Martinborough is celebrating its second olive festival this weekend (27-29 June). It marks the culmination of the annual olive harvest in the Wairarapa region, which boasts the biggest concentration of olive groves in the country. At the height of the harvest earlier this month, the owners of Olivo, one of the oldest commercial groves in the country, were revelling in a perfect day for harvesting olives, calm, sunny and with no hint of frost. Frost can destroy an olive crop overnight.
The first of the 1200 trees at Olivo were planted in 1991, and like most groves a range of varieties were put in the ground. Most of the oil is marketed in New Zealand in products ranging from infused oils to soaps. Some is also exported to Canada. Helen and John Meehan (above left) from Olivo use hand held electric rakes for the smaller trees and a tractor mounted tree shaker (above right) to harvest the fruit from the taller trees - there are about ten of theses machines in New Zealand.
Andrew Taylor is the president of Olives New Zealand. He says feedback from most growers is that it's been a great summer, reflected in the quality of the fruit. The first of the new oils are tasting very fruity with all the attributes growers look for, he says. Bill Hey, operations manager at the Olive Press in Masterton, agrees. The Olive Press processes fruit from Hawke's Bay south. He says the olives are delivering good yields of oil and the quality is excellent this year.