New course, new events as the ‘Running of the Wools’ returns to Queenstown

The unique sight of hundreds of merino sheep herding through downtown Queenstown is returning with the second annual ‘Running of the Wools’ next Waitangi weekend during the 2016 Hilux New Zealand Rural Games.

Organisers have announced a new sheep friendly course and two new events in addition to the main merino run on Saturday 6 February that is co-sponsored by the Otago Daily Times and clothing and gift retailer, Global Culture in association with Cromtrans.

Running of the Wools, Queentown

The Running of the Wools in 2015 (credit Dan Childs)

Free to watch, the fun begins at 4.30pm after day one of the two-day Games that feature a series of traditional rural sports and live entertainment on Queenstown Recreation Ground.

The merinos will leave pens on Camp Street near the police station, run past the Village Green and then turn left down Beach Street all the way to their mustering point at Earnslaw Park.

Event manager, Steve Hollander said the new simpler course avoids the twists and turns of the previous one.

“Merinos are more intelligent than you think but even so we felt we made things a bit challenging for them last time. They got a bit confused having to herd all the way round the Village Green but I suppose that’s not surprising considering they were in unfamiliar territory with thousands of people cheering them on and the dogs nipping at their heels,” he said.

Two new events will provide entertainment on Beach Street before the merinos are let loose. First an exciting coal shovelling relay will feature three head-to-head battles between Wakatipu and Arrowtown rugby teams, local police officers and fire service volunteers plus a team of West Coast miners taking on the stokers from TSS Earnslaw.

Then the Mitre 10 MEGA Man and Mutt Race in association with Skellerup will see 15 of the region’s fastest Young Farmers fighting tooth and claw as they run up and down the length of Beach Street in Quatro Light gumboots with their dogs. First man and canine back across the line wins the title with prizes for all runners donated by Queenstown’s new Mitre 10 Mega store and Skellerup.

Around 5,000 people lined Queenstown’s streets and crowded balconies to get a view of the inaugural Running of the Wools last February. Locally-bred wethers and ewes from Mt Nicholas Station on the south side of Lake Wakatipu joined horned merino rams from Bendigo Station near Tarras for an event that was featured on TV news around the world and one that continues to celebrate an almost forgotten part of Queenstown’s heritage.

All the sheep running next Waitangi weekend will again be relatives of ‘Shrek’, Bendigo Station’s world famous merino who grew the world’s heaviest fleece after evading muster in the Central Otago high country for several years.

Watch Global Culture’s edit of the inaugural ‘Running of the Wools’ here: