By Jon Rawlinson
Rural Living magazine
However, thankfully, at least one sporting event seems to leave all this behind by returning to the grass roots of rural sports. From fencing, timber sports and shearing, to caber tossing and even gumboot throwing, there will be a veritable feast of rural competitions on over Waitangi weekend as Queenstown hosts the Hilux New Zealand Rural Games.
Games’ founder, Steve Hollander, says while the inaugural event in February 2015 was a success, he’s hopeful the next edition will prove even more popular.
“We’re expecting lots more visitors over the holiday weekend this time; 3000 each day would be a great. Preparations are going really well. We’ll have top competitors including current Golden Pliers fencing champion Tim Stafford, competitive tree climbers and Highland Games ‘big fellas’.
“We also have world shearing champion Rowland Smith and former champ David Fagan [now Sir David after being recognised in the New Year Honour’s list]. David is retired but as he won last time, he just couldn’t miss the chance to defend his title.”
After involvement with the REAL New Zealand Festival (which ran alongside the 2011 Rugby World Cup), Steve looked to develop a festival designed to showcase New Zealand’s rural sporting heritage.
“New Zealand was built on farming and the economy still relies on primary industries. The Games offer a wonderful opportunity to celebrate this essential part of our national character. We want to help continue the legacy of traditional sports for future generations, bringing them to the attention of the wider population and ensuring the country’s rural spirit is celebrated for many years to come.”
While the programme remains similar, Steve says it will include more ‘have a go’ events, including cherry stone spitting, speed hand milking and even cowpat tossing.
“Anyone can turn up and enter these events and could even become a New Zealand champion. Our 2015 wine barrel racing champ’ was actually on his OE from Hungary, and our gumboot throwing winners later went off to Italy for the world championships having never thrown a gumboot before the Games!”
Locals intending to fly south for the summer should keep a keen eye out for Clevedon- based fencers, Tony White and Tom Dingle. Since Bombay’s legendary fencing champion, Nick Liefting, at last hung up his famous pink stubbies, Tony and Tom will be carrying the flag for Franklin.
Another local expected to claim honours is Waiuku’s well-suited weekday accountant (come axe-wielding woodsman by weekend), David McDonald. To read more about this champion chopper, see our Oct- Nov 2015 issue at ruralliving.co.nz.
And don’t forget the delightfully- titled Running of the Wools, perhaps the greatest spectacle of its type this side of Pamplona… and that really is no bull!
“No one can really remember how the idea came about, but I think we were probably in the pub!” Steve laughs. “More than 400 merinos, including the horned rams which are relatives of ‘Shrek’ from Bendigo Station, being mustered through the centre of town is a unique sight.”
For more information and a full programme, see ruralgames.co.nz.