When country comes to town

The Wanaka show from the air. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
The Wanaka show from the air. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
The Ferris wheel has been dismantled, the Jack Russell terriers are having a well-earned rest and the Upper Clutha A&P showgrounds have returned to a quiet green oasis in bustling Wanaka.

Last week, the 82nd Wanaka A&P Show - the largest two-day show in the South Island - attracted a crowd estimated at at least 40,000 people.

The event draws people from afar, attracted by a combination of possibly the most scenic showgrounds in the country, outstanding trade displays, quality livestock and a social occasion.

Every year, the show seems to get bigger and better, and show stalwarts have almost a sense of bewilderment as they acknowledge its growth, reminiscing about the days when it was a one-day affair.

As life member Tussock Lucas said, what was once contained within a small ring was now spread ''right up to Wanaka'' as the trade displays sprawled over Pembroke Park.

Whether you're in the market for a flash car, a fancy ''glamping'' set-up, some fashionable threads or a new tractor, there is something there for every taste.

Yet, at its heart, the event remains very much a traditional country show; there are still the jars of plump Central Otago stonefruit in the homemade preserves, the decorated egg cartons lovingly crafted by the show's youngest enthusiasts, some of the best fine-wool sheep in the country, and primped and preened ponies parading around the ring.

A&P shows have been a pivotal part of the fabric of rural communities throughout New Zealand for hundreds of years.

In many areas, the show was the key event of the year with rural towns literally stopping for the occasion.

But times have changed. Some shows have been struggling in recent years to draw the crowds that they used to, competing with so many other events and the ''busyness'' of today's society.

But the team behind the Wanaka A&P Show have proven that if you provide what people want, they will come in droves.

Make no mistake: the Wanaka A & P Show is big business, estimated to bring more than $10.9million worth of direct economic benefit to the local community each year.

Organising the event is a massive logistical exercise and, at Wanaka, a bold initiative was introduced last year.

The Upper Clutha A&P Society is now governed by a board of five members, moving on from the previous rotational structure
adopted by most show committees.

Given the growth of the show, particularly over the last five years, it was decided a board was needed to undertake strategic planning and steer its future direction with streamlined decision-making, all while maintaining the show's special character.

It is a move that appears to have paid off. Last week's show appeared to run seamlessly and harmoniously, despite some weather-related challenges which were swiftly met.

A&P shows bring together town and country, and in a climate where the oft-mentioned rural-urban divide sometimes feels more like a chasm, that can only be a good thing.

Hats off to the Wanaka A&P team - not only the board but also the masses of volunteers involved - for providing an event that is not only wanted, but needed. It's two days when town and country are one.

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