Crowds flock to The Great NZ Muster in Te Kūiti

Approximately 7,000 to 8,000 locals and tourists flocked to the small country town of Te Kūiti in Te Nehenehenui for The Great NZ Muster, where 954 sheep barrelled down the main street.

The Great NZ Muster celebrated its 25th year anniversary on Saturday. New Zealand Prime Minister and skilled shearer Bill English, The French Ambassador to New Zealand Florence Jeanblanc-Risler and local MP Barbara Kurgier all attended the "Running of the Sheep" this year.

The "Running of the Sheep" has been part of the festival for 12 years.  Local John Fagan started the event to help raise the profile of the district.

"During the inaugural run, things didn’t quite go to plan, with the sheep running amok, heading in any direction they could, venturing down into the stream, onto the main trunk line and down the town's side streets," says Donna McDonald from the Waitomo District Council.

Animal welfare is a prime concern for organisers of the event.  The street is now bordered by fences along the railway lines and crowds are involved in the event by holding weed mats to create a barrier keeping the mischievous sheep on track.

Whilst the number of sheep is half that of the inaugural run of some 2,000 animals, the event continues to grow in popularity and has become a mainstay on the local calendar.

The Running of the Sheep is an annual event that coincides with the New Zealand Shearing Championships. This year teams from the across New Zealand as well as a team from Warrnambool Australia took part in the championships.

Video and images courtesy of: Daphne Perawiti