Hatta’s hills are alive with the buzzing of bees
Less than 150km away from Dubai, the Hatta Honey Bee Garden offers a peek into the amazing busy world of honeybees and the production of honey
Genuine interest from different people led to the creation of the Hatta Honey Bee Garden
‘They don’t sting at all, unless provoked.’ Try telling that to a group consisting of an 11-year-old girl who despite her fear of all things that fly or crawl is putting on a brave front today, and a few nervous-looking adults — one of whom painfully remembers the sting he endured as a child and is therefore in a rush to cover every possible inch of his jean-clad body with a protective suit. Despite our beekeeper’s assurances that the bees in his garden are ‘friendly’, we are not prepared to take any chances, and so we don the protective jacket with a ventilated covering for our faces, and slip our hands into long-sleeved gloves, ensuring that no skin is visible anywhere.
It is a cold and crisp morning, and we are at the Hatta Honey Bee Garden to undertake a journey of discovery — to experience the wonder of honey-making in action, and to learn how hundreds of thousands of tiny creatures labour day and night performing a task that enables us to have food on our plates.
We had left Dubai shortly before 9am where it was bright and sunny to set out on a good 135km to our destination, Hatta. Snaking through Dubai’s busy thoroughfare, we entered traffic-clogged streets to Sharjah before moving to the peace and quiet of serene Maliha. From here on, the desert landscape changes every few miles as sun-kissed, windswept sand dunes give way to crimson-hued mountain ranges and soon, we are dwarfed by the black, volcanic ash rocky terrain of the Hajar mountain range.
Set against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky, the jagged contours of this spectacular mountain range — the highest in the Arabian Peninsula and which stand testimony to millions of years of geological activity — are an incredible sight to behold.
The bee farm has been open to visitors since December
Driving through the long winding roads, hardly spotting any vehicles or signs of human activity, it is past 10.30am when we enter Hatta, the inland exclave of Dubai, where the sweeping views of the Hajar mountains continue to hold us in sway. Once known as a city of citadels and forts, Hatta is now transforming itself into a tourist hotspot. We spot a giant ‘Hatta’ sign, placed around 450m high in the Hajar Mountains, reminiscent of the ‘Hollywood’ sign on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Just a couple of kilometres ahead and smiling honey bee board signs direct us to the Hatta Honey Bee Garden. The last 600m stretch is an uneven gravel track with descending slopes that twist and turn, and we soon spot numerous multi-colour painted wooden hives indicating that we have arrived at our destination.
We are greeted by Cheremie Royo Cenas, the guide at the centre, who ushers us into a large hall where hexagonal honeycomb-inspired design fixtures dominate the interior.
Opened to visitors since late December 2018, the bee farm tour offers an unparalleled experience of witnessing live the intricacies and activities of the bee world, says Cheremie. ‘Sometimes you even get to see the larva coming out of the eggs.’
The facility is the Middle East’s first queen bee rearing station
We watch a short video summarising the honey production process at the Hatta Honey factory and we are then helped into our ventilated protective gear before we follow Mustafa Mohammed Mustafa, a professional beekeeper, into the apiary.
‘This facility is the Middle East’s first queen bee rearing station and is a highly advanced apiary and bee rearing centre,’ he informs. ‘It is equipped with 800 beehives and has the capacity to breed up to 100,000 queen bees annually.’
Hatta Honey also has the unique distinction of being the first centre in the world to rear the ‘Saskatraz’ queen bee outside of Canada and North America, he adds. ‘Characterised by a shiny golden sheen, what makes ‘Saskatraz’ bees special is their ability to produce large amounts of honey. They are also a calm and gentle breed and show a strong resistance to parasites and diseases.’
Before we head to the hives, Mustafa leads us to the three varieties of trees on whose flowers the bees feed on to produce honey. ‘The UAE’s national tree, Al Ghaf,’ he says, ‘is the most drought tolerant and has the ability to withstand high temperatures. It blooms for 30 to 35 days during June and July and bees use the nectar from the tree’s flowers to produce honey that has long been considered a delicacy across the country.’
Beekeeper’s say the bees in the garden are the ‘friendly’ kind.