History of beekeeping in New Zealand
Honey bees have been kept in New Zealand for more than 150 years. In that time, beekeeping has moved from being a home craft or lifestyle choice, into a progressive industry. New Zealand is now recognised as one of the world’s most advanced beekeeping countries and is a leader in several important fields.
Mary Bumby, the sister of a Methodist missionary, is considered the first person to introduce honey bees to New Zealand. She brought two hives ashore when she landed at the Mangungu Mission Station at Hokianga in March 1839.
While New Zealand already had native species of bees, they were not suitable for producing honey, their role was as pollinators. More bee species were brought to New Zealand in 1843. In 1848, William Cotton wrote a manual for New Zealand beekeepers, describing the basics of bee husbandry and production of honey.
The New Zealand bush proved a hospitable place for bees, and the number of wild colonies, through swarming, multiplied rapidly, especially in the Bay of Islands. Isaac Hopkins, regarded as the father of beekeeping in New Zealand, observed that by the 1860s, bee nests in the bush were plentiful, and considerable quantities of honey were being sold by Māori – the country’s first commercial beekeepers.
The commercial production of honey in New Zealand began during the late 1870s, following the introduction of the Langstroth hive, the boxed-framed beehive model still used today.
Source: Honey bees brought to New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage).
There are seven species of honey bee in the world, but the most common one, domesticated for honey production and crop pollination, is the European honey bee (Apis mellifera).
The species, which may have originated in Africa or Asia, can be found on every continent except for Antarctica and is responsible for most agricultural and horticultural pollination globally.