Kea Energy's Naomi and Campbell McMath. Photo: Supplied.

Solar farm project powers-up

A Christchurch company is making the most of Marlborough’s sunny reputation with plans to install a two-megawatt solar farm.

The family-owned power generation company Kea Energy is currently in talks with local energy distributor Marlborough Lines to deliver renewable electricity.

Consents have been granted by Marlborough District Council for the solar farm up the Wairau Valley.

Kea Energy managing director Campbell McMath says the solar farm project is slowly coming together.

“We’ve done the initial application [with Marlborough Lines] and they’ve requested some information about the effects that the solar will have on the system”.

The proposed plan for the two megawatt solar farm. Photo: Supplied.
The proposed plan for the two megawatt solar farm. Photo: Supplied.

An engineering company is analysing the effects on the power network with a report due within the fortnight, Campbell says.

“We’re trying for two megawatts but it’s all negotiated with Marlborough Lines.”

“If the power lines can’t handle that, we’ll have to reduce it or find clever ways to store it or send it out at non-peak generation time.”

Campbell says two mega-watts is enough energy to power up to 500 homes.

“During the peak times, it would be powering the Wairau Valley.

“Wairau Valley would be fed from solar,” he says.

Kea Energy own and operate hydro and solar plants in Christchurch, generating around 2.2GWH of electricity every year – close to 30 per cent of Christchurch’s locally generated energy.

Wairau Valley would be fed from solar if the proposed solar generation plant goes ahead. Photo: Supplied.
Wairau Valley would be fed from solar if the proposed plant goes ahead. Photo: Supplied.

“If it was a dirty energy, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Campbell says.

“It’s economical and green which attracts us to it.”

He says Kea Energy take control of all aspects of the production of the powerplant, which allows them to build the solar farm for cheaper.

“We do all the importing of the panels, the importing of all the equipment, we do all the installation ourselves and we do all the engineering ourselves,” Campbell says.

“Once this goes ahead, we’re going to do some analysis and if that’s all promising we’re going to start looking at a much larger one.

“We’re still determining the area, whether it would be in Tasman or Marlborough or up in the Hawkes Bay area.”

Hairdresser Courtney Stevenson has big plans to open a free community salon. Photo: Matt Brown.

Hairdresser’s cut price community dream

A hairdresser has set her heart on opening a community salon – offering beauty services at a snip of usual prices.

Kind-hearted Courtney Stevenson from Blenheim wants to help people who may be tight on funds spruce up their image.

The mum of two hopes the move will help boost flagging confidence levels.

And she’s also taking aim at nits, which she says are “rife” in the region.

“I’ve got pretty much everything I need for the salon, but I thought I would launch the Givealittle page and see what help the community could pop into it as well,” Courtney says.

Courtney has already organised space for a beautician, salon and barber, at Crossroads on Blenheim’s Main St.

“It’s based on look good, feel good, putting a pep in someone’s day,” she says.

“It’s a space where people can come and have their hair cut, women can have their eyebrows done.

“It’s a space to come and tidy up and feel good about yourself, really.”

After having an operation on her back, Courtney says she was “umming and ahhing” about returning to her job at a local salon.

A hairdresser for 17 years, she says the community salon isn’t going to be about making money.

“When it first launches, I’m going to offer a few hours in the mornings when my kids are at kindie,” she says.

“My kids are getting to school age and I’ve just noticed so many kids with overgrown hair.

“There’s loads and loads of kiddies whose parents just can’t afford to get them a haircut.”

She says nits are a problem that are getting “worse and worse” in classrooms.

“Salons don’t offer in salon treatment,” she says.

“Just speaking to mums and teachers, it is something the cost comes into.

“It’s so expensive for parents to be spending $30 or $40 every week on these reoccurring nits”.

Courtney estimates it will cost around $5000 to get her salon “set up and looking good”.

Trained as a barber and says she plans on doing men’s shaves too.

“The service is free, but also available to anyone.”

Courtney says a donation box will be available for those wanting to put something towards their new do.

“But ultimately, it is a free service,” she says.

“The women’s refuge has a lot of people they can refer, some place where they can feel good, have their nails painted and a bit of a pep really.”

