Ed Sheeran does not want to sing. Worse still, he looks positively repulsed as I try to croon ‘I’m in love with the shape of you...’ He hurriedly walks his fluffy derriere away from me and joins his friends Crumpet and Noodles.
When the three return, they are primarily interested in the brown paper bag in my hand. It contains their snacks (a blend of seeds, grains, and chopped-up hay, grass, and straw), which they eating out of my hands, leaving behind a trail of slobber. These are the stars at the Mountainview Alpaca Farm in O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards, Queensland. There are 40 alpacas here, in different shapes, sizes, and colours; with myriad personalities and a variety of hairstyles from mullets to messy, windswept locks. And each one has a quirky name (Tim Tam, Pancake, Jeff who looks very business-like) that matches their personality.
Despite their superstar status, , these gentle animals will walk with you and allow you to pet them as long as you provide them with a steady supply of snacks, neck rubs, and cuddles. Their large blueberry-like eyes gleam every time snacks are held out, followed by a happy humming sound.
I am handed over Crumpet to walk. He is two-and-a-half years old and is around five feet tall, but when he holds his head high in a dignified manner, he is almost as tall as me. And at 60 kilograms, he weighs a wee bit more than me. Which is why, even though I hold the harness, it feels like I am the one being pulled and taken on a walk. Crumpet has the gait of a supermodel in stilettos, is as lazy as he is lovable and every few minutes likes to stop and look at his friends.
“Here, they are between three weeks and 12 years. The younger ones watch and learn,” says Tamil Mani, general manager of O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards, which has housed this alpaca farm here since 2017. It began as a temporary arrangement when cyclone Debbie battered local businesses in 2017, including the Mountainview Alpaca Farm. “They wanted us to keep their alpacas here till they repaired and got their place up and running again. So we did. But two months later, when the alpacas went back, we started receiving calls from our clients enquiring about them,” explains Tamil. “This time, we approached them and it was decided that they would lease a part of our land and keep their alpacas here,” he adds.
While there are 90 alpacas in total, only 40 are at the O’Reilly’s venue. The remaining are trained by alpaca farmers at another location 10 kilometres away. The farmers bring the alpacas for walks and interactions with humans, on rotation. “By the time the animal turns three weeks, the farmers can tell if they are suitable to work with humans or not,” he adds.
Animals that heal
Alpacas are also therapy animals. On weekdays, institutions that work with the differently-abled or those with special needs bring them in for a session with these friendly animals. The alpaca walks started in 2018 as part of a fundraising event for people with cancer. Given their popularity, they became a permanent fixture, says Tamil. Now, Alpaca walks are a travel trend that has picked up especially in the UK, the Netherlands, and Canada... And these animals are so popular that they find their bemused faces on cups, T-shirts and a host of merchandise.
Before you trot along, remember there is etiquette involved. Before one of them is taken for a walk, a trainer introduces the alpaca and instructs the client on how to pat, where to pat, how to feed, and how far to walk among other details. They keep a sharp eye on both the alpaca and the client. “If they don’t follow rules, we take away the alpaca from them,” says Tamil, indicating that these animals need to be handled gently and with care and respect. “Sometimes if they are not happy they are likely to kick or spit, that hasn’t yet happened though,” laughs Tamil.
Crumpet has now wandered off to join Patch and Poncho, who in between their walks are distracted by the picnic baskets of visitors lounging by the creek. Handing over the reins to the staff, I head over to the lawns with my hamper ( brimming with cheese, cold cuts, breads, salad, and cutlery), thoughtfully put together by O’Reilly’s . A light music band plays , wine paddles are brought out, it’s a glorious sunny day.
In the distance three prim looking alpacas line up for a photo shoot with a very excited bride and groom.
O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyard is an hour’s drive from Gold Coast and from Brisbane. For details, log on to www.oreillys.com.au
The writer was in Australia on the invitation of Tourism Australia.