Fibre Of The Gods – Gumtree Gully Alpaca Farm

Ten minutes drive south of Warkworth, in a beautiful gum tree-lined valley, is Gumtree Gully Alpacas whose name also pays homage to owner Kathy Roscoe’s Australian heritage. Married to a Kiwi and with three kids, she says, “As soon as we saw the farm I knew we had to buy it. The gum trees were just like home and soon 47 acres of NZ was ours!” Farming sheep would have been a predictable choice, but a fateful day visiting a local A&P Show put an end to that option as Kathy had fallen in love with alpacas. 

Gumtree Gully keeps Huacaya alpacas, the more common of the two alpaca breeds. Kathy originally started with two males, trying it out for a year with the guidance of an “inclusive, helpful group of people” involved in the NZ alpaca scene. Native to Peru and Chile, alpacas are part of the camel family and related to llamas. While most of us tend to get these two cousins confused, there are ways to differentiate. “Llamas are twice the size of their smaller relative and alpaca ears are smaller and more upright,” Kathy explains. Incas traditionally used llamas for packing (carrying loads) and alpaca fleece to make clothing, calling it ‘the fibre of the Gods’. “It’s hypoallergenic - good for those with allergies to sheep wool and soft and gentle for babies’ skin. There’s no lanolin in alpaca fleece and the hollow fibres make it lightweight and very warm,” she says. 

After a successful first year, Kathy bought more alpaca and bred. “I ended up with thirty alpacas and three kids - it was a bit much! So I downsized.” She now has a herd of twenty; all named of course. There’s Atonement, their black, breeding stud, Mink and Gracie, “Jessica, who’s very chatty, and Nova, who likes to stand back and not get too involved. They all have their own personalities,” Kathy says fondly. “It’s a bit of a niche industry but it’s growing quickly. Some people just have three or four because they’re great for mowing lawns, they’re pretty, friendly, good with kids, you can train them on a halter - they’re great,” she laughs. 

Shorn once a year, Kathy’s alpacas provide about two-four kilograms of good fleece from which she makes her yarns. “I grow it, clean it, then send it down south for processing. Once it’s back I have a great time dyeing it”, she says. Kathy uses acid dyes, she enjoys the consistency they allow when it comes to creating colours and she uses two dyeing methods. One method utilises a big pot to create single tones, the other involves painting with a brush, creating ‘variegated’ yarn. Once dyed, they are hung to dry in curtains of rainbow tresses. With enough interest, Kathy started a dyeing class - those keen should contact her via email, listed on her website. 

Gumtree Gully also has a shop which stocks super soft yarns, carded fibre, knitting packs and gorgeous knitted items. “I also stock natural coloured yarns as alpacas actually come in a range of twenty-two natural colours, ranging through whites, fawns, browns, greys and blacks!” Visitors might find the odd cuppa tea on offer too. Yarns include Kathy’s alpaca wool, with some bought-in NZ wool and merino silk. “I try to keep it NZ made and keep some alpaca fibre in the yarns where possible,” she says. 

Kathy enjoys connecting with those interested in either side of her business. “If I sell any animals on as pets, it’s got to be to a good home and I always offer after-sales care with shearing, and vaccinations etc,” she says. She regularly attends markets like the General Collective and Woolfest, as well as Albany’s Crafternoon Tea - a smaller high-quality craft market. Gumtree Gully is holding an open day to celebrate International Alpaca Day on 5 May, with free entrance to feed and pet the alpacas and visit the shop between 10am-3pm. “People go gah-gah over them,” she says, describing the groups that visit. Tour groups are very welcome. Those keen on a look-see - Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are usually fine, just contact Kathy to check and book in first.

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