Meet the woman behind the New Zealand honey with conservation at its core

In a remote corner of New Zealand’s North Island, founder Suzan Craig is letting nature take the lead with Tahi — one of the country’s richest, rarest and most complex honeys.

Suzan established Tahi in New Zealand's North Island in 2004, which, at the time she bought it, was nothing but a rundown and neglected cattle farm. 

Photograph by Tahi
By Tahi
Published 21 Sept 2021, 17:53 BST

Meet Suzan Craig, the woman behind Tahi. But simply calling Suzan the ‘maker’ behind this prized biodiversity-positive product doesn’t quite do her — or the bees — any justice. Custodian, guardian and keeper, perhaps? Champion, absolutely. But maker? Suzan would be the first to insist that nature doesn’t need anyone looking over its shoulder when it comes to perfecting New Zealand’s most-prized honey — and that’s exactly the way it should be.

Records of the Craig family’s honey-producing history stretch all the way back to 1888. Suzan says the establishment of Tahi in 2004 — at the time she bought it, a rundown and neglected cattle farm — was about more than her beekeeping roots or even emulating her childhood memories of rewilding formerly barren offshore islands with her father, Dr John Craig, a professor in environmental management and zoology. “I was very keen to purchase something and try to build on and expand the knowledge we already had,” she says. The plan? To bring nature back into balance. How? By restoring 15 wetlands and implementing pest control alongside the trees planted, allowing native wildlife to recover and flourish. 

Suzan Craig with her father, Dr John Craig, a professor in environmental management and zoology.

Suzan Craig with her father, Dr John Craig, a professor in environmental management and zoology.

Photograph by Tahi

The ambition for Tahi flourished as the land did. As founding members of the Long Run — an initiative committed to sustainable nature-based tourism — the Tahi team were guided by the organisation’s tenets: conservation, community, culture and commerce. For each of the approximately 395,600 indigenous trees planted so far as part of their one-million tree pledge, for every acre of land or stream reinvigorated and protected, for every hour and every cent ploughed into the project, Tahi gave back. New partnerships were born, jobs created and local businesses and communities bolstered. Native birds flocked back — 71 species compared to just 14 in 2003. Rarely seen fish and reptiles became familiar and promising sights, each scurry and flash of scales proof of a balance restored. And then, of course, there were the bees.

If conservation is, as Suzan puts it, “the heart, the core and the soul of Tahi”, honey is its lifeblood. “We appreciated very early on that this project would cost a lot of money and we had to make it financially viable in a way that was consistent with our four cornerstones,” says Suzan. "This is where the honey and our model of giving 100% back came in, with every cent we make going back into conservation and community projects.”

The Luxury Lifestyle Awards recently lauded Tahi Manuka Honey as the best luxury honey in the ...

The Luxury Lifestyle Awards recently lauded Tahi Manuka Honey as the best luxury honey in the world.

Photograph by Tahi

Tahi honeys are also firmly ‘as nature intended’, meaning there are no pesticides or insecticides used in their creation, no additives and as little processing as possible “aside from maybe filtering out the odd stray bee wing”. Importantly, too, Tahi has gone beyond carbon neutral to biodiversity positive, with both the data and a host of major sustainability awards to show for it. With a range of 14 unique honeys, Suzan says that “every jar of Tahi honey tells a story of integrity and authenticity and drives our conservation work.” 

The extensive restoration project that has seen Tahi reawakened is certainly about honouring what once was, but more than that, it’s about developing a deeper understanding of what could be. This is also why Suzan thinks it’s essential that Tahi is open to visitors, whether that be groups of visiting school children or as a tranquil eco-retreat where tourists can relax, restore and connect. “When people have this kind of opportunity to connect with nature, it makes them more likely to be active in protecting it,” she says. And with each tree planted, wetland re-established, young mind galvanised or jar of honey sold, Suzan and her team not only reimagine but actively rewrite the future: wilder, more aware, and, yes, absolutely sweeter.

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