Maria Brocklebank has used a fusion of personal experience and study in aromatherapy and herbal medicines to create natural skincare products. She talks to Rosalie Willis about turning it into a successful business.
Greeted by gentle wafts of kawakawa, lavender, manuka and an abundance of natural aromas, stepping into NZ Native Oils is like stepping into a calming oasis.
Tucked away on a corner of Otaihanga Rd in Paraparaumu, the small, locally owned business is perhaps one of Kāpiti's best-kept secrets.
Gorgeously set out on handmade wooden benchtops, surrounded by plants grown in the nursery next door, NZ Native Oils is a beautiful store full of organic skincare products, essential oils, soaps, candles, teas, jewellery, gifts and even products for your dog.
Started in 2017 by Maria Brocklebank, NZ Natural Oils has grown from a hobby and interest in plants and aromatherapy, into a thriving business in four short years.
Experimenting with handmade soaps using native plants like manuka, kowhai and pohutukawa, Maria noticed how great her skin was feeling after using the natural products she had created.
"My husband started Kāpiti Nurseries and was growing manuka for honey growers in the Wairarapa," Maria said.
"With a slow honey season, they started looking at alternative uses for the manuka so I started distilling it to turn it into an essential oil."
About the same time Maria found herself going through a battle with breast cancer and was unable to work, with severely sensitive skin due to the chemotherapy and radiotherapy she was receiving.
"I began to look more closely at the products I was using and started creating natural products for myself and sharing them with my friends and family.
"I really just built the place for myself because I love aromatherapy and the oils and everything."
Maria offset her personal experience trying different essential oils and plant extracts with study in aromatherapy and herbal medicines.
"During treatment, I became really sensitive and even afterwards I became really aware of skin sensitivity, skin issues, and how good the natural remedies are.
"I couldn't use a lot of the chemicals."
Now with a clean bill of health, Maria continues to help others find natural remedies for their skin irritations or health problems.
"It's been a massive learning journey starting NZ Native Oils.
"Especially going through cancer and becoming very aware of skin sensitivity.
"With a lot of the products we create, it's all about going right back to what your grandmother would have used.
"Going right back to when we only used natural products."
Each product takes time to create and perfect, with Maria saying it has taken years to go through each product, do all the testing and get it just right.
"Every time you bring in a new product you've got to perfect it and do all the testing to get it right."
Among her creations are natural sunscreen, fly repellent and the increasingly popular Itchy 'n Scratchy range for dogs.
Helping find a treatment for a bacterial infection in a horse's hoof, Maria found manuka hydrosol's antibacterial properties helped clear it up straight away.
She has since continued her research and created natural dog shampoo, flea repellent, balms, sunscreens and even created an anxiety relief blend for dog anxiety.
"Manuka hydrosol is not as potent as the essential oil.
"Essential oils are the condensed product of a plant sometimes taken from the leaf, which is most common, but sometimes you can get it from the bark or the flower.
"It's very concentrated.
"For example, it takes around 50kg of manuka plant to make 20ml of oil."
With an extensive range of products available online and in store, Maria's focus has turned to creating The Nature Room at her Otaihanga store.
The Nature Room is a luxurious place to try out the native oil products with a beautician and masseuse on site providing facials, massages, waxing and other beauty treatments.
With a 90 per cent organic and fully natural range of skincare products, take the trip to Otaihanga to step into the natural oasis and try out their products yourself.
This article first appeared in the Celebrating Kāpiti magazine spring/summer 2021.