ZANY SHEPHERDS’ RUN

The village of Hunterville was established in 1884 when politician George Hunter walked 182km (113miles) from Wellington and placed a peg on the site. He must have finally got tired of walking!! According to the 2013 Census, Hunterville has a population of 429. It exists to service farms in the district, many of which are still in the hands of the original settlers’ families. The main street offers a small number of shops, as well as two pubs, two churches, a café and the Hunterville & Districts Settlers Museum which is open on Friday afternoons.

Hunterville 

To celebrate the town’s claim as “The Huntaway Capital of the World” a statue to this popular dog has been erected in the town. It also claims to have more Huntaway dogs in the region than anywhere else in New Zealand. This is a unique breed of dog to New Zealand. It’s loud, deep bark and high intelligence makes it ideal for sheep control. There was even a TV series called A Dog’s Show featuring sheep herding competitions between these dogs. It ran from 1977 until 1992 by which time Kiwis became more urbanized and demanded more sophisticated content.

Huntaway PuppyHuntaway Statue in Hunterville

SOME EXCITEMENT NEEDED

On a dreary winter’s day back in the 1990s, three local farmers met for a couple of beers, as you do in rural New Zealand, and decided something needed to be done to bring some life to their quiet little village. It did have its own pipe band which was formed in 1923 to add some noise to local events but that was about it for excitement. The three lads thought it would be fun to somehow make Hunterville famous for something a bit more interesting. They had heard about the Cardronna Shepherds run in the South Island and did some research and discovered it provided a boost to Cardrona’s economy by attracting tourists. They decided a local version would be worth a try. They threw the idea out to their farming mates. They were encouraged by the enthusiasm from everyone so felt the event could be a winner and a date was announced for the first Hunterville Huntaway Festival. Since that first effort in 1998, the event has evolved into a popular rural competition for all ages from school kids to mature farmers who are happy to get down and dirty with their canine companions. This year, the ruevent attracted 5000 visitors.

VARIOUS SHEMOZZLES

A ‘shemozzle’ is a state of chaos and confusion and the Hunterville Huntaway Festival offers three categories. The pre-teen shemozzle has an Interschool Challenge for 200 competitors. The teen shemozzle is as difficult as the adult event but doesn’t require the participation of dogs. This year, the Shepherd’s Shemozzle attracted 200 male and female shepherds. It is the main race of the day, where competitors attempt the gruelling 3km course with their devoted Huntaway dogs by their side. Regarded the most challenging race in New Zealand, the shepherds negotiate a dodgy obstacle course that includes mudslides and rope swings while carrying bulls’ testicles in their mouths!!! (the humans, not the dogs) They also have to negotiate a wool cage on their hands and knees, get soaked in a sheep dip and use only their teeth to pick out an apple from a trough full of live eels. Ugh!!

Bull Testicle (Image: Ray Lovell)

Shepherd’s Shemozzle

There is also a street race where shepherds push a wheelbarrow with their dogs as passengers to demonstrate their close companionship. For some odd reason, the human contestants wear burlap sacks as clothing.

As part of the festival, and in keeping with the totally rural theme of the day, a Shearing Contractors Challenge is held in a marquee. This speed shearing event has become a fascinating attraction for the increasing number of young foreign visitors who want to see the ‘real’ New Zealander at work. Heaven’s knows what these young tourists from predominantly Germany, Scandinavia, France, Japan and Brazil think of New Zealanders!!

Those three guys back in the 1990s have certainly achieved their goal to bring some excitement to Hunterville. The annual festival is now the biggest rural event of its kind in New Zealand and always provides plenty of pics for the internet as well as a growing number of thrill seekers who put their name down to compete in the unique and very grubby events.

Kiwis are noted for their quirky films, inventions and art. The Hunterville Huntaway Festival demonstrates the quirky behaviour of its rural population.

“New Zealander’s are all mad, but so much fun!” a young German posted on social media. I guess he hit the nail on the head!! I suggest this zaniness comes from the country’s British heritage. The English have always been a bit bonkers with their dotty festivals and rituals. The Hunterville event is just carrying on that tradition on the other side of the world in an ex-British colony.

Canine Competitors (Image: Ray Lovell)

Ceidrik Heward

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