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.
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.