NZ Gardener Magazine article - March 2009


STORY: Jane Wrigglesworth  PHOTOS: Sally Tagg

Reproduced with permission - Subject to copyright in its entirety.


The view from the top of Sven's propertySven Stellin

The pot was an old steel can with a bolted lid. The condenser was made of steel and aluminium piping, and the oil separator was a brandy bottle with holes drilled in to let water in and out." So began Sven Stellin's first attempt at extracting oil from kanuka and manuka. Manuka seed pods

Sven, who has lived on the Barrier since he was one, took over the running of his family's farm at 19 when his father died. But farming wasn't to be his destiny. He had, shall we say, more romantic plans: to extract the aroma from New Zealand's tea tree oil. But it wasn't until 1985 that his interest was rekindled by two things. One was the discovery of an article in a magazine, the other an accident that involved a local boy. "A wood splinter had penetrated the boy's eyeball and it was a couple of days before he received medical help," says Sven. "The local doctor removed the splinter and found there was no infection in the eye and it consequently healed very quickly. When asked why the eye had not become infected, the doctor said it was because it was a tea tree splinter and tea tree has known antibacterial properties."

Coincidentally, the article in an Australian magazine described how bush stills were used to extract oil from natural stands of melaleuca, the Aussie tea tree. So Sven decided to give it a go with his homemade version.

Oil extractionHis first extractions failed miserably. "The oils extracted, but they came out a reddish, golden yellow colour (as opposed to pale yellow). That's because a chemical reaction occurs when kanuka oil comes into contact with iron or steel."

Sven continued to extract oil with his tiny still for his own use, until he decided to turn his hobby into a commercial venture. He experimented with a much larger still, made his own products -balms, soaps, mozzie repellents and essential oils - and Barrier Gold was born. (See

Sven now runs tours and sells kanuka and manuka products from his shop on the premises. And if you ask nicely, he might take you for a ride on the back of his tractor to the topmost point of his land (I still have the bruises to prove it!) With 809ha and 43km of coastline, the views are spectacular.

Going to school was an adventure for Sven.  It began with a three-mile boat trip up the FitzRoy harbour, then a three-mile trip by road down into the Okiwi Basin.  Many school days were missed during winter.


* A beneficial bug in a bud has got to be worth at least two in the bush, but a bee in a manuka bush is worth gold. Barrier Gold, that is. At the top of Sven Stellin's property a number of beehives keep the local bees abuzzing.

* Local beekeepers tend the hives which produce honey for Sven's Barrier Gold brand of 100% pure manuka bush honey (it's divine).

* Great Barrier Island honey is also used by the Great Barrier Island Bee Co. for their assortment of products (soaps, lotions, hand cream, lip balms, scrubs). Check out for more details.


Reproduced with permission - Subject to copyright in its entirety.
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