It started out like any working day.

Kieran Wood got up, got ready, got into his Settlers Honey work vehicle and got on the road.

The beekeeper drove from Waitotara to the location of his sites, just off the main road in Kai Iwi, Whanganui.

It was like any working day until Wood realised his sites had been stripped bare and the 64 beehives in his care were gone.


He called his boss, Settlers Honey manager Bryn Hudson, and they notified Whanganui police.

"It was just disheartening," Hudson said.

"The boys put a lot of time and effort into keeping the bees strong across winter and it's frustrating when someone pinches your property to earn a bit of revenue off your hard work."

However, Hudson and his workers were not in the mood to take the theft on the chin and decided to do a bit of dectective work of their own.

They began talking to contacts about who the offenders may have been, and they came up with some places of interest to check out.

"A few of the boys identified the tread pattern of the tyres that had been used on the site," Hudson said.

"They obviously weren't from any of our vehicles."

Their investigations continued and they found a vehicle whose tyres matched the tread they had identified.


More compelling evidence was a trailer nearby that had recently been used to shift bees.

"There were dead and dying bees on the back of the trailer," said Hudson, a Wanganui rep rugby player.

"We found out about a property out at Turakina and sure enough we've gone there and we've seen a bunch of blokes in bee suits going through our beehives."

Police were notified and Hudson and his workmates approached the people working on the hives, explaining they belonged to Settlers Honey.

Hudson said they were met with aggression.

"There was a bit of a skirmish when we first arrived at the property."

This is what some of the stolen Settlers Honey equipment may have looked like and a scene of the work that they carry out. Photo / Supplied
This is what some of the stolen Settlers Honey equipment may have looked like and a scene of the work that they carry out. Photo / Supplied

Hudson said a man came toward them, picked up a tree branch and started swinging it.
"He caught a couple of the boys across the back and then he had a go at one of our utes. He cracked the windscreen and damaged one of the side panels."

However, the team's efforts got the right result.

On Thursday, Nathan David Churton was charged and convicted in Whanganui District Court with receiving property valued over $1000.

Judge Dugald Matheson sentenced Churton to 170 hours of community work, six months' community detention and ordered him to pay $4600 in reparation.

Hudson estimated that the stolen hives would be worth $50,000 and was delighted that 60 of the 64 hives were recovered.

They were lucky to get them back, he said, because after hives are stolen there is generally only a 24-hour window of opportunity to salvage them before the evidence is destroyed.

"We were able to load them back into our vehicles the night we found them," he said.

"It was a long night and we didn't have our bee suits so we had to load them up by hand which is a bit of fun.

"The bees were in a pretty bad way, they took a bit of strengthening up, but we were stoked just to get them back."

Hudson said thefts of beehives in Whanganui and surrounding areas had become quite common, though it was slowing down now.

"Getting a conviction ... we can probably chalk up a tick in the win column — not just for us, but the industry as a whole.

"It's good to raise a bit of awareness about hive thefts and that it won't go unpunished."

Since the offending, Settlers Honey have upped their security on site properties by installing cameras and placing GPS trackers in their equipment. There have had no incidents since.