a place of wonder

Whakapukepuke ai au—e
Te roimata i aku kamo,
He rite ki te ngaru
Whati mai i waho—e!
Taku turanga ake
I te taha o te rata,
Ka titiro atu
Ki te akau roa—e!
Ko te rite i aku kamo
Ki te pua korari;
Ka pupuhi te hau,
Ka maringi te wai—e!

Like a flood, ah me!
My tears stream down;
They burst like ocean-waves
Breaking yonder on the shore, Ah me!
Lonely I sit
Beneath my rata tree,
Gazing, ever gazing
On the long sea-strand, Ah me!
My weeping eyes
Are like the drooping flax-flowers;
When the wind rustles them
Down fall the honey showers, Ah me!

My Eyes are like the Flax-Flowers

- Traditional Maori Love chant

“People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness comes, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

The 90-minute drive north from Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, gradually gives way from urban sprawl to subtropical richness, the hills to either side of the Northern Gateway Toll Road caked in lush forest as far as the eye can see.

Majestic vistas, a signature of the land the Māori people call Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud – take shape in front of our vehicle as we race past quirky Kiwi road signs such as Sheepworld and Goat Island Marine Reserve.

Every corner of the twisty road north of the pretty town of Warkworth at the edge of the Mahurangi River delivers a new panorama, each one like walking onto a film set. But there’s better still to come. A few moments after turning off the main highway, we turn into an unsealed road called Homeward Bound Drive, the radiant blue spring sky, blended perfectly with perfect puffs of white cloud, illuminating the verdant surrounds.

We’ve arrived at Snowberry Gardens, a vast 22-hectare estate bought by Soraya Hendesi and her husband Mark Henderson in 2006 and planted a year later in a myriad of native trees and shrubs. I’m with P&G Global Skin Care President Markus Strobel, P&G Global Travel Retail General Manager Shweta Sharma and their colleagues, some of them making their first visit to this place of wonder.

We’re greeted outside a simple bungalow dwelling bearing the sign ‘Snowberry’ by Dr. Travis Badenhorst. A pharmacist by training, and a former lecturer at the University of Auckland, he has been the Snowberry Scientist since February

2010, charged with helping to create topical skincare products ranging from creams, pastes and masks to lotions, ointments and toners.

His LinkedIn profile says that he has in-depth knowledge of formulation development, stability and active delivery (cosmetic anti-aging peptides). After a few minutes in his good and unpretentious company you realise that’s just the start. ‘Made from Nature, boosted by Science’ is the company’s tagline and in his presence and the magnificent landscape all around, that fusion is there for all to see.

“Welcome to Snowberry Gardens,” he says, “It’s a beautiful day.”

The Snowberry laboratory houses a world-class scientific operation

It is indeed. And this is a beautiful place. The Snowberry Gardens are one of the world’s only skincare bio-discovery estates, a place where over 9,000 native New Zealand rainforest plants are cultivated – all informed by scientific rigour and influenced by Māori rongoā (traditional medicine). Long before western colonialisation, Māori used an array of traditional methods to counter illness. Plants such as Harakeke (flax), Kawakawa, Kōwhai and Mānuka were all integral to healing. Today rongoā is undergoing a resurgence and Snowberry is a passionate advocate of its virtues.

One of the most important trees on the property is the Puka (or Pukanui), of which until recently there were fewer than 30 left in the world, isolated to The Three Kings, a group of uninhabited islands off New Zealand’s northern coast.

Devoted nurturing has brought the Puka back from the brink of extinction and in the Snowberry Gardens the New Zealand native is being carefully cultivated to sustainably extract the emollients and anti-oxidants from the distinctive resin.

Other native rainforest trees and plants are also cultivated here for the unique anti-aging skin care properties found in their resins, seeds and leaves. The native New Zealand flax, Harakeke, throws off oil extract rich in phytosterols and omega acids, bestowing Snowberry skincare with powerful, natural moisturising and hydrating properties.

Kānuka (distinct from mānuka) honey is collected from Snowberry’s beehives, producing a precious compound called Arabinogalactans (AGPs), extracted for creams and serums. AGPs, we learn, are potent anti-inflammatory and immune-

boosting compounds – and Kānuka honey contains a higher concentration of them than any other honey.

We’re joined by Soraya Hendesi and Mark Henderson, still buzzing as vibrantly as the bees in the nearby Kānuka hives from the brand’s successful travel retail launch at Auckland Airport the day before. For the next 90 minutes, Henderson leads us on a tour of the property, which turns into a masterclass on bio-diversity, sustainability and environmental awareness.

Mark Henderson talks to P&G Global Travel Retail General Manager Shweta Sharma about the unique bio-diversity to be found at the Snowberry Gardens

“As you see, there’s still a lot of bare land here,” he says, spreading his arms towards the spectacular landscape beyond. “The property is 22 hectares and there’s about five hectares of native bush so we can eco source from there. We’ve planted an additional 7 or 8 hectares so we’ve still got a bit of room to grow.”

The land is studded with magnificent native trees and bushes: Kahikatea (New Zealand white pine), Kawakawa, Kauri, Totara (some 300 years old), Harakeke, Kōwhai, Kānuka, Mānuka, tarata (lemonwood), ponga (silver) ferns, Pohutukawa, and Nīkau (the country’s only native palm) among them.

Bird life is abundant too, including the Tui, Kereru (native wood pigeon), Riroriro (New Zealand grey warbler), Kaka (an endangered species of native parrot) and Fantails. This is New Zealand nature at its most resplendent.

Over a decade ago, the Snowberry founders began with what Henderson calls a Research by Management Programme, planting multiple blocks of land with an array of native New Zealand trees and plants. Each block contained exactly the same mix of flora. “We wanted to know what grew well, where,” Henderson explains. “Ten years later we have discovered that Kānuka grows well there, flax here, Puka there and so on.

