"Do you have a bee on you?" At the Adelaide airport, I was stung by the security question. "Bee on me?" Did I hear it wrong? Were my ears droning? Sometimes, there's a pesky bee in my bonnet, but why would I carry a bee? I was heading to Kangaroo Island, 70 miles south-west of Adelaide - an island seven times the size of Singapore; an island with nearly 4,000 people, 400,000 sheep, 4 million wallabies; an island where the disastrous Love 2050 was shot amidst the stunning rock formations. Yes, the island renowned for pure honey and sheep milk cheese. Yes, the world's oldest bee sanctuary.
No, I was not carrying a bee. I threw in a straight answer to an intriguing question and waited for the tiny aircraft at the gate. As I sat in the small aircraft for a 30-minute hop to Kangaroo Island, the question literally turned into a bee in my bonnet. Till, I learnt all about the KI bees (locals call the island KI).
Kangaroo Island is the world's oldest bee sanctuary and home to the world's last genetically pure population of Ligurian bees. The island's bee story began more than a hundred years ago with the newly formed colony of South Australia. Immigrants from Britain, Germany, Italy swarmed the island which was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 after he and his crew killed 31 kangaroos and cooked a giant pot of stew. Amongst the troupe of farmers and stockmen, there were a few beekeepers. There were no Ligurian bees on the island - the first batch of 12 hives of Ligurian bees travelled 15,250 kms from Bologna, Italy. The South Australian Chamber of Manufacturers were the first importers; in 1881, August Fiebig set up the first apiary, and such was the growing political clout of beekeepers that in 1885 Kangaroo Island was declared a bee sanctuary. With the sanctuary status came the dos and don'ts: no bees, honey, pollen, used beekeeping tools and equipment can be brought into the island. This was buttressed by the Apiaries Act of 1931 that allows for confiscation of any potentially infected vessel or apparatus heading to the island.
Ah! hence the first question: "Do you have a bee on you?" Now, I know why. With all questions answered, it was ‘honey' time. The Roman historians have praised the docility and productivity of the Liguria bees; eco-lovers swear by the no-antibiotics, no-chemicals routine of the apiaries, and food lovers hum paeans to the honey flavour that comes from sugar gum, pink gum, white mallee and other floral sources. And these bees sure work hard: nearly 10,000 tonnes of honey is produced annually in Kangaroo Island.
"Where's the bee farm?" I was dying to taste the honey. Driving through the lush landscape Gaylene Booth, the guide, detailed stories about the island's apiaries. There are as many honey stories as there are things done with honey on the island. There's a drink called Fresco, honey lip balm, honey and macadamia ice cream toppings, Latitude 36 Mustard and Honey dressing, island honey yoghurt (sheep milk yogurt mixed with honey). Honey here is not, well, just honey. They come in different flavours: stringy bark honey (medium amber), sugar gum honey (light amber), cup gum (light honey with caramel flavour), and wild flower honey (full-bodied), eucalypt (medium amber).
You do not have to drive too far to find the pot of honey. You can pick bottled honey in almost every shop on the island. The best places to ‘see' honey farming are Clifford's Honey Farm and Island Beehive. At Island Beehive, you can go on a guided tour through the organic bee production factory, have scones in the café and even opt for honey tastings. At the Aurora Ozone Bistro, for breakfast, you can slather your toast with honey or order a trifle laden with what they call Kangaroo Island ‘own honey'.
If this is not a ‘pure'ly sweet island story, what is?