A Hawke's Bay honey company has been stung by the theft of almost 500,000 bees.
Nineteen hives of Arataki Honey were stolen from a remote forestry block in Putere, an hour and a half north of Napier, this week.
The site was hidden from the road and Arataki Honey's field manager Duncan Johnstone said the thieves must have known where to find the bees.
It was an expensive loss for the company - each hive is valued at $700 and all up it was a $20,000 loss.
Mr Johnstone said not all hives were taken - another hint the thieves were clued up.
"They sorted through the hives, so they only took the very strong hives and they left five weakest hives, so that indicates they knew what they were doing."
The company alerted police, but Mr Johnstone said he wasn't holding his breath for the hives to be returned.
He said he had never seen the level of bee hive thefts in his 25 years in the industry like there is today.
"It's becoming increasingly harder to maintain your hives, get them through winter and get them up to a good strength for a honey crop, so to have someone you know just take all your work away, it's a little bit of a kick in the guts."
Mr Johnstone said the high price of manuka honey had created an underground criminal market.