Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

A pile of hops waiting to be picked.

Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.

The Big Hops Harvest Problem:

200 hop vines on two farms —  all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them —  and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.

What to do?

The Brilliant Solution:

James, as usual, had an idea.

“Let’s get a sponsor, a couple of experts and a whole lot of people who would love to know more about hops and throw a Picking Party,” he suggested.

So, that’s what we did.

Waiting For The Harvesters

The day dawned damply. River mist shrouded the paddocks, evaporating our plans for an early start to the hops harvest.

Just as well, really. We’d all been flat out preparing the woolshed —  aka the hops harvest zone — for the last two days. Rarely has a working woolshed looked cleaner.

Waiting for the sun enforced a last minute calm before the storm of activity set to come. That’s why, after the final job was done, we gathered for coffee at the Garston Hotel and waited for our workers guests to arrive.

And, suddenly, there they were:

  • Eliott the Altitude brewer, with his vanload from Queenstown
  • Richard – our expert from Nelson
  • Ian – courtesy of our sponsor, Ricoh
  • Andy – an unexpected American  
  • and a whole bunch of local family and friends.

The sun shone bright and warm. Finally, it was time to begin.

Gathering At The Hops

The convoy wound its way to the vines. For many, this was the first time they had seen hops growing and I must admit, even our small plantation makes for an impressive sight.

Hops will grow as high as you let them (in our case 4 – 5 metres) and produce copious amounts of flowers, all filled with a distinctive-smelling resin. This is the gold that flavours the beer.

At the top of the ladder, Eliott cuts the first hop vine.
Eliott mounted our specially-modified hop-picking ladder and ceremoniously cut the first vine. Nearby pickers held out their arms to catch the leafy giant as it slowly collapsed and carried it to the waiting trailer.

The party was underway.

Picking Off The Hops

It would be highly impractical to try to pick all the flowers off the vines while they’re still standing 5 metres tall. I’ve picked them off the top several times while getting samples for testing and, believe me, the novelty soon wears off.

A better idea is cutting the vines at the top and bottom and carting the whole vine to the processing room. That lets you lay them flat on a table and have multiple people plucking the flowers from each vine.

So that’s what we did on the tables set up in Hamish’s woolshed.

Picking the hop flowers at the woolshed.
With Mac’s favourite shearing music (60’s classics) booming in the background, conversation buzzed as we got to work on the 2019 hops harvest.

Garston Hotel Makes The Best Barbeque Lunch

It wasn’t long after the Garston Hotel cooks appeared before delicious smells filled the woolshed.

They had brought an incredible array of delicious rolls, salads and food to barbeque. And after several hours of steady picking, everyone was more than ready to gather outside in the sun for lunch. Eliott had provided a keg of light, delicious beer from his brewery and that went down a treat.

We All Learn More About Hops And Beer.

Richard Schneeberger was our invaluable expert who was taking a busman’s holiday from his day job as a hop adviser in Nelson. Up until now, we’ve been going on guesswork and advice from afar, so it was wonderful to have Richard right there to answer our questions.

After lunch, both Richard and Eliott spoke and gave highly interesting and informative glimpses into their hop-and-beer worlds.

But, hops won’t pick themselves, so we up-ended our beer glasses and went back to work.

Next Stage: Drying Begins

Between our plantation and Hamish’s we had four hop varieties to harvest and keep separate from each other. They were all destined to go straight to Altitude Brewing so Eliott could make his 2019 version of a Garston Green Hops beer.

Or so we thought.

But the truth soon dawned: somehow we had not fully computed just how many thousands of flowers we’d actually have. There was no way that Altitude could take them all as green hops. Some would have to be dried.

So we resurrected the drying racks that Aaron Abernethy built for us back in 2017 and Plan B swung into action.

