TE KUITI shear­ing cap­i­tal

Nes­tled in the heart of the Waikato re­gion, from stretch­ing farm­land to rolling hills is the main farm­ing ser­vice town in the King Coun­try and the Shear­ing Cap­i­tal – Te Kuiti. MICHELLE PRENDIVILLE gets in among the sheep.

Travel Digest - - FRONT PAGE -

Best known for its an­nual sheep shear­ing events that cel­e­brate the area’s sheep farm­ing his­tory, the charm­ing town of Te Kuiti claims it­self as the Shear­ing Cap­i­tal of the World and has a 7.5 tonne sheep shear­ing statue to prove it.

Te Kuiti is a small town, with a pop­u­la­tion of just over 4,000 peo­ple, sit­u­ated in the north of the King Coun­try re­gion of the North Is­land. The bustling coun­try town is just 80km south of Hamil­ton and 19km south­east of Wait­omo, mak­ing it an easy des­ti­na­tion to get some rural ex­pe­ri­ence.

The his­tory of Te Kuiti hasn’t al­ways been sheep. Te Kuiti came into ex­is­tence in the early 1800s, orig­i­nally known as a small ser­vice rail­way town. Like so many pro­vin­cial towns Te Kuiti re­lied greatly on its sta­tion and rail link. From its rail­way camp begin­nings, Te Kuiti has emerged as a ma­jor ser­vice cen­tre for sheep and beef farms, renowned for the pro­duc­tion of ex­cel­lent store stock. Lo­cals have great pride in their agri­cul­ture and take what­ever chance they can to cel­e­brate their claim to fame.

Events that cel­e­brate the area’s sheep farm­ing his­tory are The Great New Zealand Muster and The New Zealand Na­tional Shear­ing Cham­pi­onships. These mas­sive events draw in big crowds from all over the world – keen to ex­pe­ri­ence an au­then­tic piece of real Kiwi cul­ture.

Sheep shear­ing is an ex­tremely ad­mired skill through­out New Zealand and es­pe­cially Te Kuiti as it is the home to one of the great­est shear­ing cham­pi­ons, Sir David Fa­gan. Many don’t know that sheep shear­ing is in-fact a rec­og­nized sport with de­tailed rules and reg­u­lar com­pe­ti­tions. Te Kuiti is the host to the New Zealand Na­tional Shear­ing Cham­pi­onships where men and women en­ter into the com­pe­ti­tion of clip­ping the wool off full size ewes. When I said it is a skill to shear sheep, trust me when I say it, be­cause com­peti­tors can fin­ish shear­ing one sheep in un­der a minute, then they have to do that 700 times. Sheep shear­ing is a phys­i­cally de­mand­ing sport that takes skill, se­ri­ous strength and en­durance, mak­ing it an ex­cit­ing spec­ta­cle for au­di­ences to watch.

The tow­er­ing shear­ing statue is an

iconic mon­u­ment, which adorns Te Kuiti’s main street. Reach­ing six me­tres in height, the statue of the shearer and sheep con­tains three large time cap­sules filled with mem­o­ra­bilia given by lo­cal towns­peo­ple. One be­ing the ex­cit­ing time when the New Zealand sheep pop­u­la­tion peaked in 1982 at 70.3 mil­lion.

You might have more luck guess­ing the num­ber of sheep that run down Te Kuiti’s main street in its an­nual Great New Zealand Muster. For­get the run­ning of the bulls – Te Kuiti has the Run­ning of the Sheep. On­look­ers line down the sides of the town’s main street to watch any­where be­tween 1,000 and 2,000 sheep run past. The event draws crowds from far and wide when the main street is closed with arts, crafts and food stall­hold­ers lin­ing the street, along with an ar­ray of en­ter­tain­ment. The event brings a car­ni­val like at­mos­phere to the town, which of course in­cludes plenty of sheep-re­lated an­tics, such as shear­ing con­tests and sheep races. This tra­di­tional kiwi coun­try fair pro­motes the rural de­lights of the Waikato re­gion and is the per­fect fam­ily event.

If vis­it­ing Te Kuiti out­side of the sheep fes­tive pe­riod, it is worth in­vest­ing time in some scenic tramp­ing. The Man­gaokewa Scenic Re­serve is home to great tramp­ing and walk­ing trails, along with ar­eas for other recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties. There are a va­ri­ety of great tramp­ing tracks with ar­eas for swim­ming and bird watch­ing. An easy one-hour walk tra­verses through na­tive forests, over the swing bridge and up river to a picturesque wa­ter­fall. A more re­lax­ing op­tion is to take a pic­nic and en­joy the wide open spa­ces of the re­serve.

Te Kuiti is bursting with rural charm and is a mix­ture of com­mu­nity and pride – that is what makes this coun­try town so spe­cial. The sur­round­ings of beau­ti­ful pri­vate gar­dens, the pas­sion of sheep fes­tiv­i­ties from the com­mu­nity and the Man­gaokewa Scenic Re­serve for fish­ing or swim­ming, only add to the rural coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence.

PLACES TO STAY

There are not too many places to stay in Te Kuiti, but quite a num­ber of places in or near Wait­omo, just 15 min­utes drive away. Here is a se­lec­tion:

The Panorama Mo­tor Inn is nes­tled on the hill­side with views of Te Kuiti. There are 12 stu­dio units with king-size beds, seven one-bed­room units with self-ca­ter­ing fa­cil­i­ties, plus a three-bed­room hol­i­day home with full ameni­ties.

Mon­trose Farm of­fers a five-star farm hol­i­day stay in a stun­ning set­ting, a stone’s throw from the ac­tion of Wait­omo Caves. There is a cosy gar­den Cot­tage or the Manor, which is also avail­able as an ex­clu­sive lux­ury lodge ex­pe­ri­ence.

Wait­omo Lodge Mo­tel is at the North end of Te Kuiti, op­po­site Bosco Café and has 14 stu­dio units and six one-bed­room units.

Red­wood Lodge over­looks eight acres of farm­land and is 15 min­utes from the Wait­omo Caves. The lodge has com­fort­able rooms with su­per-king or twin beds, all with en­suites.

TE KUITI EVENTS

The New Zealand Shear­ing Cham­pi­onships, at the Les Munro Cen­tre / Wait­omo Cul­tural and Arts Cen­tre, are held late March / early April each year.

The Great NZ Muster is a tra­di­tional kiwi coun­try fair held each April, with lo­cal food, live en­ter­tain­ment, arts and crafts and up to 100 stalls. This event pro­motes the rural de­lights of the Wait­omo District and is the per­fect fam­ily event with bouncy castles, rock climb­ing and the ex­treme air jumper.

The tow­er­ing shear­ing statue is an icon on Te Kuiti’s main street.

At the an­nual Run­ning of the Sheep, any­where be­tween 1,000 and 2,000 sheep run down the main street.

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