The 48ha Zealong Tea Estate, near Hamilton, is preparing to welcome back local and international visitors after a two-year hiatus.
Home to 1.2 million tea plants, Zealong is the world's largest internationally certified organic tea estate. It has a philosophy of enhancing the soil quality using carefully managed organic farm practices.
General manager Sen Kong says the company is excited to start welcoming visitors back after a challenging two years.
"We'd been hosting up to 65,000 visitors a year, but numbers fell off a cliff when everyone hunkerd down to beat Covid," says Kong. "International sales contracts froze for quite a while too."
To mark the reopening, Zealong is making a special day for locals to get a sneak peak at the business.
On June 18, visitors will get an opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes at NZ's only tea farm.
Located on State Highway 18, between Hamilton and Gordonton, the farm is hard to miss. Set back off the State Highway, the property consists of rows of manicured tea bushes and a white building where the tea is processed and shipped around the world.
"We know a lot of people are curious about what we do here. This is their chance to find out," says Kong.
The farm, factory and all aspects of the tea estate will be on show from 9am to 4pm on the day. Kong says there will be tractor rides, hand-picking demonstrations, tea cocktails, and all-day tea tastings of product.
Visitors will be able to tour the factory and see how Zealong’s 16 different varieties of tea are processed.
“It’s the same tea that’s been enjoyed by presidents, prime ministers, even royalty,” Kong adds. “It takes a team to produce Zealong tea, and our team will be on hand to meet and talk to visitors on the day.”
Estate manager Derek Houghton says the company will be showcasing a couple of new acquisitions, including the Transformer, which is a machine that picks and prunes “like something out of a sci fi movie”.
“We’ll also be powering up a new frost fan that can literally blow you away.”
Producing sustainable tea is an ever-evolving journey at Zealong.
Kong points out that traditional tea-producing countries have many common issues, like paying fair prices to growers and low pay for tea pickers. There is also the high use of pesticides which cause soil residues, unsustainable land use and large-scale emissions.
He claims that growing tea in New Zealand has seen solutions to all of these issues.
“By growing tea in a new, clean environment, with 100% organic certification and international food safety standards, Zealong have ensured complete traceability from soil to sip.”