Buzzstop Honey Centre: Loving Our Bees

The beautiful Buzzstop Woolshed

The little Buzzstop honey sign sits on Queenstown’s busy state highway. The traffic streams past unaware that just over the paddock lies a sweet, rural delight. Recently, I went to visit Nick Cameron of Buzzstop Honey Centre to get the buzz on his latest venture.

A Tale Of One Woolshed

The old girl was sagging at the seams. 70-years worth of bird droppings encrusted every beam. An ancient smell of sheep wafted up through the open floor grating. Even in the thin winter light, Nick could see the thick piles of dung below. He kicked at the thin, slippery boards which covered the floor.

“Whose crazy idea was this, anyway?” he grumbled.

“Yours, mate” the others chorused, hoisting the wheeled scaffold through the gaping doorway.

Nick clambered up the ladder, heaved the first bucket of hot soapy water and disinfectant up behind him and took out his scrubbing brush. It was time to start work.

Buzzstop’s Restoration Begins

Not everyone can take a derelict building and realize its possibilities. But Nick Cameron had a bee business idea buzzing in his brain. In fact, he’d been looking for the right place for months.

When he spotted the old woolshed Nick knew his search was over. Covered in grime, sure, but the rural location was perfect. And it was only 2 minutes drive from Queenstown’ s international airport. Now he just had to muster up the courage to approach its owners.

Perhaps the Grant family were surprised to find a complete stranger knocking on their door asking for their woolshed. But Nick’s enthusiasm is contagious so they came on board.

Flooring Matters

Looking at Buzzstop’s gorgeous wood and concrete floor you’d have no idea of the work that went into it.

In winter, it was horrible. To clean this I was in here with no power, in the middle of winter, with the wind just charging through. On my hands and knees with a hammer and chisel.

The grimy grating of a woolshed floor.
This is where the sheep stand while they wait to be shorn. That’s why the floor is a grating, so their dung can fall through the gaps. But the grime grinds into the boards. I would hate to try and clean this grating in our woolshed.

But cleaning was only the first part of the job. The whole expanse then had to be lined underneath with plywood.

The renovated wood and concrete Buzzstop floor.
Nick and his helpers poured the concrete by hand.  Next came the sanding, then grinding. They took the whole lot back to the hardwood before finally coating and polishing it.

“Looking at it now,” says Nick, “you’ve got no idea of the hard work that went into it. It was epic.”

Returning To His Beekeeping Roots

Nick grew up with beekeeping in his blood. Over 100 years ago his mother’s family began tending hives in Otago’s Ida Valley. And the family’s passion has continued through the generations.

“My grandfather’s 93 and still kicking. He was a beekeeper as a lad and his father was a beekeeper before him. My brother is a beekeeper as well.” But Nick had no ambition to join the “family firm.”

Aged 17 he got his first job as a guide and loved it. That combination of interacting with people and being outdoors was Nick’s dream lifestyle. So he began to travel the world as an adventure guide.  

Eventually, Nick landed in Sydney. He set up business offering Whale watching and rigid inflatable tours. Guiding on the sea sounds perfect, so what brought him home to Queenstown?

A lady, of course.

“I met my wife, Trace, on Manly wharf. She was from Stewart Island. One of us had to give, so I sold up my business and moved back to New Zealand.”

And that was when Nick’s beekeeping roots kicked in, and the Buzzstop story began.

Buzzstop Honey Centre Sign

Building The Buzzstop Concept

Nick’s vision was clear. He could see there was a tailor-made niche for him, combining beekeeping with guiding.

I could see so many shops selling honey, but we wanted to add in experiences … to give people the back story of how the honey got into the jar.

People are beginning to care about where their food comes from. At the same time, as more and more of us cram into cities, we actually know less and less about it.

But there’s even more to it than that. These tiny heroes have a critical role to play as pollinators.  Without them many of our current food plants are unlikely to survive. So Buzzstop’s mission is very much about encouraging knowledge and respect for bees.

Being a parent of young children himself, Nick also wanted a place where everyone could feel at home. So he created a garden for adults and children to enjoy.

Buzzstop garden and trampoline
This was once 2 sheep pens full of 8 foot high weeds and took 6 months to clear and plant out. Hard to imagine now, but easy for everyone to enjoy. Most of the plants are bee-friendly — think manuka, thyme and lavender to name a few — and are part of Buzzstop’s learning experience.

What’s In The Buzzstop Experience?

Nick and his team have such a variety of bee experiences at Buzzstop. Surely there’s something for everyone here.

Beekeeper suits and observation hives.
  • Eat And Enjoy

Buzzstop is not exactly a cafe: they don’t have a kitchen and bring in most of their food from local eateries. But they do have a few specialities which the staff make onsite. Light and tasty Belgian waffles are one, and delicious homegrown salads are another.