“Most of the plants here are in quantities that allow us to harvest sustainably an extract of some kind. It could be a seed, a leaf extract, a gel or an anti-oxidant from a berry. Some of the other plants here are really just about bio-diversity and that’s what you will also see here.”

Martin's Block

“Do you know what Martin’s block is?” Mark Henderson asks me as we near the end of our Snowberry Gardens tour.

“Nope,” I reply.

“We’ve got an initiative starting soon and maybe you’ll be the guinea pig,” he explains with a chuckle. “We’re planning that all staff members – and eventually all the Snowberry team globally – are going to plant their own plants when they come here, to offset their emissions.

“I’m going to have to plant quite a few,” I say guiltily, mindful of the four return transcontinental UK-Asia Pacific trips I have taken in the past month alone.

Mark Henderson: At one with the land

“Each time you make a trip here, you are able to add to your block. We will plant either some Kānuka or Mānuka for you and we’re going to allocate that as Martin’s Block,” says Henderson. “Our carbon-zero accreditation covers every product and everything relating to the production, freight and embodied emissions of the products but it doesn’t cover all of us as individuals.

“So, the idea is that with all our staff getting into their cars and coming to work every day, we’re going to work out what their emissions are each year. Then they can come up here and plant the trees that we need to harvest from and get their own block.

“We want to extend that to anyone who comes here… but for someone like you we would look at your international departure point and your return destination and we will calculate online your emissions and work out how many plants we need to sequester that trip.”

Our fleeting but fascinating tour is over and it’s time to head back to the big smoke of, first Auckland, and then on to Hong Kong and London. I make a mental note to start calculating my airmiles and carbon emissions for I can’t wait to return to this magical place and see such a brilliant environmental initiative literally take root in front of my eyes.

Martin Moodie meets Snowberry Founder Soraya Hendesi

On the top block of land, the once-endangered Puka, a broad-leafed tree, is thriving. “In the not too distant future, we will start to do some work on the berry from the Puka,” Henderson says, his infectious enthusiasm that of a schoolkid being handed the keys to the local sweetshop. “When the berry reaches a stage that it goes really dark purple, that’s when it’s expected to be rich in anti-oxidants.”

He tells a fascinating anecdote about the Puka, which underlines just how assiduously Snowberry is seeking to marry nature with the science of skincare. “The Puka was initially planted for its gum, which is like a healing agent for the tree. We found that when you ring bark a tree (strip its bark), it dies. But if you ring bark a Puka it survives because it oozes this gel which repairs itself. So, there might be something in there for Snowberry too.”

I ask about the difference between Kānuka and Mānuka honey, the latter famed for its antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. But it’s Kānuka honey that interests Snowberry more. “Mānuka honey has got real benefits, providing they are not denatured through heat,” Henderson explains. “But if you put it into skincare, essentially you end up with a really sticky substance, which is not very pleasant.

“Kānuka has those same profiles but it also has Arabinogalactan proteins, which in our view are a lot more beneficial for the skin… a bit closer to the same sorts of proteins that you have on the outer dermis. But more importantly, the way we extract is to undertake a disaccharide process – removing the sugars without denaturing the proteins. This means we can put them into skincare at a level that is meaningful.”

According to scientists, Kānuka honey is more powerful than Mānuka – the New Zealand Crown Research Institute discovered that the former has double the levels of Mānuka factor than its cousin.

As we make our way around the estate, Henderson stops constantly to demonstrate the natural qualities of various plants. He plucks a leaf from a Lemonwood and crushes it in his hands. “Try it… crunch it up and you’ll get a really nice sort of lemony scent.” The aroma is fresh, heady and entirely natural.

He leads us to a Harakeke bush, one of New Zealand’s most well-known and revered plants, its fibres often used in weaving and renowned for their strength. As he peels back the green-leaf exterior to reveal a thin filament, he notes, “Harakeke produces a really amazing gel, and this is a major project for us next year. It’s an ingredient that we will extract from the outside of the plant in a way that still protects the fibre, which is a by-product that we can produce in a sustainable way without endangering the environment.”

The ultra-fine emollient Harakeke Seed Oil is integral to all Snowberry products, offering a rich blend of Omega 6, squalene, phytosterols and tocopherol, which combine to enhance and repair the skin’s natural barrier, thus helping to avoid premature aging.

“Anywhere we need an emollient, we use Harakeke Seed Oil,” Henderson explains. “The reason is because it’s unique. And it is unique because of its fatty acid profile.”

This vast patch of land is effectively Snowberry’s farm and factory combined. After the company’s journey started, it would choose from a “complex cascade” of about 180 ingredients, Henderson reveals. That’s now been rationalised to around 90, which has helped reduce the carbon footprint.

Harakeke Seed Oil is integral to all Snowberry products, enhancing and repairing the skin’s natural barrier, thus helping to avoid premature aging

“Since we became part of the P&G family, there’s been a fantastic resource available to help refine that even further and to identify some aspects of ingredients that we were using – and to bring in others,” he says, underlining the combination of strengths that the acquisition represents.

“The product range is not fixed, but we do want to keep it relevant,” Henderson continues. “So, new product development (NPD) is going to focus on any activity or efficacy that might be missing from the current range. And wherever possible, we would look at what we want to achieve from that NPD and ask, can we find something to achieve that with from New Zealand native flora?”

Set in such a natural wonderland, Snowberry Gardens, a remarkable testament to environmental awareness, bio-diversity and sustainability, feels like a different universe. But the fruits of this place, fine-tuned by the hand of science, are very much suited to an increasingly eco-sensitive world and are surely set to have a big influence on global skincare in the years ahead.

Spotlight Series - September 2019

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