Paula and Philip Cook have been farming alpacas, as a hobby, for 16 years, and every year they open the gate on their property outside Kaitaia for International Alpaca Day. And every year many of those who accept the invitation are instantly smitten with the South American animals.

It was no different on Sunday, although this time, with much nicer weather than last year, around 100 people arrived to have a look.

"We had 14 kids running around when we started at 10 o'clock this morning," Philip said, "and it's been non-stop ever since."

Amongst the throng was 8-year-old Stella Bartlett, there with her mum Rachel and little brother Connor, who wore a very appropriate shirt for the occasion, and added alpacas to her already very long list of most favoured animal species.

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The alpacas were divided into three groups in different paddocks so visitors could interact with them, while three particularly docile ones, a mother, her daughter and grandson Cuba, spent the day in a barn where children were able to feel their soft fibre.

"Some were amazed at the variety of colours, from white, fawn, brown and black to grey and multi-colours," Paula said.

She and Philip still had their first two females, she added, the flock of 28 also including two stud males, a 20-year-old retired male, and three crias born this year.

The couple got into alpacas when Philip arrived home from the Taupo A&P show with a pamphlet, and they were soon hooked.

"They are very easy-care, friendly, and quickly get used to people," Paula said.

They were shorn once a year, the wool going to the South Island for processing and eventual export, for use in the manufacture of carpets and high-end textiles. Some is also available to knitters, in a range of the animals' natural colours.

Alpacas, Paula said, were well suited to the Far North. They could be carried at four to the acre, preferred poorer pasture (being prone to staggers), and did not eat pasture right down. They were very tidy toileters, to the point where they could be house-trained.

They didn't need a lot of water, although a couple of the Cooks' herd have a liking for immersing themselves in troughs, and didn't mind long dry spells. The only supplement fed by Philip and Paula is nuts infused with zinc during the facial eczema season.

They also made very attentive, possessive mothers.

"Get too close to the cria and they might well kick, spit at you or try to bite your feet," Philip said.

They also served as very reliable guard dogs, particularly if a real dog should appear.

Anyone who would like to know more about alpacas is welcome to contact Paula on (022) 194-5035.