite, after trying a herby mixture before that.
"People are losing their hives left, right and centre and they don't know what's going to save them.
"Our country ships so many live bees out of the country and now our bees are dying, and we're one of the only places in the world that doesn't feed them antibiotics.
Some countries feed them that just to keep them from dying. It's a worry at the moment."