Grazes and Grins at Cheese Rolling

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Waikaka’s Whitestone Cheese Rolling ‘went off big time’ on Waitangi Day, Friday 6 February 2009 amidst Southland’s ‘four seasons in one day’ weather of scorching sparkling sunshine, grumbling thunder and a sprinkling of raindrops to refresh – perfect cheese rolling conditions.

The fourth annual event on the Henderson family farm at the top of Wendon Valley pulled a record crowd of over 1,500 people of all ages, including many fearless teenagers, who enjoyed plenty of spectacular spills and thrills.

Guest Celebrity Cheese Rollers mingled easily with the crowd, sharing stories and laughs, and winning hearts. Autism ABA therapist and assessor Linda Waples, who launched the first cheese for ‘Rosemary’s Roll’ was so nervous she couldn’t eat lunch. Compere Grant ‘Disaster’ McMaster realised they had forgotten to bring the first big cheese wheel soon after arriving at the hill top. A quick trip down to the Whitestone Cheese tent at the bottom of the hill put this right, but then at the critical starting moment, a tooth fell out – we are still not sure if it was Linda’s or Grant’s.

Young Takunda Mabagan from Africa, now living in Wendon with his family who are share-milking, sprinted down the hill in fine style to win the Tiny Kids Roll for under 7 year olds.

Celebrating his birthday and in response to a small taste of Whitestone’s Windsor Blue, Bill Pope spontaneously declared he needed to win one of the 4kg cheese wheels and entered the Chase-Me-Do Roll for over 40 year olds. Victory came with grazes and bruises to his thighs, shins and knees. Bill was last seen leaving with bandaged legs, grinning and proudly clutching his large cheese wheel, winner’s certificate and blue hydrangea bouquet.

Thomas Allan from Riversdale, a man of fast legs and few words, won the NZ Grand Champion Cheese Roller title with $500 purse, also winning the Jolly Farmer Roll earlier in the day. Past champion Tom Mackay finished back in the pack in a heat, reportedly ‘a bit woozy’.

Special mention goes to local gal Crystal Miller who drew gasps with her flying blonde hair, somersaulting and face-planting in a low-cut blouse resulting in a grazed chest. She was last seen limping into Waikaka with a big smile. This year was St John Hokonui’s busiest day at the cheese rolling, though thankfully no serious injuries were experienced.

Celebrities also proved a sporty, dedicated bunch with the ‘Perfect Woman’ Jamie McMeekan riding in the Outram Rodeo barrel race in the morning before driving down to the cheese rolling. Hokonui Gold’s ‘Big Daddy’ Bradley Craig gave a fine roll before racing off to his daughters first birthday, Silver Ferns Manager Jackie Barron and World Champion Wheat Grower Mike Solari enjoyed their unusual tasks. District Curator Jim Geddes and Castle Hill Station Owner Christine Fernyhough participated with gusto and finesse. Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks arrived with Caitlin the Show Queen from Tamworth in Australia, Gore’s sister city, and both launched cheeses for the Grand Final NZ Cheese Rolling Championship.

Roll winners and guests enjoyed helicopter joyrides drinking in the spectacular scenery and Whitestone’s cheese tasting tent was extremely popular. NZ Gold Guitar winners Taylor Cairns and Kayla Mahon (The Heartleys) delighted the crowd with their tight sweet sounds and teens in the crowd chanted along to Hannah Montana hits. The Packhouse’s juicy Roxburgh fruit, Andrew Barr’s Oamaru stone sculptures, the Kiwi rock climbing wall, a gorgeous giant tiger bouncy castle and a 17th century pedal-go-round added to the delights of the day.

Visitors, both new to the game and dedicated cheese rollers, unanimously declared the day ‘wonderful’, ‘terrific fun’, ‘hilarious’ and ‘absolutely fantastic’. Waikaka’s Whitestone Cheese Rolling NZ raises funds to support families in Southland and Otago facing the challenge of autism. Watch this space for outcome of a debrief meeting and decisions on cheese rolling in 2010.

Many thanks to major sponsor Whitestone Cheese and tasty sponsors Bayer, CRT, Foliafeed Fertiliser, PGG Wrightson, The Royal Hotel Waikaka, Southland Vegetation Control, South West Helicopters, Waikaka Transport and all other supporters.