Perhaps it's the lifestyle that gives Stephanie Lynch her calm and contented manner, her air of fulfilment.

Or it could be her tranquil surroundings or working with honey. For "the keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams", to quote Henry David Thoreau.


She and husband Martin's artisan Sweetree Honey products stem from the hives the couple strategically placed throughout the Waikato.


Bees and their husbandry have been a part of Martin's life since childhood; his grandfather kept them, and his uncles and father too. He learned the art of beekeeping at their knees, and took over the task aged 16 when he inherited his father's hives.


So when Stephanie and Martin bought their 10-acre Horsham Downs property 15 years ago, it was a given that Martin, who is also an electrical engineer working on energy efficiency programmes, brought along three of his father's hives.


Of their now 250 hives, about 45 are generally kept on their own property. More are wintered there, this year in particular.


Varroa mite might be a fact of life these days, "you have to treat it or lose the hives", but it's the weather that's causing problems now.


"It's been a bad season with a very cold spring and lots of rain. It's been a very unusual once-in-10-years thing," Stephanie says.


"There needs to be a certain ambient temperature for nectar to flow, and the hives need plenty of daylight. We lost a few hives because the bees were hungry. We try to minimise feeding syrup to hives by balancing up honey frames in each apiary site. It is important to ensure sugar syrup doesn't get into the honey and spoil the natural flavours from our key locations."


These include the Hakarimatas and an apiary site in a vineyard at Opoutere in the Coromandel Peninsula. "We get quite different honey from there, a mix of manuka and pohutukawa."


In Horsham Downs, the nectar is from farm pasture, what's growing along the riverbanks and in a nearby orchard. The Lynches recently planted more than 250 native trees on their property, expressly to feed the bees.


Their hives at Four Brothers Reserve produce flavours of kanuka and pasture. But Martin's favourite location is Marokopa sheep station, where three varieties are produced. Spring honey hints of rewarewa, kamahi and heketara; summer honey rata and pasture.


In summer, honey is also collected from separate manuka frames. "It's thicker and tastier and stickier. It has a distinctly manuka flavour with a real kick at the back of the throat."


What was a hobby for Martin grew into a business when their younger son was due to start school. "I knew it was time to look at going back to work but I wanted to be at home with the kids," Stephanie says.


They started up in partnership with the neighbours, but bought them out five years ago.


Lines of demarcation are clear: Martin handles bee husbandry, Stephanie "almost everything else".


As a business analyst, she has the perfect background. "I'm doing all sides here, not just finance, and I love it – the production, marketing, sales, online sales and the upkeep of the website. It's an ongoing learning process."


And what began as a little extra income has morphed into a busy business, the honey complemented with Sweetree's bee pollen, a natural health supplement – "healthy eating is my passion" – and a propolis tincture Stephanie makes from the propolis off the hives.


They're supplemented by a range of related extras such as bee balms from the South Island, and honey wraps made by a friend of a friend.


Stephanie was raised in Morrinsville, but moved to Hamilton for employment and university. She met Martin when they were both working at New Zealand Dairy Group (now Fonterra).


Staying in the Waikato is a given, "I couldn't think of being anywhere else".


"Our family connects us – the boys' grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins – and some help with the harvest and packing. If we were to live in, say, the South Island, we would miss all that.


"My dream is when the boys get married and have kids that we would still have family meals together and tramp in the bush. I don't need fancy things.


"We're outdoor people, and I've been involved in tramping ever since I can remember."


It's not just the physical exercise aspect that draws Stephanie. "It's the botany side of things and the birds. There's a real connection as soon as I get into the bush."


She would like to travel more though. "We did lots of travelling before we had kids. I'd like to go back to Nepal, I've trekked there before but this time I'd like to take Martin and the kids."


Meanwhile life's pretty much idyllic chez Lynch. When Tempo visits it's yet another bleak rainy day. We trek up a bush-lined path to an arched opening in a wall, step inside, and we enter another world.


Large windows frame views and bring indoors the clever textured planting scheme as rain gently drips off trees and makes its way down into a gully.


That it was formerly Hamilton Gardens' mastermind Peter Sergel's home explains it all.


"I love being out in the country like this. The greenness and the peaceful privacy, but I like being close to town. We're a close community out here; I think I would find it really hard to settle in another place after having these connections."


BEST OF THE WAIKATO


Favourite coffee shop? How do you take your coffee?

Cafe Olive in Flagstaff. It's my local. The staff are friendly and chatty, and the food is yummy. I hardly ever drink coffee but I do love trying new herbal teas.


Favourite brunch spot? What would you order?

Cafe Inc in Rototuna, I'm gluten-free so I can choose anything on the menu, you can't do that in many places. I usually have a salad of the day and one of their delectable cakes.


Best park?

We like to go to Hamilton Gardens as a family, the kids enjoy it and there are always new things to look at. It's great inspiration for my own garden, too.


Best watering hole – what's your poison?

I would say it's the neighbours' place. We get our families together every now and again, the kids have fun while we have a chin wag over a wine or a G&T.


Best date spot?

I think the best date spot is in nature – the bush, or walking on the beach. Martin knew that only too well when he proposed to me by a waterfall while on a bushwalk. We actually got together during a weekend tramp with a group of workmates, and our first date was walking on the beach at Port Waikato. Great memories.


Best view?

On top of Taupiri Mountain, a great spot for 360-degree views of the Waikato Basin.


Where would you take a tourist?

Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Marokopa for the natural bridge and falls.


A fond food memory from the region?

We went to a Grain vs Grape degustation dinner at Good Neighbour in Rototuna, where a New Zealand wine and Good George beer were paired with each dish. We had to decide which went best with the meal – grain or grape. A highlight was that one of the dishes included Sweetree Honey.


Favourite getaway in the Waikato?

We love going to Waihi Beach. It's not too far away and has great waves for boogie-boarding. For a longer break, we go to Port Charles at the top of the Coromandel to our family bach. It's a beautiful location and a great place to get away from it all.


What are you drinking?

Jersey Girl Organics milk. I love that it's local and non-homogenised.


What Waikato product/produce can you not do without this season?

To be honest, Sweetree's Ohui active manuka honey for winter ailments.


Favourite day trip with the kids?

We love to get into the bush. There are heaps of bushwalk areas in the Waikato – Pirongia, Hakarimatas, Pukemokemoke, Karangahake Gorge.


What do you think is Waikato's best-kept secret?

Te Awa river walk and cycle ways, a 70km pathway under construction between Ngaruawahia and Horahora.

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