She says a new haircut is a great confidence boost for upcoming job interviews.

“I think it’s really needed,” she says.

To donate, visit

Geoff Pybus and daughter, Ever, at the soon to be rebranded Cafe Home. Photo: Matt Brown.

Greek cafe to make itself at home

After 11 years of coffee and food, the owners of Café Home are preparing to call it a day.

Owners Geoff and Nicole Pybus have sold their business, and in it’s place a new owner has planned a Greek café, Eleni.

Nicknamed ‘Miss 100,000 Volts’, incoming owner Helene Marchant is champing at the bit to unleash her vision and unique
Mediterranean flavour on Marlborough.

Incoming owner Helene Marchant. Photo: Matt Brown.
Incoming owner Helene Marchant. Photo: Matt Brown.

Helene, who has lived in Renwick for the last 20 years, says she was sipping coffee at the café late in April when she was struck with inspiration.

“I asked Geoff if he would like to sell, he said to the right person,” she says.

“I said, would I be the right person? He said yes, so we did a deal.”

And Helene has been “firing on all cylinders” getting her ideas and plans for the new eatery out of her head and into reality.

“How beautiful would it be to have a Greek café in the middle of Blenheim,” she says.

Cafe Home owner Geoff Pybus says he isn’t sure what he will do next, but was looking forward to regular nine to five hours so he could spend more time with his children.

The cafe will be rebranded as Eleni. Photo: Matt Brown.
The cafe will be rebranded as Eleni. Photo: Matt Brown.

“[A Greek cafe] is different to what everyone else is doing, it’s going to be cool,” he says.

He hopes that the new restaurant would be open at night.

An accountant by profession, Helene moved to Renwick to work in the wine industry with her husband from Adelaide, South Australia 23 years ago.

Taking over a cafe is a “huge” change of tack, she says the only experience she has running a café is drinking “copious amounts” of coffee and eating fabulous food.

But Helene’s parents, who emigrated from Greece to Adelaide when they were young, had a background in hospitality.

“My aunties, uncles, my grandparents, it must be in the blood there somewhere,” Helene says.

“My mother’s family ran a whole lot of cafes and restaurants and bakeries.

“The food gets drummed into you from an early age, and I’m a great cook,” she says.

Helene says the change of ownership is a new beginning.

“I’m a businesswoman, I’m a resourceful woman and I’d like to think I have what it takes to make Eleni successful,” she says.

“I see an opportunity, and I just go for it.

“One thing I’m not going to do is change the food structure that they have at the moment, and the coffee.

“We have the most amazing coffee.

Helene plans to introduce Greek coffee and meals over time.

“I’m trying to get a liquor license at the moment because the Mediterranean diet is all about food and enjoying it with a glass of wine or beer.”

The cafe will close for renovations on 30 July.

Helene hopes they will open the doors to the new café by 5 August.

Helene says the outgoing owners, Geoff and Nicole leave big shoes to fill.

“And they obviously knew it was time to sell,” she says.

“They’re well respected within the area and I hope I can do as wonderful a job as they have.”

The Queen St store has no immediate plans of reopening. Photo: Matt Brown.

Brakes put on cycle shop

Blenheim’s oldest bicycle shop sits dark, brown paper covering the windows.

What initially began as a “temporary rejuvenation” has dragged on at AvantiPlus Spokesman Cycles to months of locked doors.

And the doors will remain locked, until the current owner can entice a manager to the region.

AvantiPlus Spokesman Cycles owner Christian Hoff Nielsen says the shop will stay closed until a new manager and part-owner is found to run the once-successful cycle store.

Despite offering a salary and the opportunity to own the shop, he says no one wants to move to the region.

“The last manager I had in line for this shop flatly refused to come and work in Blenheim,” Christian says.

“It seems that I just can’t entice anyone to come there.

“It’s really peculiar because it’s not been one, it’s been three or four really good candidates two of which have continued working for me in Queenstown and Waiheke.”

First opened in 1984 by Bill Mitchell, the shop began its life as the Marlborough Sports store.

After a brief stint as a triathlon centre, the advent of BMX racing saw Avanti knocking on Bill’s door, seeing the beginning of a successful 30-year partnership.

