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Rain, Bale & Canine – Hilux New Zealand Rural Games

Despite the weather storm battering New Zealand, this year’s Hilux New Zealand Rural Games, in its first year in Palmerston North, drew large crowds into its new central location at The Square. For the previous two years, the Games celebrating ‘sports that built the nation’ had been held in Queenstown.

This was that the first time the games had moved north, to be held in the Manawatū.

To mark the start of the three-day celebration, hundreds of sheep were herded through the streets of Feilding for the Running of the Wools, kicking off the games and the start of New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week.

The Feilding community turned out in force along the barrier-lined streets, while a mob of the area's finest woolly residents made its way from the saleyards to the clock tower in Manchester Square and back.

The rest of the weekend-long activities were based at Palmerston North’s central square location, where crowds dodged the rain to watch sheep dog trials, trans Tasman contests for speed tree climbing, wood chopping and Highland Games ‘heavies’, plus the New Zealand championships for speed fencing, gumboot throwing and coal shovelling among other events.

There was also a host of fun have-a-go contests spanning all age ranges, including Fonterra Speed Milking, Toyota Haybale Stacking, cowpat tossing in association with Federated Farmers and kids’ tree climbing sessions run by the New Zealand Arboricultural Association.

Among the highlights were Olympic champions, Dame Valerie Adams (as a Toyota Ambassador) and Mahé Drysdale. The double gold medallists swapped shot puts and rowing oars for Red Bands as they competed as wild card entries in the New Zealand Gumboot Throwing Championship, in association with Skellerup.

Dame Valerie added New Zealand gumboot champion to her accolades, as she beat the current titleholder and was only a few centimetres short of a New Zealand women’s gumboot-throwing record. Through Dame Valerie’s throwing success, she became eligible to compete in the world gumboot throwing champs in Estonia.

She also mixed with spectators and took part in the cowpat-tossing contest. Games founder and trustee Steve Hollander says the move to Manawatū this year paid off in spades, with the event attracting around 16,000 visitors during the weekend.

“Our first two years in Queenstown were fantastic, but the welcome we received in the agri heartland of New Zealand was phenomenal. I feel as though the games have found their spiritual home,” he says.

“I’d like to thank everyone who turned up to watch and have a go, from Olympians Dame Valerie Adams and Mahé Drysdale to the rural sports stars of the future who had a blast at our Kids ‘n Country contests”.