Hops drying in their racks.
The drying process can be tricky to get right. In the days after the harvest party, Hamish and I had a crash course in deciding when the flowers were ready to bag. It was different from previous years because these hops were going to be pelletised. They had to be dry enough to keep – but not TOO dry or they’d disintegrate in the pelletiser. The pressure was on because once the flowers are ready, the heat and air they needed to dry then become their enemies. They must then be completely protected from light, air and heat or the flowers will begin to deteriorate.

Finally Finished And We Give Heartfelt Thanks

At the end of Day One we gathered at the Garston Hotel for a celebratory drink. It had been a wonderful, hard-working and satisfying day.

Our new Queenstown friends, and our local friends and family headed home, happy with their new experience.

Eliott was already busy with plans to begin his green hop brew.

And we were making plans for the next day’s harvest.

In the end, it took four days to pick and process the flowers from our 200 vines. Many local friends and family came back again and again to help over those days and we are so grateful to them for their help.

To all those who came to the party, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

Thank you, too, to RICOH, whose sponsorship of our event is truly appreciated.

We can truly recommend the Garston Hotel’s delicious barbecue lunches. Thanks, guys, for coming to the party – and for all the other meals we ate at your establishment.

And, finally, thanks to Dwane and Annie Herbert for lending us so many crates. They are invaluable and we needed every one of them.

Your Thoughts

Did you come to the hop picking party? Let us know how you enjoyed the experience in the comments below?

Does a hops harvest on this miniature scale sound like fun? Want to join in on next year’s party? You can comment below or send me a message.

You Might Also Love…

Our 2018 harvest was an exciting, but far smaller affair. You can read how our venture began in

Altitude Brewing is the Frankton Brewery which has so far taken all the hops we can produce.Enjoy reading about Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper of Altitude Brewing in

Aaron Abernethy is not only the valley’s go-to-engineer for all farm machinery needs, but he is also a talented metalwork sculptor. Read all about Aaron’s beautiful creations in

This year we enjoyed learning how to grow saffron when Steve Daley of Te Anau-based Kiwi Saffron planted a trial crop of these precious flowers on our farm.

Dwane and Annie Herbert are staunch supporters of Athol and Garston locals. Even though they’ve now moved their fishing business south they were still more than willing to lend us their new, clean crates.

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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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Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

Tawhiti Museum: Such A Gem In Hawera

Tawhiti Museum welcome sign

Sometimes your spur-of-the-moment decision becomes a wonderful discovery. That was certainly the case when we visited the Tawhiti Museum in January.

And although most of this blog is centred on Southland and it’s people, Tawhiti, owned and created by Nigel and Teresa Ogle, is such a fabulous museum that I had to let you in on its secrets.

Entrance to Tawhiti Museum
The entrance to the unexpectedly entrancing Tawhiti Museum.

Tawhiti Museum

Remember those dioramas you made as a kid for school projects? The tiny figures in painted shoe-box scenery probably took you hours to make. Well, Tawhiti Museum has taken the art to a whole new level.

This surprising place brings history to life with hundreds of dioramas. Miniature models sync with life-size scenes to show Taranaki’s vivid past.

There’s so much to Tawhiti that you could easily spend all day there.

For a start there are three astonishing collections to see, as well as the cafe and workshop. It’s hard to choose between them if you only have a couple of hours to spare.

If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the creator of all this magic for he is often found hard at work in the Body Shop, painting his next piece of magic.

Tawhiti Museum owner and artist Nigel Ogle paints a tiny figure for his next exhibition.
Nigel Ogle

Tawhiti Owner and Artist Nigel Ogle

Nigel and his wife Teresa bought the old Tawhiti Cheese Factory just outside Hawera in 1975.  How could they imagine what it would become? Fast forward 40 years and Tawhiti is now one of the most innovative private museums in New Zealand.

It all began in 1980 as a hobby for school teacher Nigel; a way to combine his two great passions, art and history. But the model collection soon took on a life of its own. So in 1988 Nigel left teaching behind and became the artist – storyteller we see today.

