Hamilton: The country goes shopping

By Liz Light

Liz Light visits Fieldays, the biggest, fattest farmers' market in the Southern Hemisphere

The Wild West comes to the Waikato at Fieldays, Mystery Creek, Hamilton. Photo / Liz Light
The Wild West comes to the Waikato at Fieldays, Mystery Creek, Hamilton. Photo / Liz Light

Bang in the middle of winter, just a few days before the shortest day, the Waikato pulled a perfect blue out of its often cold, foggy winter hat. By the time I arrived at Fieldays, at a civilised 10am, the frost was gone and it felt almost summery.

The air was festive as I wandered around what has evolved to be a temporary town, capable of absorbing more than 40,000 visitors.

The Agricultural Fieldays is held every June at Mystery Creek, a 95ha area of sheltered riverflat next to the Waikato River 10km south of Hamilton. Mystery Creek has a grid of roads, a lake in the middle, numerous permanent exhibition halls, power, water and water treatment and, for heaven's sake, a church situated prettily under trees.

With 850 exhibitors and numerous events at different places throughout the day, the guidebook I bought at the gate was essential. As are cellphones. With this many people, it was impossible to accidentally bump into friends and re-meet sidetracked family stragglers.

Sam, my man, and I were soon in tractor zone where Kubota and John Deere had the biggest displays. Not too long ago, a tractor was, more or less, a tractor but now there is a vast range, from monsters whose rear tyres are twice as tall as Trevor from Taihape to petite things that look like mobility scooters with digger attachments.

The Tractor Pull Competition is where the tractor-action happened. Here, drivers competed to see how much weight they could haul behind a tractor. The competing tractors pulled a complicated-looking, weight-adjusted sledge that got heavier the further the tractor went. The one that went farthest won. The tractors were huge, loud and powerful and I admired the commentator who made this tedious-seeming business of tractors pulling a heavy thing sound exciting.

Much more exciting was the Excavator Competition and Demonstration. Here, operators skilfully manoeuvred huge machines to do delicate tasks such as taking the cap off a beer bottle and then pouring the beer into a glass. All this was done with tiny attachments welded on to the edge of the buckets of huge diggers.

The chainsaw woodcutting competitions attracted a large crowd, too. New Zealand has the highest per-capita chainsaw ownership in the world so it's not surprising that some folk are exceptionally skilled at using them. I watched the women's competitions, where teams of six competed to make the fastest and cleanest sawcut through logs.

The Stihl Hot Saw race was loads of noisy, chip-flying fun as men with broad backs and muscular arms pushed highly modified, amped-up chainsaws through logs with the ease of a hot knife through butter.

At the equine area, members of the Cutting Horse Association were warming up for a demonstration. Cutting horses are especially trained to separate one cattle beast from the rest without disturbing the herd.

I watched a rider take his horse into the herd and isolate one steer that, from then on, tried to get back to the herd. The cutting horse mirrored its every move until, eventually, the steer gave up and bolted in the opposite direction. At this point, in the Wild West, it would be lassoed, branded and knackered but here, the steer wandered ignominiously back to the others in the corner of the corral. It was impressive to watch.

By early afternoon I had only seen a small portion of the Fieldays' action but my energy was flagging. There was plenty of choice for lunch, enough to feed 40,000 of us, though not, initially, anything to suit vegetarian me.

Mussel fritters, seafood chowder, steak sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, African stew, meat pies; it was all here but nothing vege. Eventually, when I was about to settle for an icecream, and thereby support the dairy industry, I stumbled on the Hari Krishna stall selling food made with love. I sat down with an assortment of curries at the wind power exhibitor's table and was in sustainable, vegetarian heaven.

My next thrill was at the farm bike demonstration, where young men were doing brave, dangerous and often airborne stunts on farm motorbikes. The craziest was asking for three volunteers from the crowd, getting them to lie down like logs in a row, and then driving over them on the farm bike. No one appeared to be injured.

There was loads of shopping for farmers and rural types. The RM Williams stalls were selling smart country gear at bargain prices; dress jeans, cotton shirts, belts with big bull-head buckles, sleeveless vests and beautifully made leather boots.

If I hadn't already been wearing RM Williams boots that I had bought 15 years ago I would have snapped up a pair.

Elsewhere, I found a fabulous range of gumboots; those with leopard spots, black ones decorated with little pink cows, and black-and-white ones whose abstract patterns were inspired by similarly patterned dairy cows.

We thought it was a good idea to be on the road before the other 40,000, so we left the biggest farmers' market imaginable in the middle of the still-warm afternoon.

Fieldays

The Agricultural Fieldays will be held over four days from June 12-15 at Mystery Creek, 10km south of Hamilton. The biggest day is usually the Friday, when farmers start shopping seriously. The sales are on the final day and terrific bargains can be had. Tickets at the gate are $25 adults; $15 under-15; and under-4s are free.

- Herald on Sunday

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