A sweet Kiwi Life

New Zealand’s need for beekeepers helped English migrant Jonothan Hankinson fulfil his dreams in Central Otago.
A sweet Kiwi Life

Jonothan “Joth” Hankinson took up beekeeping in England 10 years ago, on the encouragement of a friend he played rugby with.

So it’s fitting that now Joth works as a beekeeper in New Zealand, one of the world’s most rugby-loving nations. But this country’s reputation for rugby wasn’t what initially lured Joth here for a six-week holiday in December 2011. His sister-in-law is from New Zealand, and his family had lived in Melbourne, Australia for four years when he was younger. So this part of the world was an obvious travel destination.

New Zealand’s scenery wowed Joth. “It was just stunning. It’s a beautiful place to be, and the sort of place I would like to live and work. It was my dream to do that,” he says.

He was interested in how bees are kept here, and he went to visit to Lindis Honey in Bannockburn, just outside Cromwell in Central Otago. Since beekeeping is an in-demand skill, apiarist Tim Wood of Lindis Honey was happy to offer him a job during the next harvest season.

Bannockburn, Central Otago

Joth returned on a six-month working visa in October 2012. “Coming over for six months was a good thing to do, because it’s not such a big step – you can have a look around, meet the people, and then go from there,” he says.

Towards the end of that time, Joth received an email from Immigration New Zealand explaining there was a shortage of skilled migrant workers in the beekeeping industry. That, combined with a full-time job offer from Lindis Honey, meant he succeeded in getting a residence visa in 2013. “I didn’t really want to be the 50- or 60-year-old man sitting at home in my chair, thinking I did have that opportunity and I never took it,” he says.

Joth works as a beekeeper, tending to hives and shifting them so bees can feed from different flowers to produce various types of honey. He also has 50 hives, owned by Lindis Honey, on his own property, as well as a lavender farm – “as you can imagine, the bees do wonders for the lavender”.

It’s all about immersing yourself in the community and meeting new people as much as you can.

When Joth first arrived, “full of energy and chasing the challenge, I had a crack at producing some lavender oil and selling a bit of honey”. Last year, the oil won top honours at a national competition: “I couldn’t have achieved this without the help of the lads, my mates who I work with,” he says.

Still, starting a new life in a new country will always involve feelings of isolation and loneliness – especially when you’re working in a rural area. “Sometimes it’s quite hard to meet people these days, you know? You try and immerse yourself in so many different clubs, to try and meet people, but there’s only so much you can do,” explains Joth.

Happily, he met his partner Stephanie in a pub in Arrowtown last year, and she took him to visit spectacular places such as Milford and Doubtful Sounds. “These are some of the things that I never really did because I felt I was always working, but having Stephanie there was fantastic because she showed me some of the most beautiful parts of the country,” says Joth.

“The adjustment of moving from home and family has been so much easier with her by my side.” Eventually Stephanie moved in with him in Lowburn, near Cromwell, and their daughter Elsie was born in August 2015. “It’s a big, big commitment and a big lifestyle change for me and Stephanie,” he says.

While it’s also a long way away from the small town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where he grew up, the way people look after each other here means it’s a great place to have kids. “It’s all about immersing yourself in the community and meeting new people as much as you can, trying to make a life here and make the best possible place for your family to grow up in,” he says.

If the prospect of moving to New Zealand appeals, “think about it very carefully because it is a big step in your life”, adds Joth. “Spend time on your visa application and get it right the first time, because it will just take longer and longer if you don’t.”

Once you’re here, he concludes, the best thing to do is just dig in and get to know the locals. “You have to be willing to work hard and get on with people. Then they’ll be happy to sit and have a beer with you and have a yarn.”

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