A man with a background in tourism and hospitality has started a Ruapehu business that harvests and sells the leaves of native plants from the area.
Dean Fountain has lived at Erua, under M Ruapehu, for five years. The main products he sells in his Rhayne business are horopito and kawakawa leaves.
While living in Australia Fountain ran an Asian restaurant. After his arrival in Erua a neighbour tried to trick him into tasting a leaf from the native horopito tree, Pseudowintera colorata.
"It burnt my mouth out, but I though it tastes like nothing I have ever had before," he said.
Fountain describes the taste as spicy, aromatic and earthy. He asked where he could buy horopito, and was told there was nowhere.
The Rhayne business he founded came out of that experience. It employs six to eight people on a casual basis to pick horopito, kawakawa, kumarahou, mānuka and kānuka leaves.
Fountain washes and dries them, grinds them and sells them either plain or in spice mixes.
Rhayne is also the name of his fifth child, a daughter. His business began in October 2016.
Leaves are all gathered on private properties, with the permission of the owners. Finding the right places is the hardest part of the job, Fountain said.
"The tough thing for us is finding private land that hasn't had herbicide sprayed all around it."
Horopito leaves are picked sparsely, into a bucket. They are washed, then dried on racks for three days, in a room with a heater and dehumidifier.
It takes 2.5kg of fresh horopito leaves or 5kg of fresh kawakawa leaves to make 1kg dried, which is then ground into particles in a meat grinder.
Horopito, mānuka and kānuka are gathered in the Ruapehu District. For kawakawa the team goes to Whanganui, and the kumarahou comes from the Coromandel Peninsula.
Fountain recently bought Erua Lodge and plans to turn it into a processing facility.
Alysha Howe leads his harvesting team. All are local people and some were previously unemployed. They say karakia before harvesting from the trees.
The horopito spice mix contains 10 per cent horopito, and Fountain also blends dried horopito leaves with honey for a horopito-infused honey.
Horopito makes up 60 per cent of his business, and kawakawa another 20 per cent. Mānuka, kānuka and kumarahou are about 10 per cent each.
His products have been approved for supermarket sale, but Fountain said that wasn't worthwhile.
About 20 per cent of sales are overseas - to Australia, the United States, Canada and Japan. People use the leaves for all sorts of products.
Horopito and kawakawa are popular for flavouring gin. They are also in teas, soaps, candles, creams, jams, tonics and teas.
The Rhayne website also sells health-related products made by other businesses.