Let the games The Hororata Highland Games begin

By Bridget Rutherford

The Hororata Highland Games was the brainchild of a group of residents wanting to raise money to rebuild morale and their community facilities following the September 2010 earthquake. Six years later, more than 10,000 people are expected to head to the games in November. Bridget Rutherford reports.
A sheep sheering event at the Hororata Highland Games. Photo / Christchurch Star
A sheep sheering event at the Hororata Highland Games. Photo / Christchurch Star

Sixty kilometres west of Christchurch is a little rural township sitting at the edge of the Canterbury Plains.

You would be forgiven if you thought it was sleepy.

It was badly hit in the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes.

As a result, its stone Anglican church was damaged and boarded up, its hotel was too costly for the publican to repair and was sold, its hall is still being used but needs repairs, and the district's homesteads bore the brunt of the quakes.

But for the past year, 200 volunteers having been busy organising the Hororata Highland Games.

Come November 5, more than 9000 people will head to the domain to watch, take part and enjoy the games - the largest in New Zealand.

They say all good ideas are hatched over a nice glass of wine, and the highland games was no exception.

Dee Innes, a Windwhistle farmer who has been involved in the community for 30 years, was on the founding committee that set up the Hororata Community Trust, which runs the games.

It was formed following the September 2010 earthquake. However, the group of 10 people were used to working together before that.

In February 2010, the group was raising money for both St John's Anglican Church and Christ Church Cathedral.

"It was because Peter Beck [former Christ Church Cathedral dean] had told us the Cathedral was costing $30,000 a day or week to run, so it was thought we could help with that and, at the same time, help St John's," Mrs Innes said.

Ironically, both churches were in better shape then than they are now - the Cathedral's future is still unclear, and St John's is still boarded up after its bell tower collapsed through the roof.

The Ruben De Jong event at the Hororata Highland Games. Photo / Christchurch Star
The Ruben De Jong event at the Hororata Highland Games. Photo / Christchurch Star

On September 4 that year, the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit, and the following day the group members decided they better get back together, Mrs Innes said.

The Hororata Community Trust was born and, in turn, the highland games, which has steadily grown from about 3000 people at its inaugural event in 2011 to 9000 last year.

"We were a group that were used to working together. I think that was why we were so lucky to organise a large event afterwards," Mrs Innes said.

"It would be fair to say the trust was founded with the rebuild of St John's in mind."

The money raised by the trust goes back into the community, but the idea to start the highland games was not just for residents, she said.

"I think people were looking for something different and something to get their mind off the earthquakes and looking to get out of Christchurch."

Mrs Innes organises the stalls at the games, which sell clothes, craft, wood craft, jewellery, leather and food.

There were usually about 100 stalls there and perhaps one of the most popular sells the Hororata tartan and whisky.

"They are very popular indeed."

The tartan fabric was gifted to the community in 2012 by the Scottish Tartans' Authority and the whisky - Hororata blend and Hororata single malt - come from Adelphi Distillery in Scotland.

The trust members enjoy a brew or two together, Mrs Innes said.

"It's been known to happen."

Event manager Cindy Driscoll is coming into her third year of organising the event. However, she was around when it all began.

The idea was hatched alongside a "good glass of wine", she said.

"The group thought we need to do something to raise some money for our community and bring everyone together," she said.

"They had no idea how successful it was going to be."

Competitors come from all over New Zealand and Australia to compete in the Gough CAT Oceania Heavyweight Championship, which includes traditional Scottish events such as the caber toss, and Hororata stones competition.

Other popular events include the Hororata pie eating competition, the kilted mile, Southfuels tug o' war, as well as the piping, drumming and highland dancing competitions.

Mrs Driscoll said organisers try and come up with fresh ideas for the games each year.

She said one of the new events this year would be the Gough CAT vehicle pull, which is open to teams of five.

Contestants have to pull a vehicle with a digger and trailer along a track, and the fastest teams wins a $500 cash prize.

Bike polo is another new addition and a special guest will join on the day to judge the piping competitions.

Kyle Warren - who is a member of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and, more recently, recorded pipes on the Disney Pixar Oscar-winning movie Brave - will judge.

Mrs Driscoll said the event wasn't just about raising money, it was about raising the profile of the community.

"It takes 200 volunteers to make this event happen, but you can feel the passion that goes into it because it's led by the community," she said.

"If we get 10,000 people this year, we'll be happy."

Tickets for the Hororata Highland Games can be bought online at Event Finda.

The event's official print media sponsor, Star Media, will have a stall with an interactive display for readers. Coverage of the games will air on CTV's Rural New Zealand on November 9.

- Christchurch Star

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