Working Experience at Royal Van Zanten, Rakaia, New Zealand

Working Experience at Royal Van Zanten Rakaia Header Image

Royal Van Zanten Rakaia, New Zealand

A glove hand holding a palm-sized flowerbulb
This flowerbulb right here is the biggest of the sizes. From the images above, you can see how it’s almost as big as the palm of my hand.

On our first day of working at Royal Van Zanten, we arrived knowing nothing about the company, nor the flowerbulbs that we would be working on. Actually, Lily Flowerbulbs look very much like garlics. To put it very simply, they grow into Lily Flowers. So, what we’re doing is to process, clean, and repack them to be exported.

Basically, Royal Van Zanten is a Dutch company, with the mother company based in Holland. They process lily flowerbulbs to be sold/exported and then planted to grow lily flowers. For example, Royal Van Zanten exports flowerbulbs to Japan, China, Taiwan, Europe, India, Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and so on.

In addition to not knowing about the existence of flowerbulbs, we also didn’t know that there can be so many varieties of flowerbulbs, with fancy names too. Some of the names that we can remember are Lexus Zanlorexus, Viviana Zantriana, Tourega, Siberia, Tabledance, Conca D’or, Silentia, and so on… The only difference between the flowerbulbs and the different varieties is the colors of the flowers, like red, white, yellow, pink,…

Here, we will cover the four departments in the company, which are Plant Stock, Cleaning Belt, Weigh Counter and Packing department respectively.

Departments in Royal Van Zanten

An empty warehouse with crates stacked up and machinery

There are altogether four main departments in Royal Van Zanten, New Zealand. Starting from plant stock, to the cleaning process, to the weighing process to finally the packing process. Read on and you will find out about those processes.

1. Plant Stock Department

A bin full of flowerbulbs
Processed flowerbulbs from the Plant Stock department. They come in different sizes and colours.

In Van Zanten, plant stock dept is the first department that we worked in. This is the beginning where the harvested flowerbulbs will come in in its purest and untouched form, covered in clumps of dirt, of different sizes and colors.

What we did:

Basically, we had to untangle and separate them into individual flowerbulbs. Most of the time they come in big clumps of dirt, so we had to use our biceps, triceps, or whatever ceps there are to twist, pull, and tug them apart. Due to the limited machines, only a maximum of 6 people were required to do the job.

Also, we worked the midnight shift in the plant stock department from 11pm to 7am in the morning. Undoubtedly, it was not fun trying to adapt to a new sleep schedule. However, the midnight shift ended as soon as the plant stock department was no longer required. Van Zanten closed this department by the 18th of June, 2019. Therefore, we were moved to another department.

That’s “working midnight shift” ticked off my work bucket list!

A man lying on the bench with his hands crossed, sleeping
Louis on midnight shift.

2. Cleaning Belt

An empty cleaning belt with flowerbulbs waiting in front to be tilted
Cleaning belt department in Van Zanten.
An empty cleaning belt with flowerbulbs waiting in front to be tilted
The cleaning belts where the flowerbulbs will come in to be "cleaned".

The Cleaning Belt Department is the second department in Van Zanten. Once the flowerbulbs were separated from the plant stock department, they entered big bins and were then sent to the Cleaning Belt Department for further cleaning and separation. With 4 lines going on at the same time, the cleaning belt department could easily have 20-30 workers cleaning possibly a million bulbs a day.

What we did:

As the bulbs were separated from the Plant Stock department, we clean them by plucking off the stalks on top of the bulbs. Sometimes, when it was impossible to separate them at the plant stock department, the cleaning belt will continue the job. Of course, one of the cons of working in this department would be the tedious and repetitive work, nothing too far from working at the kiwifruit pack house. Apart from that, on days when certain varieties are in bad shape, workers at the cleaning belt will start getting sore wrists and swollen hands from far too much of plucking off the dried stalks from the flowerbulbs. 

3. Weigh Counter

Empty conveyor belts with lights on top of them
Many girls at their lines grading and weighing flowerbulbs
I snapped a photo of the girls working at the weigh counter.

8 workers will stand on 8 different belts where bulbs will roll out to be graded. In winter, girls in this department are often frozen solid by the end of the day because they did not move much. Most of them wear an average of 4-5 layers of clothing, 2 pair of gloves, and 2 pair of socks.

What I did:

I eliminated the flowerbulbs with too much dirt/mud in them, flowerbulbs with less than 2 strong roots, damaged flowerbulbs, undersized flowerbulbs that did not go through the given sizing, and bulbs with double noses.

A back view of hooded girls putting flowerbulbs on belt
The girls putting the "rejects" onto the belt to go in the dump.

Other jobs in this department include: 

  1. Stacking the crates filled with bulbs, usually done by guys because the crates can be really heavy. Louis did this once.
  2. Standing at the front line to ensure every bulb that comes down from the belt enters into individual cups. No two, three, four, or five flowerbulbs should be in the same cup as the weighing machine might mistaken it as a big size bulb, thus sending it to the wrong sizing belt (where the girls will grade them), or into the dump.

4. Packing Department

An overview of the packing line for flowerbulb
An overview of the packing line.

Finally, the last department in Van Zanten at the end of the line—Packing Department. After the bulbs have been weighed, graded, measured, and selected in the weigh counter, they were finally sent to the last department—packing. By far my favorite department. Louis and I were sent to this department after plant stock. Essentially, this department needs only 3 ladies, 3 guys, 1 labeler, and a forklift driver.

What we did:

  1. Flowerbulbs from the cleaning belt will come in and tipped onto the moving belt.
  2. They will then drenched in chemical liquid in batches.
  3. When they come out, new soil/peat will be added onto the now clean flowerbulbs.
  4. The flowerbulbs will fall into the crates.
  5. Now filled with flowerbulbs, the crates will be wrapped up in plastic and closed off with a cardboard lid.
  6. Finally, the last guy will stack up the crates and wait for the forklift driver to pull it away.
  7. All the crates will be labeled and sent into the chiller.
A girl controlling a forklift with a man beside her
Girl making a reverse on a forklift looking behind her

Colleagues, friends, and the people.

A group photo in a compact room with asians and westerners
We stayed in an accommodation just 4-minute walk away from the bulb factory. We stayed with 3 outgoing dutch guys and 3 amazing French girls who provided us with unceasing laughter, joy, and plenty of good food.

Final Words

All in all, our time here in Royal Van Zanten was a time in which we really enjoyed. Even though it was only for a while, we learned more things than we could’ve ever imagined and met more people than we could’ve ever hoped for. From having no intentions to work here in the beginning to our unwillingness to leave in the end. Every job that we had surprised us one way or another.

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10 thoughts on “Working Experience at Royal Van Zanten, Rakaia, New Zealand”

  1. It looks a really nice job!
    Could you, please, give me, an email, to apply for this year season?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Emilia,

      You can either walk-in or give them a call at +64 3-303 5086. This is to contact Van Zanten directly without a third party.
      We applied from a third party last year called Agstaff. You can also write them an email at

      Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Samus,
      We worked here for two months or so. Yes, we wore it during our time. But it is best that you observe others during the first few days of your work and make sure to ask your supervisor for permission too!

  2. Hi Anna!

    Would love to know if you mind to share me your accomadation’s details in Rakaia? 🙂

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Stella,
      We contacted a guy called Ian, and his phone number is 0272800808. You can also find his details on the notice board in the cafeteria. There’s a whole list of them.

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