Beekeeper Spotlight: Noelani Waters
Humans have been beekeeping for nearly 10,000 years, cultivating safe and healthy places for bees to form thriving colonies. Some of the oldest parts of that tradition are alive and well at Comvita, where we’ve been beekeeping since 1974 (and for one of our founders, since the 1920s!). It’s important that we pass down the craft of beekeeping to new generations, and blend the old ways with the new to create the world’s #1 UMF™ Manuka Honey. So we’d like to introduce you to the beekeepers blending modern science and heritage tradition, passionately stewarding the bees and the ecosystem to create healthy, sustainable honey.
This is a conversation we had with Comvita Beekeeper Noelani Waters:
How did you get involved in beekeeping and what do you love about it?
I got my first taste of beekeeping during my first year of my Bachelor’s degree in Tropical Agriculture in 2010. I instantly fell in love. I love working outside everyday with such incredible and critically important creatures as honeybees. They provide endless fascination and opportunities for learning no matter how many years you practice beekeeping. I also love that my work perfectly combines the art of farming and applied science.
You’re from Hilo, Hawaii. What was it like growing up there, and how did you find your way to New Zealand?
I was raised and lived most of my life in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Growing up there instilled a great love of nature and rain, surrounded by dense rainforest jungles, as well as created a deep sense of community being from a small island. It will always be part of me.
I found my way to New Zealand and the Far North a couple of years ago on my honeymoon and we really loved it here. Bizarrely, one year ago this position at Comvita popped up in bee breeding in the Far North and I applied. So here we are!
What do you enjoy about working at Comvita?
I appreciate the legacy that Comvita has for providing quality health products and manuka honey for decades. It is a household name here. I appreciate that its good reputation has been earned through attention to quality and commitment to health. This is evident all the way back to the hive.
Our breeding unit* is located on a beautiful 700 acre farm in the Far North of the North Island in an isolated area near Doubtless Bay, New Zealand. This remote environment is perfect for a selective breeding program where we have limited exposure to neighbouring hives that could cause stress.
*This breeding unit focuses on producing a strain of queens with both varroa resistance and hybrid vigour. With hive success often attributed to queen strength, the selection of these traits during the rearing process remains crucial.
At Comvita, we understand the link between superior queen stock and hive productivity. We are proud to introduce improved genetic stock to the industry through our apiary partners.
The health of bees is so important to Comvita customers. What are you doing in the field that supports the long-term health of the hive?
I have learned first-hand that the health and wellbeing of the bees is truly at the forefront of this business and know this is built from the ground up, in each beehive. This translates to valuing quality over quantity and this makes me proud of my work. We take care to think about how each task can be done with kindness, to reduce external stress on our hives and ensure they are as strong as possible, is a daily practice employed at our unit.
Women are underrepresented in the field of beekeeping. What does it mean to you to be a female beekeeper?
I strongly believe that women have an important role to play in the future of beekeeping. I have had the pleasure to know and work with many strong female beekeepers in my short career and some of the top people in our field are women. I see the culture changing worldwide. Women have a place here and have a lot to offer.
What should other women know about beekeeping?
Beekeeping is hard and fascinating work with many areas of specialization for everyone to find their place in. The main prerequisites are love of bees, curiosity, ability to work hard, and willingness to be stung regularly.
What have you learned from bees that can apply to other areas of life?
Beekeeping requires that you are in the present moment and paying attention to the small details or you have the direct consequence of getting stung. This presence is a gift to carry into my daily life.
How do you incorporate Manuka into your daily routine?
I add Manuka Honey into my coffee every morning, yum!
What do you like to do when you’re off the clock?
Gardening and cooking!
What would you tell people who are curious about beekeeping?
Do your research and get educated about bees and their biology before getting a hive of your own. Participate, get a bit messy, and prepare to be amazed.
Interested in learning more? Read Comvita’s Origin Story and see how this intergenerational company formed in unlikely circumstances nearly 50 years ago.