HAVE you ever seen an alpaca at a wedding? How about in an office? Or delivering an ‘Alpaca-gram’? Chances are, you haven’t.
Hawkesbury resident Maria Marchant reckons her new business Alpaca Kisses is the only one of its kind - it’s certainly the only one in the Hawkesbury.
“The thing about Alpaca Kisses is that we bring them to you and it’s a one-on-one experience,” Maria told the Gazette.
Touch of nature
When Maria and her husband Kent moved to property at Bowen Mountain twenty years ago, Maria wanted to breed alpacas.
She had always loved the fluffy creatures, but breeding them proved to be a little too expensive.
Instead, they invested in a menagerie of animals; over the years, cats, dogs, birds, goldfish, ducks, geese and guinea pigs came and went, and now they have horses, a sheep and a goat.
About a year and a half ago, they finally got their first alpaca. Suffice to say, Maria was hooked.
“I was going to do a photographic business with all our animals but organising transport was difficult. The alpacas were easy though - you just put them in the back of your van,” she said.
And so, Alpaca Kisses was born. The business was launched only in March, and the team has already taken alpacas to weddings, birthday parties and offices.
They also do baby showers, naming ceremonies, marriage proposals, BBQs and dinners.
“For weddings, it could be a meet and greet in the cocktail hour, after the ceremony and before the reception,” Maria said.
“We also do a ‘corporate recharge’ for businesses - it gives staff a ‘refresh’ and then they talk about alpacas all day instead of doing work!” she laughed.
The team is also about to launch its ‘alpaca telegrams’ service, which will see alpacas delivering personal messages like proposals, invitations, or ‘I’m sorry’.
“I’ve done a few nursing home visits and visits with disability services,” said Maria.
“I’m hoping to do some work with schools, with lighter skills students, and I’m also hoping to do some work with young kids with autism to see how that goes as well.”
The team currently services the Hawkesbury area, as well as Sydney, Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Southern Highlands and Kangaroo Valley.
Potential customers wanting to book Maria and her alpacas to attend their event should check with their venue space to ensure Alpaca Kisses’ services are welcome, before booking in with Maria.
Locally, Loxley on Bellbird Hill and Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury Valley have already pledged themselves ‘alpaca friendly’.
Further afield, venues including Dunbar House at Watsons Bay, Springfield House Function Centre at Dural and Riverside Oaks Golf Resort at Cattai all support Alpaca Kisses’ services, as well WedShed - an online booking platform for unique wedding venues.
Kissing an alpaca
So, what exactly is an ‘alpaca kiss’? According to Maria, alpacas are naturally curious, and if you make a humming noise, they sometimes come to you.
“Alpacas hum to each other as a form of communication, so we get people to hum and they come over and very gently put their nose on your nose, or your face,” she said.
“It’s a very sweet experience. It’s only second in my view to a dolphin kiss.”
Unlike dogs, alpacas don’t like being hugged or stroked, and respect will go a long way with these animals. Maria said if they give you a kiss, it shows they’re feeling comfortable.
She has three alpacas so far, but hopes to add more to her herd. Her oldest is an 18-month-old white male named Casper (after the friendly white ghost); then there’s Co, an eight-month-old white male; and Milo, the baby boy, who’s only five months old and is chocolate-coloured.
Maria said they’re very social. The animals are naturally gentle but can also be flighty, so Maria has ensured they’re well trained so they’re used to being around people.
You might have seen her walking with her charges around the Hawkesbury - just last weekend she took them to Richmond Park for a run on the oval and to walk around the streets.
Maria admitted she often gets asked, ‘Do they spit?’ She said they do, but it’s generally at each other; if they spit at a human, it’s usually because the human is doing something they dislike.
“It’s their way of letting people or each other know they’re not happy. They give you warnings, and if you really don’t listen they give a blast of hot air. If you still don’t listen, they can do it again,” she said.
But don’t worry: when Maria conducts her visits she teaches people what alpacas like and dislike, and Casper, Co and Milo have been working hard to perfect their ‘manners’.
This includes toilet training - they go before they get in the van and when they get out. But just to be sure, Maria brings along a handheld wet-dry vacuum in case of accidents.
“They’re really quite easy to toilet train. You can have accidents, but we generally have them go before they go in somewhere, and go before they go in the van. One goes and then they all want to go which is handy!” Maria said.
Some people mistake her alpacas for llamas. “Alpacas are related to llamas, and also camels. They’re all in the camelid family,” Maria said.
Other people don’t know quite what they are: “I overheard one lady tell her son it was a type of horse!” Maria laughed.
To book your own alpaca experience, visit alpacakisses.com or call Maria on 0425 353 283.