Beards, shearing all part of Owaka's 150th anniversary

Beards, shearing all part of Owaka's 150th anniversary

The small south Otago town of Owaka is celebrating 150 years as a community.

Many former residents from across the country have returned for the week, and the town now has an asset that's been missing for all those years.

It's a week of festivities, as the Owaka celebrates 150 years since the first European settlers arrived.

A lot of forests and native bush were cleared, opening up the area for farming.

"It's a good, southern rural farming district. There's lots going on here, a lot of dairy farming these days," says convenor Anne-Marie Holland.

"Well, it's been a sawmill town, a railway town; it's now a tourist destination," says Catlins board councillor Hilary McNab.

Owaka means "place of the canoe", but that's one thing tourists have struggled to find.

"We haven't got a waka? We have now," says Ms McNab.

The 11-metre-long stainless steel waka sculpture now holds pride of place in the centre of town, unveiled as a jubilee project.

The celebrations have brought many former residents back to Owaka.

They're reuniting with those still living here, for activities like an historical bus tour.

"The whole district's got behind the whole jubilee. And the last time I grew this [a beard] it was 50 years ago," says third-generation Owaka resident Alan Burgess.

He's one of 20 men who have abandoned their shavers to compete in the beard-growing competition.

And local shearers faced off in a competition between hand blades and modern electric clippers during an old fashioned sports day.

Festivities continue with a shipwrecked-themed gala ball, before a grand parade tomorrow.

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