A sweet Kiwi Life
New Zealand’s need for beekeepers helped English migrant Jonothan Hankinson fulfil his dreams in Central Otago.
Hi, my name is Joth Hankinson. I’m originally from the UK, Berwick-upon-Tweed and now I’m located in Lowburn, Central Otago, New Zealand.
Beekeeping started for me back about 10 years ago just through playing rugby. One of the guys was a beekeeper so I was fortunate enough to work beside him for a while.
I came to New Zealand on holiday for a six week break and I had the good fortune of visiting a beekeeper, and then we got the opportunity to discuss a time where we could come over and do some work and that gave me the six month working visa.
Towards the end of the six months I received an email from New Zealand Immigration stating the fact that skilled migrant workers, especially in the beekeeping industry – there was a shortage at the time, so that was, for me was a great opportunity ah to go ahead with that you know, and I didn’t really want to be the man sitting at home sitting back in my chair – a 50 or 60 year old thinking that I did have that opportunity and I never took it.
But obviously it’s the job offer that’s the main thing, you know, if you can get that full time job offer then that helps in the application, so that’s why I’m thankful to Lindis Honey, that they provided me with such a good job.
I first met Stephanie in the Fork and Tap in Arrowtown, so that was a good meet and then it all went from there, … yeah, it went well (laughs)
So … yeah, Fatherhood, fatherhood is, ah - it’s a big big commitment and a big change and a big lifestyle change for me and Stephanie as well, but that’s something that this area is very strong on, you know it’s all about the community, it’s all about the people and looking after each other.
To have that backing from other people and to have such a lovely place to grow up, it really sealed the deal for me.
I think New Zealand as a whole, I think the main thing is if you’re willing to work hard and you bring something to the table, yeah, they welcome you with open hands, you know.
The only piece of advice that I can give to the person that was thinking about doing this is to think about it very carefully. It’s a massive step and you’ve got to be willing to pretty much start all over again.
I think if I was going to do it again luckily I wouldn’t have to make too many changes. I think it’s hard to look into the future that far, but the future lies here in Cromwell and in Lowburn, trying to make a life here and make the best possible place to grow up in for your family
In ten years’ time I would quite like to think of myself being here and you know, like. just being happy here.
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.
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.”