  • Drink ROAR Coffee

“We’ve got good baristas and people will go the extra distance to get good coffee,” says Nick. “We wanted something that wasn’t here already so we were ROAR’s first outlet in Queenstown.”

Honey spinning and maker spaces

Thanks To The Grant Family

Nick is beyond grateful to the Grant family who have allowed him to run with his Buzzstop vision.

“They’ve been very supportive… they’re happy and I’m stoked. They’ve been great.”

Buzzstop works beautifully with its next door neighbour, The Barn.

This charming little shop has been on Hansen Road for nine years. Inside there’s an eclectic mix of vintage and new furnishings. Wander in a little further too. You’ll find rooms of clothes, gorgeous knickknacks and more. It reminded me of Aladdin’s cave, alas without the gold.

Nick Cameron in his honey crafts space.
Nick in the Buzzstop Maker space.

Just Getting Started

2018-19 is just Season One for Buzzstop. They’re still growing and getting their name out there. But Nick has big plans.

“So far, we’ve only had bee tours onsite. That’s all I’ve had time for. But over winter we’ll try to get ourselves some wheels. I’ve got some really nice apiaries set up in beautiful scenic spots and that’s where we’d like to take people next.”

Driving out to see the apiaries around rural Queenstown would be awesome, but Nick’s also got some high-end plans.

“We’re also hoping to partner with local helicopter companies,” he says,  “to fly people to our hives in more remote locations such as Mt Nicholas Station, or Halfway Bay.”

Buzzstop Is Keeping It Local And Real

Nick may have big plans for visitors but he’s focused on serving local tastes too.

“For a long time Queenstowners had no way to access local honey but now they can find it here,” he says. You can too — the shelves are full of honey jars from small, family-run honey businesses all over Otago.

He has other local initiatives too.

There are plans afoot to open a Community Apiary in Spring, 2019. How good would that be? You could keep your hive there and get help whenever you need it.

Nick and his team are doing a great job of bringing bees with a difference to Queenstown.

Next time you’re there, buzz in and check them out.

Local honey sold at Buzzstop
One of many shelves full of local honey products at the Buzzstop Honey Centre

Address and Contact details

Address: Hansen Road, Queenstown, New Zealand

Website: https://www.buzzstop.co.nz

Email: tours@buzzstop.co.nz

Phone: 021 942 808

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The Garston Hunny Shop: Bene and the Bees


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Garston Hunny Shop: Bene and the Bees

Sign outside the Garston Hunny Shop

Q: What do Beekeeping, Scotland and a tall lanky Kiwi have in common? A: Garston Hunny Shop owner Benedicte Sparks loves them all.

And It’s probably lucky for Garston honey lovers that Scotland has such a cold, damp climate. If Scottish summers had been better, Bene might never have left the country that she describes as “beautiful — such a beautiful country… and the people are so friendly.”

But after 12 years of getting dressed up to go out, only to have to cover up with a coat or risk getting soaked Bene decided to find warmer pastures. It was a long road that eventually brought this petite, dynamic Frenchwoman to the other two loves of her life.

Bene Sparks, always happy to serve up some of her delicious honey in the Garston Hunny Shop.
Bene Sparks is always happy to serve up some of her delicious honey in the Garston Hunny Shop.

In The Beginning

Dijon… Paris… France. To my ears exotic, exciting, magical faraway places that I dream of visiting. To Bene, they were just home. And like any teenager, she didn’t find them the least bit exciting. School was particularly boring. She left at 16, served in a bookshop for a while, and then moved to the bright lights of Paris to work for a dictionary publisher.

Ah, Paris!  City of dreams and romance. The Louvre… Eiffel Tower… shopping… cafes on the left bank and not a honey bee in sight. Bene wasn’t really into honey at that point, but she quickly discovered that she wasn’t into publishing either.

A chance meeting with a Scottish lad who spoke a smattering of French gave Bene a new direction.

“I’d love to learn English,” she told him. Six months later — when she’d almost forgotten her chance remark —  a language school brochure landed in her mailbox.

So Bene — still a teenager — packed her bags again and moved to Scotland to study English. Her sister drove her there, dropped her on the doorstep of her new home, waved goodbye — and left!

A Prince and a Punk in Scotland

Well, there was no turning back, so Bene picked up those bags and went in to meet her new flatmates — a Swiss who was into punk and a boy from Nepal who turned out to be a prince.

“On my very first night in Scotland, my new Swiss flatmate said, ‘We’re off to a concert in Glasgow. You should come!’”

In hindsight, the safety pins and punk outfit should have set off alarm bells in Bene’s mind but she was so relieved to hear someone speaking French that she went to the concert anyway.