Taranaki History In Models Great And Small

Nigel doesn’t just make figures, he brings whole scenes from Taranaki’s past to life with detailed props and scenery.

Every expression and frozen gesture brings you into the story. Looking at their faces it’s easy to imagine their thoughts and feelings in the moment.

Nigel can take anywhere from months to years to create a display.

He’s often persuaded friends, relatives and locals to let him cast their moulds which have later become his life-size models. And he’s painstakingly created many tiny figurines in wax, too. These make the moulds which allow him to recreate hundreds of each.

Not only that, Nigel has created all the detailed scenery, right down to the last flax leaf and musket. It’s hard for him to get away from it all. Even when walking the dog he collects driftwood and rocks for his next masterpiece.

Close up on a tiny figure and detailed scenery in a Trader and Whaler diorama.

All that detail is something that visitors to Tawhiti frequently mention.

Moturoa and Te Atiawa

In the 1820’s the wars between iwi in Waikato and Taranaki were fierce. When a Taranaki warrior killed a great Waikato Chief the Waikato tribes vowed utu — revenge. Waikato had long been trading for muskets which gave them a huge advantage.

Into this hotbed sailed two traders, Dicky Barrett and Jacky Love bringing muskets a-plenty for whatever Taranaki iwi had to sell.

So it was, in 1832, that when Waikato came calling once more, the Te Atiawa were ready. The battle at Otaka was long and hard. But this time, with European muskets and cannons to use, Te Atiawa managed to repel the invaders.

Then, fearful of the retribution that was bound to follow, the whole tribe fled. Some went south to Kapiti and Wellington. But Barrett and around 300 villagers set up home on the offshore island of Moturoa.

Traders and Whalers

I can’t say that I knew a lot about  the trading and whaling history of Taranaki before we visited Tawhiti. The museum brings it vividly to life.

We saw miniature dioramas and information boards a-plenty but the true magic of Traders and Whalers comes as you float back in time. Because, incredibly, Nigel has recreated the rocky Moturoa caverns and cliffs as a ride inside the museum.

Now, you can step onto a boat and let the story come to life around you.

The scale is incredible.

Scene after scene comes into the light as you swish along on the dark river. You see life-size warriors sharpening spears. Traders, women, children — all going about their daily lives in the cramped caverns. There are buildings, goods, food … even a pitched battle erupts around you.

And you can’t help but end the tour wondering. “How did Nigel build all this in four short years?”

Watch from 3:35 to see a little of the Traders and Whalers ride in action.

Farm Hall

You can’t imagine how big the Farm Hall is, or the incredible collection that waits inside.

Here, lined up for inspection come tractor, after tractor, after polished tractor. There’s every brand you could possibly name — and more —  to begin this amazing tour.

Polished red tractors lined up in the Tawhiti Museum farm hall.

But it doesn’t stop there. The tractors give way to army jeeps and steam traction engines. Turn the corner and you’ll see old balers, mowers and every type of farm machinery you could ever imagine. Miniatures, models and tools vie for space on shelves and walls.

I’m not a mechanical sort of gal, but this collection left me stunned.

It would take you days to explore it all. I guess that for vintage enthusiasts, the Farm Hall is probably akin to machinery heaven.

Hawera

We visited Tawhiti on our final day in Hawera, and I really wished we had more time to spare.

In fact, Hawera turned out to be a delightful town to visit. It has lovely parks, two interesting beaches and its fair share of cafes delivering delicious food.

But surely Tawhiti Museum has to be the jewel in its crown. I can’t wait to return.

P.S.

If you stay in Hawera I’d have to recommend the Kerry Lane Motel. Five minutes out of town, this motel has everything a family could possibly want. Comfortable, spacious units, lovely gardens, animals and plenty of space to play. What’s not to love?

Picturesque motel unit and garden at Kerry Lane Motel in Hawera.

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Tawhiti Links

Tawhiti Museum home page

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