Australian Honey Products owner and beekeeper Lindsay Bourke.MORE than a billion bees have hit the road in Tasmania.

The state’s 185 beekeepers have begun trucking about 17,000 hives to the North-West Coast, where bees will begin producing the world-famous leatherwood honey.

With up to 100,000 in each hive, that’s a lot of bees – about 1.7 billion.

Producers are making their annual migration to Tasmania’s rainforests, the only place the Eucryphia lucida, commonly known as leatherwood, is found.

The white flowers the leatherwood plant displays from January to April are responsible for a $4 million boutique industry.

”When the bees are ripening the moisture in the night they’re so noisy it sounds like you’re at the beach, with the roar of all the bees all flapping their wings,” Lindsay Bourke, president of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, said.

”We have such a short season that we have to have very strong hives to collect a lot of honey in a short period.”

In the coming weeks, Mr Bourke will make 24 trips, beginning each about 4am, to get all of his bees from Sheffield, near Devonport, to the forests around Savage River and Waratah.

”We build up (all year) for one good crop, which is the leatherwood,” he said.

”The leatherwood is the most reliable honey source that you can find in Australia.

”We can set our clock to it. We can go down on the same date every year.”

The beekeepers describe the honey’s taste as “like the wilderness” and its similarity in flavour to heather-produced varieties has customers in Europe, China and Japan willing to pay top dollar.

”We go way back into the rainforest where it’s pure and clean and you can say that the entire leatherwood crop would be the closest thing to organic honey you can get,” Mr Bourke said.

The honey’s long chain sugars help the body absorb nutrients, he said, and there are medicinal qualities for the broader Tasmanian economy too.

The first of the season’s leatherwood honey will appear in shops at the end of January.

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