For a slice of country life, Danielle Wright rounds up the best A&P Shows to visit this summer.

It is testament to the place our farming heritage has in New Zealanders' hearts that many of our regional Agricultural & Pastoral (A&P) Shows have been going strong for over 100 years.

"Farming is such a major part of our life, even people who live in the largest city in New Zealand can usually go back just a few generations and find farm-based relatives," says farmer Duncan McNab, who is involved with the Auckland Easter Show.

"It's our history."

Many working at the shows are unpaid volunteers, so the least us city slickers can do is turn up and teach our children about our country cousins, showing our support and admiration for the rural way of life in the process.


Following are our picks for the best in show this summer.

Northern Wairoa A&P Show
February 9
Arapohue Showgrounds, 3338 Mititai Rd, RD10, Dargaville. Adults $7.50, children $2, under-5s free.

For a true slice of rural life, visit the Northern Wairoa show, now in its 122nd year. When it started, visitors would come by horse or hop off a boat and walk from the river up to the showgrounds. Back then, there was a dance afterwards and most people stayed overnight.

Show organiser Nicky Poyner says: "It's just a small country show and we keep the A&P competitive side of it, with a new event - sheep racing - this year. Another popular attraction is the mechanical bull - everyone likes to have a go on that one."

"It's a really traditional show with baking, sewing and flower decorating, as well as people selling homemade things like jewellery. Some of our volunteers have been coming for 50 years, like one of our jersey breeders," says Poyner. "We'd love people to come down and help to keep the show going for another 100 years."

North Hokianga A&P Show
February 16
The Showgrounds, 1062 Broadwood Rd, Broadwood. Doors open at 8.30am. Adults $5, children 5-16 $1.

In its 99th year, the North Hokianga A&P Show in this tiny community 45km southwest of Kaitaia. It is "a good old-fashioned family show," according to show organiser Helen McCready, who admits she resigns every year, but the committee just laugh and she's back the next year.

"It's a day when the community comes together for events such as the dog trials and shearing, the indoor flowers and handcrafts, as well as the side shows," says McCready, encouraging families to bring a picnic or enjoy a hangi.

This year there will be a chainsaw sculpting competition, with the finished sculptures auctioned off at 2.30pm. A led-rein event for the young horse riders means there's a horse section for every age and experience.

"It hasn't changed much since the first show, except it's now only a one-day rather than two-day show and there's no dance afterwards," says McCready. "Next year, we're planning to clear the hall for a dance to celebrate 100 years with a good ol' knees-up!"

Franklin A&P Show
February 16-17
Pukekohe Showgrounds, Station Rd, 9am-4pm daily, Adults $15, children (12 and under) $5, pre-schoolers free, family pass $35.

Now in its 127th year, the Franklin A&P Show show is, according to planner John Fleet, "The most accessible country show and one of the biggest with horses, beef, dairy, sheep, alpaca and goats competing, as well as a huge home industry section including cakes, preserves, artwork and vegetables".

"Because we're so close to the city, we compete with Auckland events and have to do something that's a bit of a standout. This year we've introduced the Auckland Country Food Show, with local producers and Annabelle White doing demonstrations," he says.

There will be bacon and egg pie-making competitions and a prize for Franklin's fastest omelette maker. Local butchers will be talking about cuts of meat and the best ways to cook them and growers will be cooking with their produce, such as Wilcox giving advice on potatoes.

"Anyone can enter our home industry sections," says Fleet. "We've had jam posted from Te Kuiti and pickles from the Hauraki Plains. It's about presentation as well as taste. Vegetables don't have to be the biggest, they can simply be beautifully formed, perfect specimens.

"It's quite fascinating learning from the judges - A&P is all about encouraging the striving for excellence."

Helensville A&P Show
February 23
Helensville Showgrounds, 63 Railway St. 9am-4.30pm, Adults $10, children (5-15) $5, family pass $25. Cash only, no Eft-pos.

Helensville's show is the largest one-day A&P show in the northern district, running since 1900 (except for a couple of years off - mostly due to war).

It retains a family-friendly atmosphere and was once a way to foster friendship and the exchange of agricultural and pastoral ideas among early settlers.

"It's a huge community show and an ideal place for city people to come and see what the country is all about," says show manager, Marion Stutz. "We have all the equestrian, livestock and traditional indoor competitions, all the pickles, preserves and vegetables.

"There's also a tractor to take people from the carpark to the show for an authentic country experience.

"It's a busy atmosphere with everything going on at the same time, busy without being hectic or stressful and there's a lot of soul in the show," says Stutz.

"Not to mention being surrounded by beautiful hills and the Kaipara Valley countryside, it's a lovely day out."

Auckland Royal Easter Show
March 28 to April 1
ASB Showgrounds, 217 Greenlane West. 10am-10pm (Thurs-Sun), 10am-6pm (Mon). Adults $25 day-pass, family $50, kids over 12 and students with ID $10.

It's a hard task bringing the country to the city, just think of the logistics of moving the animals around busy streets for a start. Luckily, the Auckland Royal Easter Show is filled with passionate volunteers like farmer Duncan McNab, proud to put on the best display of country life he can.

"[In] Auckland there's a need for us to entertain the city crowds and not just do the competitive side of an A&P Show," says McNab, who believes the incentive of winning in the competition is what draws the bigger exhibitors from the Far North and Hawkes Bay.

The woodchopping and shearing are always popular, as is Farm World, which is not a zoo but a hands-on interactive animal experience for kids and adults.

"Aucklanders also love to see the big bulls parading around, but usually they have no idea what the judges are looking for, it's all about entertainment," says McNab, admitting a new attraction called Hollywood Horrors is a bid to attract the difficult-to-reach 15-18 year age group.

"We want to make it the best we can - it's exciting and hugely satisfying to get the displays right," says McNab. "All we need is the people to come and provide the atmosphere."

More to visit:
Kaitaia and Districts A&P Show
March 1-2, 30B SH1, Kaitaia.

Held since 1886 and showcasing everything from huge tractors to water filters, alongside the displays and fairground food. New for 2013 is the led-pony sport horses.

Kumeu A&H Show
March 9-10, Kumeu Showgrounds, Access Rd.

"Udderly great entertainment" including sheep racing, pony and wagon rides, woodchopping, highland dancing and the Great Potato Dig.

Warkworth A&P Show
January 26-27, 2 SH1, Warkworth.

New for 2013 is the pedal-power shearing competition with teams of two - one pedalling while the other shears a sheep. This year's special guest is Te Radar.