“I felt very unsafe in my little French skirt with all the skinheads and punk music,” Bene recalls.

So there she was —  a teenager in a foreign land — and no wonder she was scared. Life is infinitely more difficult when you don’t speak the language. She had just two choices: run home or learn English FAST!

Slinking back with her tail between her legs didn’t seem like a great option so Bene knuckled down at school. Full immersion is the way to go, of course, and after a few months, Bene could speak well enough to land a job.

Scotland is a beautiful country and Bene quickly grew to love everything except the climate. But Scotland is renowned for its rain, and in the end, Bene had had enough of that, so she and a friend decided to see the world.

Round The World

So many countries; too many experiences to recount. But after nearly a year of travelling together Bene and her friend were still talking to each other — a minor miracle — when they reached Australia. By that time they definitely needed a break from travelling and each other. So they settled in Sydney and went their separate ways.

If they’d landed in Melbourne then Bene might never have come to New Zealand. She’s since been to Melbourne and loves its cosmopolitan vibe. But living in squalid digs in Sydney and working for peanuts wasn’t much fun and Australia’s such a vast country that it’s hard to travel around if you have no money. So Bene saved up enough for an airfare and moved on.

The logical next step, of course, was New Zealand.

A Land To Love

First, a stint in Auckland followed by a kiwifruit season in Te Puke —  Bene was slowly working her way south. Eventually, she discovered Queenstown, as most traveller-workers do in the end.

Like many a Scot before her, Bene had at last found a country with the beauty and friendliness of Scotland but without the chilly summers and depressing damp. Then she fell in love with Tony Sparks, and that sealed the deal.

Garston

The opportunity to move even further south came when Tony and Bene bought the Garston Hotel. The tall Kiwi and the tiny Frenchwoman brought new energy to the Garston Hotel, and business boomed.

But running a country pub is exhausting, and you can only do it for so long. So eventually, they sold the pub and settled down to renovate the old stone building next door and to begin their next ventures — The Garston Stables and the Hunny Shop —  just across the road.

Beehives in the Hunny Shop's bee-friendly garden.
Bene’s beehives — supplying Garston with delicious local honey.

Bene and her Garston Bees

Bene’s right into bees now, but she didn’t expect to fall quite so crazily in love with them when she joined Matt Menlove’s local beekeeping course.

“I was interested and I wanted to help save the bees,” she says.

There’s so much to learn, too. Matt’s lessons were only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing about bees. Bene’s constantly finding new information and new challenges.

Every year is different because no two seasons are the same. Spring could be warm and dry one year and cold and wet the next. Even more confusing for bees and the plants they feed on, this year Spring started early and has been alternating between the two states all season. Consequently, the bees got ready to swarm around the end of October and Bene had to keep a close eye on them so that she could separate out the new queen and her followers and move them to a new hive before they actually swarmed.

It’s A Honey Bee’s Life

Bees need good food and Bene has made sure that there’s plenty around for her particular pets. She’s in the never-ending process of creating an extensive garden around the stone cottage, filled with bee-friendly plants.

Honey bees need both pollen and nectar from the flowers to feed the hive, but they also inadvertently transfer the dusty pollen from flower to flower as they forage, and so ensure that the flowers are fertilized. Of course, that leads to fruit, seed production and eventually more flowers. It’s an elegant cycle.

Bee on a nectar-filled white flower.
Bees and flowers. You can’t beat nature’s elegant cycle.

The Garston Hunny Shop

If you add many bees and lots of flowers together you get an abundant supply of honey, so why not have a honey shop? Thus began the Hunny Shop, Bene’s Garston tribute to all things honey.

It’s fun to go into the bright orange-and-yellow shop. There’s honey to taste and buy, as well as pills, potions, lotions and Bene’s very own honey-based cosmetics line “Abelha.” The walls are covered with bee information, too, so you can learn while you browse.

You can even have an escorted “bee experience” if you like, and visit the beehives to see first-hand where your honey came from. After all that, who wouldn’t want to buy a delicious honey-filled pot?

Finally, when you get home and regretfully lap up the last drop of your Garston Honey, you can buy more online at the Hunny Shop’ Shopify store.


Decorative wooden cabinet displaying honey products.
Just a few of the delicious honey products on display at the Garston Hunny Shop.

Doing Her Bit

It’s great to make a contribution to the world around you, and most of us have our own unique way of making things a little better.

Bene’s style mixes French flair with downright hard work. She’s doing her bit to save the bees — and bringing more visitors to the vibrant little business hub of Garston.

Next time you’re dashing to Queenstown, or buzzing South, stop into Garston and relax with a coffee, food, gifts and gorgeous honey-to-go.

Nothing could be better than that.

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Buzzstop Honey Centre