Sheep will replace cars on the main street of Te Kuiti when the annual running of the sheep takes place on April 7.
The small King Country town has been home to The Great New Zealand Sheep Muster for 26 years, which celebrates the town’s status as the shearing capital of New Zealand.
“It’s an opportunity for the Waitomo district to show off good rural King Country hospitality and to celebrate in all things Waitomo and shearing,” says Waitomo District Council group manager of community services, Helen Beever.
Mustering sheep along the town’s main street presents some obvious challenges – thousands of people and many possible escape routes for nimble-footed sheep.
Cloth barriers line the street on both sides to help keep sheep heading in the right direction, says Peter Bird, who co-ordinates the mustering team of local farmers.
Sheep dogs assist shepherds to move the sheep along the 2km route from the north end of Rora St to the local saleyards.
Peter has lost count of the number of years he’s been part of the shearing committee which organise the muster but reckons this is his 10th year.
“It’s good for the community, and I don’t mind helping. Plus I keep getting roped into it,” says Peter.
While more used to mustering sheep on the farm he manages at nearby Mangapehi, Peter says it’s a challenge of mustering in the urban environment.
“Sometimes the sheep get stage fright with so many people around and don’t want to move. The biggest challenge is getting the lead started. Once the lead sheep head off, the others follow,” says Peter.
The sheep only spend an hour or so running down the street and the number varies year-to-year and is a closely guarded secret until after the event, says Helen. “There’s a highly contested ‘guess the number of sheep’ punt that happens on the morning of the muster so that number is never revealed ahead of time. .”
This year the event also marks the opening of the Te Kuiti Museum, which will open its doors for the first time in a new location in the town’s old NZ Post Building.