'A lot of blood, sweat and tears' – East Coast company cutting out the bees to make the most of manuka plantation

Source: Seven Sharp

Last year New Zealand exported 9000 tonnes of honey, most of which was manuka based.

But one company has decided the future of manuka products might not involve bees at all.

They've developed the first commercial manuka plantation that's focusing not on honey, but oil, and it's a long way from anywhere.

Just inland from Te Kaha, you'll find Maungaroa Station - a spot described as just about he most remote place you can get in the North Island. 

The product of some uniquely eastern New Zealand innovation, a scrubby plant once described a weed is being grown commercially.

"No body has ever tried to do what we are doing here," 

Karl and the team at New Zealand manuka are cutting straight to the source, manuka's active ingredient: manuka beta tricitones.

"A lot of people have had the vision to lead to the world manuka honey. But people haven't thought about manuka the super plant," one plantation worker says.

"We can distill the oil out. And the great beneficial properties people are finding in the honey is actually coming from the tree itself."

But the real reward is back on the station where every worker is a beneficiary of the Maori trust that owns this land.

"Historically our people have been completely ripped off in their involvement in the manuka industry," Karen Te Kani, Maungaroa Trust representative says.

Compared to using the land for grazing, the manuka business is far more lucrative for the trust.

An annual return of $4000 to the trust for grassing compared to over $100,000 for manuka.

But creating a commercial crop takes time and there's a lot of little lessons to learn.

"So currently with what we know and where we are at there's a big gap. So I say five per cent maybe ten per cent we know, the rest we have to learn," A Maungaroa Station worker says.

But the end haul is still huge. 

"It's been in every way a success. But most importantly when you drive through Te Kaha you can see the difference it's making in the community."