Luke Watts is a passionate surfer, winemaker and beekeeper. It was the waves that originally lured him to Western Australia and finding work at a local winery that made him stay. But it was his love of apiculture that reignited a childhood passion and made The Margaret River his home.
Like many of us, Luke likes to start his workday with a shot of adrenalin. Not with coffee, but with a few mountainous waves off one of his favourite break spots along the stunning Margaret River coast.
“In terms of surfing, this area is second only to Hawaii in the size and power of the waves. There’s a shallow reef beneath these big tubing waves. People ask me if I’m ever worried about sharks, but I’m so focused on not getting smashed by waves, I don’t even think about the Great Whites,” he says.
For Luke, surfing and beekeeping have a lot in common. He’s not alone either. Hawaiian-born World Champion Surfer John John Florence is also a passionate apiarist. Coincidentally, Florence won the Margaret River Pro surfing competition in 2017.
Watts explains it this way; “There’s nothing like spending time in the ocean to feel as one with the environment,” he says. “I get the same feeling with bees. When you’re near the hives and feel the vibration and energy, you sense how everything in nature is so connected.”
Luke’s interest in beekeeping began as a boy on New Zealand’s South Island. His grandparents owned a large farm outside of Christchurch that he would often visit with the family. His grandfather, like most farmers at the time, kept a couple of beehives to help with the pollination of his orchards and crops. It was here that he first became fascinated with apiculture. Sadly, an outbreak of Varroa mite, a parasite that attacks honeybees, destroyed his grandfather’s hives and ended the practice of amateur beekeeping in New Zealand.
For the next decade, Watts studied viticulture and winemaking and forged a career in the burgeoning New Zealand wine industry. But a surfing trip to Western Australia in 2010 would set his life in a new direction.
Luke knew nothing about the Margaret River’s long history of honey production, nor the remarkable indigenous flora of the region. He began learning about the local trees: Jarrah, Marri, Karri, and the Coastal Peppermint Tree, and educate his palate on the characteristic of the honey.
“Most of the beekeepers in the Margaret River region were selling their honey in bulk to the big honey companies who blend it into a standardised flavour for the supermarket. So, they were only trying to make honey with undetectable characteristics,” says Luke.
He is a champion of Coastal Peppermint Honey and its bold flavours. He believes it one of Australia’s best-kept food secrets. And how does he recommend serving it?
“My favourite way to eat it is with blue cheese. The combination of flavours is amazing,” he enthuses.
Perhaps Luke Watts can best be described as an apiarist, who makes honey like he makes wine. A man who has a total belief that nature knows best and that his job is not to control or manipulate, but to work with nature and the seasons to produce a product that captures the life and energy of a remarkable corner of the planet.