Six long days are ahead for judges at the North Island and national sheep dog trials which shine another light on the tiny East Coast community of Whangara this week.
Heading runs at Pouawa, near Whangara, were to start at 7.30am, but championships secretary Fiona Irwin said there was some delay after heavy rain overnight, making conditons "very wet underfoot." It was clearing by late morning.
A maximum 55 runs had been scheduled on the long head and short head and yard courses on the opening day of the North Island championships which are expected to end on Friday. Huntaways started about 9am, with 60 runs on each of the zig zag hunt and straight hunt courses.
Almost 1000 runs will be completed during the week, with the top seven on each course qualifying for the New Zealand championships runoffs on Saturday.
Each title is in the hands of just one man, with Rob Hastie, of Northland, judging the long head, Paul Newton, of Nelson-Marlborough the short head and yard, Mark Haynes, of Wanganui, the zig zag hunt, and Robbie Calder, of North Otago, the straight hunt.
Leaderboards will be updated twice daily, finalists combining points from the North Island runs with those in the championships' runoffs to decide who gets each of the four coveted green ties which symbolise winning a New Zealand title.
Much interest will centre on whether the North Island can complete a cleansweep of island and national titles this season, the South Island championships near Balclutha earlier this month having seen two titles go to the Poverty Bay centre, one to Hawke's Bay, and one to Southern Hawke's Bay-Wairarapa.
The short head title was won by Dannevirke trialist David Sheild with Clyde, the short head and yard by Poverty Bay legend Merv Utting and Fern, prolific-winning Te Pohue farm Stuart McNeill claimed zig zag honours with Ranger, and Allen Irwin, of Whatatutu, won the straight hunt title with Chase.
Utting, who has won six national titles, 11 North or South island titles and who was last year bestowed an MNZM for services to sheep dog trialing, has the maximum five dogs entered, as does McNeill, who has three national titles and four at island championships to his name.
Winners at the 2016 New Zealand Championships at Omarama, North Otago, were Northland farmer Murray Child and Dice in the long head, host club patron Ginger Anderson with Don in the short head and yard, King Country's Hamish Parkinson, with Shake, in the zig zag, and Tim Stevenson, of Taihape, with Cruze in the straight hunt.
The first North and South island championships were held more than a century ago, the first New Zealand championships were held in 1936.
Whangara has had its moments in the spotlight, being the location for much of the movie Whale Rider, and a few days apart earlier this year with two major victories for the locals - Maryanne Baty's victory with Gisborne's Joel Henare in the World Woolhandling Championships teams event in Invercargill and kapa group Whangara Mai Tawhiti taking the top honours at biennial Maori performing arts festival Te Matatini in Hastings.