Through the eyes of a hon­ey­bee

Jo-Marie Baker finds af­ter a visit to Ex­pe­ri­ence Comvita, we have a lot to thank the hum­ble honey bee for.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Coromandel -

For a crea­ture so small, the hum­ble hon­ey­bee is hugely impressive. If you love to learn, as much as see and do things while on hol­i­day, Ex­pe­ri­ence Comvita should be top of your list of places to visit in the Bay of Plenty. Their stylish vis­i­tors’ cen­tre, cafe and re­tail store sits be­side Comvita’s nat­u­ral health head­quar­ters in Paen­garoa, about half way be­tween Tau­ranga and Whakatane. Guided tours are avail­able on the hour, seven days a week, al­though peo­ple are en­cour­aged to join the 11am, 1pm or 3pm tours in case pri­vate group book­ings have been made. Comvita’s Ex­pe­ri­ence man­ager Drew Copes­take is one of five tour guides and his en­thu­si­asm for the hon­ey­bee – and the pre­cious manuka honey it pro­duces – is in­fec­tious. “One in ev­ery three mouth­fuls of food we eat comes cour­tesy of the hon­ey­bee’s pol­li­na­tion ser­vices,” he en­thuses. “Most of our fruit, veges, grains and seeds need bees. Imag­ine our su­per­mar­kets if bees didn’t ex­ist – there would be noth­ing there! Even our denim jeans re­quire bees to pol­li­nate the cot­ton.” A pic­ture of Comvita’s founder, Claude Strat­ford, stands at the tour’s en­trance­way. He spent his life un­cov­er­ing the anti-bac­te­rial and an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties of manuka honey and other bee prod­ucts like propo­lis and royal jelly. He lived to be al­most 103, so clearly he was onto some­thing. Fol­low­ing the sound of buzzing bees, Drew leads me into Comvita’s very own in­door for­est, where he ex­plains the heal­ing pow­ers of na­tive plants such as kowhai, po­hutukawa and of course, manuka. Clever ‘scent boxes’ al­low you to breathe in the smell of each flower while the sight of dap­pled light and sound of bird­song over­head com­pletes the im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Next up is the ‘manuka grove’ where ev­ery­thing is su­per-sized to show­case our world from a hon­ey­bee’s per­spec­tive. Gi­ant wooden hives are stacked one on top of the other, while UV light makes the flo­res­cent manuka flow­ers stand out like shin­ning bea­cons. Slow mo­tion videos demon­strate the hon­ey­bee’s in­cred­i­ble anatomy: Two sep­a­rate sets of wings join to­gether when fly­ing to make one enor­mous wing which beats 200 times a sec­ond; tiny body hairs help it col­lect twice its body weight in pollen be­fore fly­ing up to 3km back to its hive; bees We then step in­side Comvita’s ‘vir­tual bee­hive’ – a room dec­o­rated with hexag­o­nal walls which is spe­cially heated to repli­cate life in­side a bee­hive (al­though not to the have a to­tal of five eyes and can also smell through their feet. Who knew?

ex­act tem­per­a­ture, as 36°C would be a tad un­com­fort­able). A floor to ceil­ing video screen takes us in­side an in­tri­cate world where queen bees rule and male ‘drone’ bees die as soon as they’ve mated. Adults and kids of all ages will find this bit fas­ci­nat­ing – the hi­er­ar­chy of a bee­hive and the mul­ti­tude of jobs hon­ey­bees per­form is impressive given they can’t ac­tu­ally see each other in­side the pitch black hive. In fact, the only way they do com­mu­ni­cate with each other is by per­form­ing a “wag­gle dance” where the di­rec­tion of their wig­gling tor­sos, com­bined with the length and speed of their dance, tells their fel­low bees ex­actly where to find the best nec­tar and pollen in re­la­tion to the sun. A ‘dance bat­tle’ can break out in­side if the bee­hive is sur­rounded by plenty of flow­ers! One of the tour high­lights is watch­ing the bee­keep­ers in ac­tion via a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set. You feel as though you’re fly­ing across re­mote bush in the North Is­land’s Kaimanawa For­est to visit bee­hives and check on the honey sea­son’s progress. If you haven’t worn a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set be­fore, this tech­nol­ogy will leave you spell­bound. You can look any­where you like – a full 360° - and see the view as if you were re­ally there. To com­plete the tour, Comvita has pro­vided plenty of food for thought. “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” Hip­pocrates once said. That be­lief un­der­pins Comvita’s en­tire ap­proach to mak­ing its nat­u­ral health prod­ucts and I’m en­cour­aged to taste some for my­self. Af­ter chew­ing some crunchy gran­ules of dried pollen (which taste strangely like hay), I hap­pily sam­ple a tea­spoon of manuka honey. Drew ex­plains all the dif­fer­ent strengths of honey avail­able, and I feel slightly guilty as I re­alise I’ve just swal­lowed what two bees spent their en­tire six week lives pro­duc­ing. Ap­prox­i­mately 1700 tonnes of manuka honey is har­vested in New Zealand ev­ery year, and Comvita uses about 1000 tonnes (or 60 per­cent) of that to man­u­fac­ture its prod­ucts which are now ex­ported all over the world. A full range of those prod­ucts are for sale at Ex­pe­ri­ence Comvita, and the com­pany’s very own manuka honey ice-cream is stocked in the Re­store Café along with a de­li­cious range of food us­ing lo­cally-grown pro­duce. Comvita’s mantra is “share na­ture – share life” and a visit to this unique tourist at­trac­tion is def­i­nitely an ex­pe­ri­ence to share with your fam­ily and friends. Ex­pe­ri­ence Comvita tour prices are: $18 adults, $9 chil­dren, un­der 5’s free. Fam­ily pass $49 (2 adults & 4 chil­dren), se­nior cit­i­zens $16.

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