An un-bee-lievable industry

1) A paddock of Langstroth hives owned by Reg Symes in 1937, which he purchased from Charlie Pope.jpg

Sounds Like Us, our last year’s summer exhibition at Ashburton Museum, seemed to leave visitors with a sense of nostalgia and wonderment, thanks to incredibly detailed model ‘radios’ by Weta Workshop.

One such radio icon, designed by New Zealanders, Emma Clarkson and Wuqiong Shi, was the ultra-detailed beehive radio.

Since the introduction of New Zealand’s first non-native bee species, bees have become a crucial aspect of the agricultural and horticultural industries, thanks to their invaluable pollination, and the fact that they produce one of our most favoured natural treats – honey.

Considering that bees are managed on a commercial scale and as a popular hobby, it can easily be said that apiculture is an extremely important aspect of life in New Zealand.


Our first taste of honey

Mary Bumby is said to have brought the first English honeybees to New Zealand, arriving on March 19, 1839.

She took two hives of bees aboard the James and landed in Hokianga Harbour, setting up these hives at the Mangungu Mission Station.

These bees were better suited to pollinating introduced plants, whereas native bees favoured native species.

Other notable figures, who also brought bees to New Zealand, include James Busby, appointed first British Resident, and Jean-Baptiste François Pompallier, the first Roman Catholic bishop.

By 1860, new wild bee colonies were thriving so well that Maori were selling great quantities of honey harvested from nests in the bush.

A real breakthrough in beekeeping came with the widespread adoption of the Langstroth hive in the late 1870s, and New Zealand’s commercial honey production started to take off.

The beehive radio showcased in Sounds Like Us is based on a Langstroth hive, which are still the most common type of beehive used today, by both commercial operations and hobbyists.

Popularity Increases

One thing we can be grateful for, is that both native and introduced variants of bees flourished here in New Zealand – an example of species introduction gone well.

The growing abundance of honeybees made New Zealand a great place to keep an apiary, and the practice has become more common over time.

During the span of the twentieth century, there were two points at which the practice of beekeeping leaped in popularity, both just after each World War, when droves of servicemen returned home, seeking new professions or pastimes. Beekeeping was the sorely needed answer for many.

Over time this popularity has not dropped off, and it could be said that we are currently in a beehive boom – the number of hives across the country has doubled in the last ten years.

Beekeeping is a varied and flexible hobby, giving the option to manage just a few hives or dozens, depending on your preference and ability.

5) A drone trap from our collection, which attaches to the side of a hive and prevents drones from getting through.jpg

Beekeeping basics

Like many hobbies and practical jobs, beekeeping has its own specialised tools.

One such tool, is the bee smoker. Bee smokers are used by beekeepers when they want to do an inspection on their hive without the bees becoming violent.

When certain bees are injured or agitated, they release alarm pheromones that alert surrounding bees to become aggressive.

The purpose of the bee smoker is to mask these pheromones and render the bees calm, also prompting the bees to feed on honey and gorge themselves until they are docile – an effect of the smoke itself.

A great thing about the Langstroth hive is that it is very modular, meaning that boxes (or ‘supers’) can be stacked as high as the beekeeper is able to lift.

This does seems to have one downside however – if you want to check the queen, every super must be lifted off until you the ‘brood box’ at the bottom is reached.

Overall, beekeeping is an incredibly useful skill that many people benefit from. Farmers lease out hives to pollinate their crops and clover, and people reap rewards, such as honey and other products. The practice of beekeeping has also brought people together in clubs and organisations.

6. radio model.jpg

By Connor Lysaght



  1. A paddock of Langstroth hives owned by Reg Symes in 1937, which he purchased from Charlie Pope.
  2. A tin of ‘pure New Zealand honey’, which was sold and bought here in Ashburton.
  3. A bee smoker from the Ashburton Museum collection, which is used to make bees docile
  4. A typical beeswax cleaning product, in a metal tin.
  5. A drone trap from Ashburton Museum collection, which attaches to the side of a hive and prevents drones from getting through.
  6. The radio model designed by Emma Clarkson and Wuqiong Shi, in the shape of a Langstroth Hive, and made by Weta Workshop.

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