A handful of those iconic original events, like the Dog Derby and Day on the Bay with its hilarious Birdman Contest, are now enduring Festival favourites.
In particular, the Dog Derby is popular with festival lovers nationally and internationally. It’s an infamous day out for high country farmers and their normally obedient working dogs which in more recent years has allowed ‘townies’ and their canine buddies to join in. Each numbered, bib-clad pair must run, slip or slide their way to the bottom of Coronet Peak through the chaos of whistles and barking, crossing the finish line together.
The first recorded winner was Malaghan’s Road farmer Bill Dagg in 1975. From 1990, his son Chris Dagg competed in the Dog Derby for 25 consecutive years, only bowing out after recording his inaugural win in 2015 at the 40th Dog Derby.
It was initially intended as an event for locals, but drew farmers from all over Otago and Southland. The Dog Derby has been held on Coronet Peak all but three years of the past 43 with the Remarkables Ski Area hosting in 1988 and 2016 and bad weather only cancelling the event once in 43 years in 1998.
What began as a committee-led collection of kookiness by the 1980’s had become a sponsor supported commercial Festival. In one of the longest associations with any event in New Zealand, American Express has been involved since 1993.