But the search for a manager-turned-owner to continue the legacy is proving much harder than Christian thought.

The store is ready to go, for the right person, Christian says.

He has kept a bicycle mechanic and shop assistant on a retainer, paying them to “sit at home, twiddle their thumbs and be bored.”

“At this point we’re even looking at giving it away, but I just can’t find anyone,” he says.

Christian owns five other cycle shops around New Zealand and bought the Blenheim store for $400,000 four years ago.

He says he can’t just on sell the business due to licensing agreements.

“There are certain criteria I have to fulfil,” he says.

“One or two of the people that have looked interesting have not had the bicycling know-how to be acceptable.

“You do have to have an owner-operator that has a certain cycling background for them to be palatable for the licensed brands that we carry.”

Christian says the right person can start with a salary and get ownership rights down the line.

“What I proposed to the last person is that after six months they own 10 per cent, after another six months, another 10 per cent and so forth.

“They basically work their way into the company,” he says.

Christian says the previous owner, Bill has been “fantastic”, he feels he owes him and the spirit of the shop to keep the business in town.

“I’ve had people wanting to pledge money, and I don’t know what to say,” Christian says.

“What we want is another person to stand at the counter with his wife or his or her son, daughters, for it to be a family business.”

Taylor Pass Honey Co’s plant supervisor Troy Appleton and operations manager Richard Hopkins. Photo: Paula Hulburt

Sweet taste of success for honey makers

Honey company staff have tasted victory after scooping four awards at a top national competition.

Taylor Pass Honey Co. won three gold awards and one bronze for their liquid honey, honeycomb and honeydew honey.

They were also awarded two trophies, one for best liquid honey and best comb honey at the 2019 Pi-a-ora Apiculture NZ awards in Rotorua.

For CEO Richard Green, the win was a team effort.

Some of the awards the honey business has recently achieved. Photo: Paula Hulburt.
Some of the awards the honey business has recently achieved. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

“This is recognition for the whole team and a credit to the skills of the whole team.

“We’re really proud as our flavours are where we do well; one of our unique selling points is that our flavours are very special”.

With around 40 permanent and part-time staff, including 24 beekeepers, Taylor Pass Honey Co started 27 years ago.

It’s gone from strength to strength exporting honey all over the world.

With 10,500 hives, each housing around 100,000 bees, the company is the biggest honey producer in the South Island.

Operations manager Richard Hopkins says the bees from one hive fly the equivalent of three times around the world during the honey production season.

“They work hard. It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science. It’s about knowing what the honey is and how it behaves during the creaming process.”

At the packaging plant in Riverlands, the honey goes through a scrupulous filtering system.

From filtering to packaging, around 600kg an hour goes through the process during peak season,

“Each tank holds three tons of honey and it stays there for three to four days to control the crystallization process.

“That’s the art of producing honey and being in control, knowing what the honey is and how it behaves while crystallization occurs,” says Richard.

Each jar of honey can be traced back to a specific hive site.

It is this attention to detail, says Richard that helps make the honey an award-winner.

“A lot of the guys make honey especially for the competition but Taylor Pass won by pulling a sample of the pack line; it’s not one we made specifically.

“They’re all good”.

Plant Supervisor Troy Appleton is an essential team member.

With two seasons behind him, he knows plenty about how the company’s award-winning honey is made.

“It’s down to the bees to do their thing before we do ours.”

The company has partnered with other retailers in town and are selling honey through these outlets including The Vines Village off Rapaura Road.

Janet Steggle hope the Marlborough Creative Artisans new shop will be a big hit. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Overseas buyers get crafty

A posse of Picton crafters have been making their mark across the world as their work gets snapped up by overseas buyers.

The Marlborough Creative Artisans are set to mark seven years since they first opened their doors.

And with a new, larger premises in Mariners Mall in the heart of Picton, there is plenty for the 30-strong team to celebrate.

Members hope the new High St venue will boost sales locally when the number of tourists drops off after cruise ship season closed.

Artisan knitter Janet Steggle says the new site, in the former post office building, is more prominent.

“We’re lucky that we didn’t have to do any work to it, except a bit of cleaning.

