From the outside, Queenstown Novotel Lakeside looks much like any four-star hotel — but it’s what’s on the roof that’s proving its biggest tourist attraction in some circles.
It’s diversified from taking care of guests to also taking care of 300,000 bees.
Hotel boss Jim Moore says two years ago the Queenstown property was looking for other ways to engage with guests and further its environmental efforts.
He stumbled upon an article about beekeeping in New York — the practice became legal there in 2010, and as of September last year there were 99 registered beekeepers and 261 hives — and became concerned about a global shortage of honey bees.
In New Zealand, the arrival of varroa in 2000 decimated feral hives and had a significant impact on the 300,000 hives nationally.
Moore suggested Novotel create its own rooftop hive. There were some doubters.
‘‘Initially … the team was a bit sceptical as to whether we would be allowed, how we would manage it and whether it would impact on our guests.
‘‘Having followed up and discussed it with the Queenstown Lakes District Council as to whether they had any issues with it, we were encouraged that it could actually be a good idea.’’
Novotel discussed the idea further with Queenstown beekeeper Alan Wilson and set about installing two hives, containing about 70,000 bees in total, to trial the project.
The first hives produced about 40kg initially.
The rooftop now features four hives, each containing 50,000 bees, expected to produce 120kg of honey this year.
Moore says the honey is taken away to be processed and is also given to the hotel in frames — comb honey is available for guests on the breakfast buffet, while the processed honey is bottled and given to VIP guests and visiting travel agents.
It has also been used on sales trips to India and on a sister city visit to Hangzhou, China.
‘‘The fact that it is used in these ways has created interest and media attention from around the world,’’ he said.
At present, the hives are not accessible to guests, but the Novotel is working on a way to remedy that.
Although the Novotel is the only Accor hotel in New Zealand to have installed the rooftop hives, there are other organisations which have become bee-friendly.
Federated Farmers Bees Industry Group chairman John Hartnell says he’s aware of a couple of regional councils which had installed rooftop hives — something he believes the New Zealand embassy in London has also done.
Hartnell says hive numbers and beekeepers — from hobbyists to commercial operators — are on the rise.
‘‘We have an expectation that we’ll reach 6000 beekeepers and 600,000 hives by Christmas time.
‘‘If we look back at the year 2000 when varroa came, we had 300,000 hives.’’
Hartnell says the industry suffered ‘‘a bit of a hiccup’’ when varroa mites arrived 15 years ago.
Varroa is the biggest pest for honey bees, responsible for transmitting diseases including deformed wing virus to larval and/ or pupating bees, resulting in death or severe deformity.
However, the industry worked its way through that and has good management tools and practice in place to control varroa.
‘‘[It] is under control to the best of our ability.
‘‘Most beekeepers would treat their hives twice a year — once in the spring and once in the autumn, late summer, that’s done just to contain, control the numbers.
‘‘We never get a 100% kill. There’s always a residue few that survive and if we don’t treat them they start building and they build up very quickly.
‘‘A mother varroa can have up to … 15 daughters and if they all start doing what mum does, you get a very large multiplication of varroa numbers quite quickly.’’
While the managed colonies were thriving, varroa had wiped out the ‘‘feral hives’’ — often established on farms — which were ‘‘free pollinators’’.
‘‘Everything was down to man and the management from a human perspective, without our intervention we would have lost all those managed hives as well.
‘‘It is really a combination of nature and man working for a very important outcome, which is pollination.’’
Hartnell says total sales of honey products have just hit about $300 million, but the industry’s contribution to the New Zealand economy is valued between $5 billion and $6 billion per annum.
‘‘That’s all the kiwifruit, all the vegetable seed that we pollinate, all the fruits and dairies and stone fruit.
‘‘On top of that, there’s a very large attribution to clover and the pasture regeneration . . . that the honey bee does when it pollinates the clover in the pasture.’’
Hartnell says the Novotel hives will have an effect on the environment within about a 1km radius of the site.
‘‘They’ve got a lovely garden there … it’s a great spot, but [the hive] will be out there doing pollination work and anybody that’s got any fruit trees in the area, they’ll be getting the benefit of those bees being there.’’
Hartnell encourages any business or organisation to investigate establishing a hive, but it’s critical to work closely with their local beekeeper.
‘‘The key thing is . . . make sure that they’ve got somebody that’s skilled and knowledgeable enough to run those hives and make sure that all the correct management practice and disease management is done.’’
Otago Daily Times