The Oratia Beauty apple is a member of the Gravenstein family. The apple has a green skin that is mottled and flushed with red stripes over almost the whole surface. This apple variety requires a pollinator. The tree is tip bearing, blooms early and is very vigorous. The Oratia Beauty ripens early in the apple season (January in New Zealand) and is the first apple available in the season. It has a wonderful crisp, juicy, tart flavor and round to slightly flattened fruit. It is best left on the tree to mature. The fruit matures at different times on the tree requiring ongoing harvesting. It is suitable for eating, cooking and cider making. It does not keep as well as other varieties, however, making it less appealing to retail outlets.
The Oratia Beauty is a sport (a strain that arose from a bud mutation) of the Albany Beauty apple, which in turn was a sport of the Gravenstein. The apple was found on the orchard of Mr. Mate Glucina in Oratia, Auckland, in northern New Zealand. The Oratia Beauty was recorded as a new variety of apple with the New Zealand Institute of Horticulture in 1932. It has become a defining icon of the Oratia district. The area has a long history of orchards and vineyards that are closely tied to the Dalmatian immigrants who settled the area in the 1890s and 1900s.
Today, many of the orchards have disappeared and the area is now residential (and relatively sparsely populated). However, the Oratia apple is still grown commercially by some in the area, with an estimated 50 trees in production. There is also a larger commercial production in the Nelson area of the South Island (Richmond), however apples grown in this area have a different taste due to the different climate and growing conditions. Old orchards and private gardens still have trees. The Oratia district celebrates the Oratia apple in many ways – the local quarterly newspaper is named after it, events have been held celebrating the apple, and in 2014 the Auckland Council erected a public sculpture in Parrs Park that draws its inspiration from apple crates and is named “Oratia Beauty.”
The Oratia Beauty apple is at risk of disappearing because the New Zealand apple industry is export-focused and is focused on “new” varieties of apple that can be trademarked. There is a focus of “big” orchards in Nelson (South Island) and the Hawkes Bay (eastern North Island) which leaves small growers and Auckland growers unsupported. Many of the small-scale orchardists who grew the Oratia Beauty have gone out of business. The orchards are usually family businesses and the children do not want to take them on. Furthermore, imports ensure that apples are available year round, diminishing the importance of Oratia Beauty as the earliest ripening New Zealand apple variety, and there is a new preference for sweet apples among consumers, as compared to the tart Oratia Beauty.