“As we’re a co-operative, we all got involved, along with husbands and family, and spent a whole weekend moving and arranging.

“It’s a lovely, bright, airy space with great light,” she says.

A range of work is on display, from colourful knitwear and water colours to jewellery and baby clothes.

The shop attracts a variety of customers, with many making the effort to keep in touch once they’ve left New Zealand.

Janet has seen some of her creations end-up in places from Alaska to Tasmania.

“Customers want to buy something unique, hand-crafted and locally made.

“We’ve sold things that go all over the world. Cruise ship passengers especially need things that are easy to take back with them.

“Some of the ships have craft groups on board or knitting groups and passengers are really excited when they see what we have on offer,” she says.

“I’ve had emails from Alaska and photos from Tasmania from people who have bought my knitwear”.

The shop’s big draw is the fact that everything on sale is made locally from people who live in the region.

“You have to live in Marlborough and make the work yourself,” says Janet.

Friends, from left, Georgie Ballagh, Rose Church, Bridgette Yarrall, Shania Tunnicliff and Maddy Ryan with their invention. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Thinking outside the lunchbox

A group of friends have invented a way to tackle the scourge of school lunchboxes – brown fruit.

Five business studies students from Marlborough Girls’ College have come up with a plan to stop fruit growing brown.

They hope their special spray will prove to be a big hit with families sick of ditching spoiled produce.

The year 12 friends, Georgie Ballagh, Rose Church, Maddy Ryan, Shania Tunnicliff and Bridgette Yarrall came up with the concept as part of their business studies class.

“We had to come up with something that would fix a problem. We started with food waste and how much waste families throw out and went from there to the spray,” says Shania.

The close-knit group tried and discarded several recipes before finding their final formula for Keep ‘n Fresh.

It was created in the kitchen at the Scenic Circle Hotel in Blenheim to strict hygiene standards.

And it was a long process to find the right one, says Shania.

“It was trial and error between all the different recipes. There was one that worked well but it tasted of honey.

“We didn’t want one that flavoured the food”.

Inventors, from left, Bridget Yarrall, Georgie Ballagh, Rose Church, Shania Tunnicliff and Maddy Ryan. Photo: Paula Hulburt.
Inventors, from left, Bridget Yarrall, Georgie Ballagh, Rose Church, Shania Tunnicliff and Maddy Ryan. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

The spray, which comes in a lunchbox size 5oml for $2.99 and a bigger 100ml bottle for $4.99, has been a steady seller.

But the girls are keen to get the word out.

“It really does work and we were quite surprised that there’s nothing else quite like it that you can already buy,” Maddy says.

The groups CEO, Rose, says the product had piqued public interest.

“When we did our research, we discovered there were lots of people who would be interested in buying it.”

The girls hope to continue selling the spray even after their business studies class has finished.

They hope to be selling it at the Farmers’ Market soon.

“We went to the car boot sale, but it wasn’t really the right target market.

“We need to be somewhere with more families,” says Rose.

Twenty per cent of all sales will be donated to John’s Kitchen in Blenheim.

This two-year old Taimate Angus bull sold to Turihaua Angus Stud in Gisborne for an eye-watering price. Photo: Supplied.

Record-breaking bull sale nets Ward farmer massive payday

A Marlborough farmer has smashed records selling a bull for a jaw-dropping $85,000.

Taimate Angus stud farmer Paul Hickman sold a two-year-old bull to Turihaua Angus Stud, in Gisborne, for the sum, eclipsing his previous record of $20,000.

It is believed to be the highest for a bull in the South Island.

“It is an extraordinary price,” Paul says.

Previously, the top price Paul had received for one of his Angus bulls was $20,000.

The Aberdeen Angus, simply known as Angus, is a Scottish breed of small beef cattle.

The name comes from cattle native to Aberdeenshire and Angus in north-eastern Scotland.

The Ward farmer has been breeding bulls on the family farm his whole life.

Sired by Taimate Lazarus, a bull kept as a breeding stud, the as yet unnamed bull will be shipped to its new owner in Gisborne.

“He is just an all-round exceptionally good bull,” Paul says.

“To look at, his performance, the way he walks, the way he moves. Everything.”

