Putting whānau, the environment and the community above purely making money has been a recipe for success for a Kaitaia-based manuka honey company.

Tai Tokerau Honey has won a host of business awards, including the coveted Taitokerau Māori Business of the Year award and the Northland Regional Council's Excellence in Environmental Awareness and Management award.

The husband-and-wife owned business was also 2018 Māori Television Matariki Awards finalists. In April, the company also won three Māori Business Women Awards, including the supreme award, Te Kaipakihi tino Taumata.

The awards are good recognition for years of hard work and focusing on the Far North community, said co-owner Rob Murray.


"It's not all about just us; it's about the businesses that we carry with us across the line," he said. "If everyone thought like that, this would be a better town."

Tai Tokerau Honey was born in 2009 and the company employs 20 fulltime staff in Kaitaia and Moerewa, as well as 20 part-time staff in honey-producing season. Not setting up in the Far North was never an option, despite the lack of expertise and willing workers in the area, Rob said.

"It's hard to get qualified people in Kaitaia and finding people who want to work [is hard]. We're very short on experienced people."

To help, Tai Tokerau Honey is about to start three apprenticeships, teaching everything from beekeeping to business and mechanics. Teaching the next generation is part of a love for the job, driven by passion, not money, Rob said.

Being a Māori-owned business is a good selling point when exporting honey overseas, he said.

"I think being Māori and being in business, the world wants to deal with the indigenous people, as we deal with the indigenous people in other countries," he said.

Tai Tokerau Honey exports to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong and the company has built a good relationship with the Japanese, co-owner Lonnie Murray said.

"They come over and bring their whole family over, it's about building relationships and making connections."

Another important part of the business is about being environmentally sustainable, Lonnie said.

Over the past five years, the company has started using helicopters to transport hives, rather than vehicles, to have less impact on the whenua (land).

Tai Tokerau Honey is part of the Warawara Komiti Kaitiaki and takes part in research led by Landcare and Otago University. The Landcare research looks into the whakapapa of the manuka tree, something vitally important to this Māori business.

Rob said the name manuka - a Māori name - should only be applied to honey that comes from New Zealand. However, that is under threat with companies in Australia already using the "manuka" label.