Celebration, and a bit of racing, at festival

There was barking, laughter and general chaos at the Wanaka Sled Dog Festival yesterday, but if you listened closely enough, you could  almost hear the sound of distant wedding bells.

Just days after tying the knot on the shores of Lake Wanaka, Napier couple Ash and Tania Hastelow and their five Siberian Huskies yesterday found themselves joining 33 others competing in the three-day event at the Wanaka Snow Farm.

The newlyweds are avid sled dog racers and the sport has played an important part in their relationship.

The two  first met at a race event at Waitarere Forest, in Manawatu, in 2015, and Mr Hastelow said he had his bride’s husky Zara to thank for setting them up.

"She got back from her race running Zara, and she was swearing and cursing because Zara is hard work on the trail.

"Tania had a heck of a time and was about half-dead at the finish line, so I picked her up and took her back to her trailer, helped her out and that’s how we caught each other’s eye."

Sledding led to a weddingNewlyweds Tania and Ash Hastelow with their dogs Ranger, Roxy, Quade,...
Sledding led to a weddingNewlyweds Tania and Ash Hastelow with their dogs Ranger, Roxy, Quade, Zara and Teeko at the Wanaka Sled Dog Festival yesterday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
They attended the Wanaka festival together a year later and "loved it" enough to plan a return trip this year. Mrs Hastelow said she joked about fitting the wedding around the race only to see her partner call her bluff.

"He actually said yes and booked the venue," she said.

Mr Hastelow had no doubts Wanaka was where he wanted to be married.

"We love the place — there’s no better place in New Zealand to do it. It suits what we do [dog sledding]. It’s our passion."

Unlike their wedding day on Monday, the early morning sun basked the trails at the snow farm yesterday on the second day of the festival.

Race co-ordinator Sarah Campbell said the weather and snow conditions were "absolutely perfect".

The event is the only sled-dog event in New Zealand held on snow.

Normally racing is on dry land in forests with wheeled rigs and scooters. Mrs Campbell  said the only downside was having to start at sunrise so the dogs did not overheat.

Five racers were from Australia, and the rest  from  New Zealand. The festival finishes today.


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