Life in Godzone (aka Paradise) (aka New Zealand) by Robyn Anderson
Kia Ora everyone
Alan, thanks for asking me – you never cease to amaze me with your ideas for marketing, and for pulling the alpaca community together. It’s lovely.
Why Alpacas? My first encounter with an alpaca was around about 1986 in downtown Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. There were moves afoot to introduce these beautiful animals with the magnificent fleece into New Zealand . There was a llama and an alpaca and we were invited by their handler to feel the fleece of both animals. I preferred the llama fleece! It felt softer. In my defence I think those animals were very primitive compared to the magnificent fleece carriers we have here today.
This meeting with an alpaca was burned into my memory.
Several years later I received an unexpected windfall of around $800 New Zealand dollars. This was earmarked as my deposit for an alpaca. I really still had no idea about caring for alpaca – but I knew I wanted one.
Meanwhile my husband and I established an olive grove in the Awatere Valley in the South Island of New Zealand. We still lived and worked in Wellington but commuted most weekends to work on our grove. We had a taste of rural life and we loved it. Our grove was only around 20 minutes from the nearest large town, and only 5 minutes from a small town. The small town had an old fashioned general store, tea rooms and a public toilet. This was handy as we had no facilities on our block. I nicknamed the local phone box “my office”.
We planted, weeded and tended over 6,000 olive trees. We had picked out our house site and to complete our idyllic lifestyle we expected to have 2-3 alpaca grazing nearby.
Things often don’t work out quite how we planned them!
Circumstances changed and we sold our grove. That was quite a wrench for us, as, along with the land and our beautiful trees, we sold a little of ourselves and all of our dreams.
Still the alpacas remained in the back of my mind.
Finally it dawned on us! We could breed alpacas. This was now 2002. There were quite a few alpacas in New Zealand now and more being imported. We were living in Queensland in Australia for a few months at this time. The sun must have been good for us as this was where the dream started to take shape. We visited a couple of breeders around the area and attended one or two shows. The breeders were very positive – and the alpacas were gorgeous.
We moved back to Wellington, New Zealand. We visited a couple of breeders in our greater area and attended a couple of shows. The breeders were very positive – and the alpacas were gorgeous!
We quickly realised our quarter acre suburban home was not going to be practical and began our search for a suitable property.
We decided to go south rather than north and found a block of land in mid Canterbury. It is right on the Canterbury plains with a view of the Southern Alps to the west and the Port Hills of Christchurch to the east. We are around 40 minutes from the centre of Christchurch (when Christchurch had a centre, before the earthquake) in the heart of a traditional sheep and crop growing area but with dairy farming expanding rapidly, close to the small agricultural university town of Lincoln. There is rapid urban expansion in the surrounding towns – they are getting closer to us.
There is a handful of alpaca breeders in our vicinity however on the northern side of Christchurch there is a large group of lovely, enthusiastic breeders. There are 10 – 12 shows held in the greater area over the spring / summer season where we can all meet and socialise together while showing our beautiful alpaca. Some of the best alpaca in New Zealand are from Canterbury so the competition is pretty tough, and any ribbons received are prized. Phil and I have convened our closest show for the last four years. It used to be the first show of the season but more recently the National show on alternate years and the South Island Colourbration have taken that slot.
We purchased our first alpaca via an online auction in 2003. Snow Dream was 10 months pregnant at time of purchase and within six weeks had produced a female cria. We were totally hooked by now. How hard can this breeding business be??
Over the next few months we purchased another eight females and they became the foundation of our existing herd. For the first couple of years we had … boy cria after boy cria. We were a little discouraged!
In the meantime we settled into our area. We each found jobs nearby and made some fabulous new friends. We continued developing our property to suit us, and put our own stamp on it. We were originally attracted to it because of the beautiful established trees. And of course Phil loved the sheds! We have made substantial alterations to the existing house, resown the paddocks and replaced most of the fencing. As you will all know there is always something to be done on a farm no matter what size it is.
Our beautiful alpaca herd has grown. We stopped having only boy cria, and now enjoy a healthy mix of girl/boy cria. At one point our herd numbered around 110 but we currently have approximately 70 alpaca on farm at the moment although we are expecting another 20 cria within the next two months. We have gone from being ‘townies’ knowing absolutely nothing about livestock, to become semi ‘rural folk’ who now know a little more about livestock.
We have had a few heartbreaks along the way, and some big lessons to learn, but the experience has been so rich on so many levels. We have made some great friendships with fellow alpaca breeders. We have met such interesting and lovely people from the other side of the world because we have alpacas. We have made online friendships with so many more folk because of the alpacas.
We have it all. We have the most delightful lifestyle. It isn’t perfect in any way, but it is fantastic. We wake in the morning and the view from our room is the serene and gracious alpaca grazing close by. In the evening if we have had a trying day we can stand by the fence and the tranquil alpaca will remind us of what is really important. We have remembered how to enjoy our life…. That’s why.
Robyn and her husband Phil have farmed alpacas now for almost 10 years. They are the owners of Awatere Alpaca Stud www.awatere.co.nz on the outskirts of Christchurch New Zealand, and they are actively involved in their industry. They have convened the alpaca section of the Ellesmere A&P for the last four years, and Robyn is the current editor of the NZ Alpaca magazine, and the Southern Region representative on the Alpaca Association NZ National Council. They are passionate about alpaca and passionate about alpaca ‘fibre of the gods’. They breed for fabulous fibre, gentle temperament and physical soundness.