When the boss suggested that this new Hamiltonian ought to check out Fieldays, no nasty looking frost nor lack of gumboots was going to make me say no.
Fieldays is an iconic Waikato event. Strike that – it’s an iconic Kiwi event. At the minimum it gives city slickers like me a chance to take an x-ray of our economic backbone. As a bonus, they have miniature horses.
For four days Mystery Creek is transformed into a bustling city – as you can see from their photo below. Don’t worry about getting lost; there are maps, and the Creek is divvied up into roads based on the alphabet. (Gotta say, K Road wasn’t at all like I expected.)
It may have been a school day but I saw plenty of kids there – often with their families, many others in school trips, and, well, there were bound to be some truants there too. Regardless of age, everyone had one thing in common – they seemed to be having a fun time.
And how could we not. There is plenty for farmers there – the latest machinery, specials on essential farm stuff, sheep that poop without needing to be dagged. For the record: ‘marbles’ and ‘hand grenades’ good; ‘plops’, ‘slops’ and ‘scours’ bad. Very bad. Where was I? Oh yes – Fieldays is not just for farmers. It has a little something for everyone.
On a learning mission? Most of the universities have come to boast about their latest achievements. I had a great talk with Dr Kim Pickering from the University of Waikato about their project turning chicken feathers into a strong, biodegradable fibre. Possible uses include insulation and, perhaps in time, boat hulls. I suggested they could make some nifty kitchen utensils from them too. She was very polite.
If you’re there to get a pulse on the rural property market, many of the big real estate companies are in attendance. The ones I visited had plenty of farms and lifestyle properties listed, and if I would have been drooling over them if I hadn’t just learned about dagging. A timely report by REINZ shows the rural market to be ‘solid’ with sales, prices and morale largely on the up.
Looking for a dream home? I came across Cabbage Tree Cottages, a business that builds beautiful timber houses across New Zealand. Their show home at Fieldays was a more hollowed-out version but had the essentials, including a kitchen sink and wine cupboard. Garry from Cabbage Tree told me most of their creations are used as holiday houses – and if I could stick one up in Golden Bay tomorrow, I would.
After some action? The dog show and wood chopping were fun of course, but I found the tractor pulling strangely hypnotic. This ‘sport’ consists of a tractor dragging another tractor as far as it could while yet another tractor drove in front, raking the ground. It was kind of like curling, but with tractors.
I sadly missed out on seeing Hoof Ball – soccer for horses – but it’s safe to say they would have put up a better showing against New Caledonia. I did, however, manage to ride the mechanical bull. For three seconds. Over two attempts.
The rodeo might not be suitable for restless kids – but I know what is. Cute animals! From the overly happy goat, to the always entertaining alpacas and, yes, to the irresistible miniature horsies, there was no shortage of smiles on faces young and old.
In fact there was no shortage of faces full stop. 117,000 people attended in 2011, and numbers are expected to exceed that this time. Here’s another figure to whistle at: last year’s event gave the economy a $450 million boost.
The vibe I got from people this year is one of positivity grounded in realism. Like the rest of the country the rural sector has its share of challenges and opportunities. Being a farmer is a lot like being a rodeo cowboy: you have to be resilient and adaptable to the constantly changing conditions. Otherwise, you’re bound to face-plant in spectacularly embarrassing fashion.
If you have never been to Fieldays, I highly recommend changing that. You can head down before 5pm today and/or 8am-5pm Saturday. Buy your tickets online or at the gate.