Paul says he sold another bull, by Lazarus, for $40,000 and another for $23,000.

Paul says the highest amount paid for a New Zealand Angus bull was around $150,000 in the mid-90’s.

Breaking another South Island record, Taimate Angus received an average price of $14,000 for their 65 livestock up for sale, selling 65 out of 65 bulls.

“She’s a good day and a rather long night celebrating,” Paul says.

He says next year, there will be more sons of Taimate Lazarus for sale, but he wasn’t expecting to surpass this year’s prices.

“That would be a hell of a long shot,” he says. “But never say never.

“I’m very, very pleased.”

BeeApp Co-founder and CEO Erik Bast, left, out in the field with the BeeApp. Photo: Supplied.

Bee Intelligence creating a buzz overseas

The brains behind a new beekeeping app have been chosen to pitch for a $100,000 funds boost.

Bee Intelligence, which provides its BeeApp software for commercial beekeepers, is one of just 20 companies to be shortlisted.

The app, which started life in Marlborough, saw off competition from a raft of other businesses at the LAUNCH Festival in Sydney –  which attracted more than 1000 start-up businesses.

BeeApp Co-founder and CEO Erik Bast, says it’s been an exciting time.

“We’re really excited to be one of the few startups pitching at the event – it’s strong validation that there is international interest in BeeApp.

“We are excited about the opportunity to be exposed to the resources and expertise of these global innovation leaders, he says.
Bee Intelligence co-founder Christian Stresing made the long trip from Berlin to Sydney to join some of the team on the ground.

The company has earned the right to take part in a pitch which could see them scoop the prize pool. The event is the first international version of Silicon Valley’s largest startup conference.

Three New Zealand startups from ecentre’s Sprint Global startup programme also flew to Sydney to take part.

Marlborough-based BeeApp co-founder and keen beekeeper Dale DeLuca came up with the idea after looking for ways to help combat everyday problems.

The self-taught apiarist says he couldn’t find an app that could help.

“I quickly found there wasn’t anything decent around that was going to help me understand how my hives were performing, or keep track of the health of my bees…

“As a beekeeper I understand what beekeepers need,” he says.

The company’s technology suite includes sensors, offline smartphone apps and web-based dashboards.

Shellfish and seawater samples are taken every week from popular shellfish gathering sites around New Zealand and are tested for the presence of toxic algae. Photo: Supplied.

Toxic shellfish alert for Pelorus

A public health warning has been issued after a potentially life-threatening toxin was discovered in shellfish in the Pelorus Sound.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has alerted the public after routine tests found unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Staff are warning that anyone eating shellfish from Nydia Bay could be at risk.

The move comes after MPI lifted the warning from the Marlborough Sounds at the end of May.

MPI bosses said levels above the safe limit of 0.8mg/kg were found during routine testing.

Possible symptoms of the illness include numbness and tingling, difficulties breathing and swallowing and, in extreme cases respiratory failure.

The toxin can also cause headaches and diarrhoea, with inset of symptoms flaring up between 10 minutes and three hours after the infected food being eaten.

Mussels, oysters, tuatua, pipi, toheroa, cockles, scallops, catseyes, kina (sea urchin) and all other bivalve shellfish should not be eaten from the areas effected.

“Cooking shellfish does not remove the toxin.

“Pāua, crab and crayfish may still be eaten if the gut has been completely removed prior to cooking, as toxins accumulate in the gut.

If the gut is not removed its contents could contaminate the meat during the cooking process”, the spokesperson warned.

Shellfish and seawater samples are taken every week from popular shellfish gathering sites around New Zealand and are tested for the presence of toxic algae.

Algal blooms occur when there is a rapid increase in the number of algae in water.

Blooms may show as large red or brown patches in the sea but sometimes can’t be seen.

An MPI spokesperson advised that anyone falling ill after eating shellfish from a warning zone area should seek immediate medical help.

“Call Healthline for advice on 0800 61 11 16 or seek medical attention immediately.

“You are also advised to contact your nearest public health unit and keep any leftover shellfish in case it can be tested.”.

Toxin levels will continue to be monitored.

Commercially harvested shellfish are not affected as they are subjected to regular rigorous testing.