East Cape manuka – a super plant sustaining a community

There’s more to mānuka oil than the tree that bestows its name. Each drop is part of a developing industry that nurtures the roots of a community.

Words: Cheree Morrison Photos: Brennan Thomas

Thick, windswept mānuka  forests clutch to the edge of New Zealand’s East Cape. The sun that paints the top of the dark, brittle trees is the first of the new day; this easternmost point of the country is as remote as can be.
This is authentic rural New Zealand. The road that curls around the rugged, wild coastline travels through tiny settlements with a marae at their heart and history below their feet.

Those who call the East Cape home are the tangata whenua — their connection runs deep. The mānuka tree thrives in this remote part of Aotearoa. The combination of sun, rainfall and rugged landscape allow for the hardy tree to grow in thick, dense patches across the cape. Mānuka is a natural protector; it’s a pioneering species and one of the first trees to regenerate on cleared land. At full growth, the bushy, evergreen, white-flowered native protects small saplings as they take root, shelters stock and strengthens the hillside. But mānuka also nurtures the East Coast community and economy.

With the nearest town a twisting three-hour drive away, locals have looked to the land to find alternate income streams. The popularity of mānuka honey and the increasing interest in the antibacterial properties of mānuka oil means — for many East Cape residents — the land is a continually regenerating opportunity. The investment and expansion of the industry stem from a desire to provide employment options in a region far from its neighbours.

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“Mānuka is at the heart of the community,” says Sue Pahuru, a Te Araroa local now heavily involved with East Cape mānuka. “Many families grow and harvest mānuka; it’s a whanau activity — grandad in his 80s might be driving the truck while the kids are harvesting before school. By using mānuka, we’re able to use a sustainable natural resource while returning mana to the land.”

Sustainability is critical. Mānuka harvested and distilled on the East Cape comes from a combination of wild and plantation-grown trees. Some 800 kilogrammes of mānuka is needed to create just two kilogrammes of pure oil, so there’s a strong focus on planning and planting for the future. As a former teacher, Sue knows the importance of laying the foundations for a sound and strong industry.


“We want mānuka to become a launchpad for our younger generation, something to get them where they want to go. It’s a place to return to, to share their skills and knowledge with the community. The only way to bring people back is to provide employment.”

While mānuka grows throughout New Zealand, East Cape mānuka is unique. Mānuka oil is often compared with Australian tea-tree oil, which is also lauded for its natural antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. However, extensive tests by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and Otago University’s microbiology department show that East Cape mānuka oil is 20 to 30 times more active than Australian tea tree oil against gram-positive bacteria. It is also several times more effective against certain strains of fungi.

These powerful properties are due to the high levels of β-triketones found in the leaves and flowers — levels that far exceed anything found in other regions. β-triketones give the oil its antibacterial properties. Mānuka oil, balm or tea is often found in the East Cape first-aid kit. “Mānuka is a sharing product. We’re quick to say, ‘Here, have mine, this will help you.’ Mānuka oil helps you to think beyond the square — the uses are limited only by
your imagination”.

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The many uses for mānuka
MānukaRx uses natural, pure, East Cape mānuka oil to create a range of gentle and soothing skincare. MānukaRx makes it easy to introduce pure, natural skincare into your daily routine. Suitable for acne-prone and sensitive skin, the ever-expanding range of MānukaRx products are specially formulated to be clean and gentle, while actively keeping bacteria at bay. manukarx.co.nz


Understanding manuka oil, a powerful essential oil from the manuka tree grown on the East Cape of New Zealand

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