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From a backpackers to alpacas

When Peter and Miriam Dixon retreated over the divvy from Raglan 14 years ago to start life afresh on a lifestyle block on the outskirts of Hamilton little did they know they’d end up sharing it with a herd of woolly alpacas that look more suited to storybooks than the Waikato countryside.

They’d swapped their dream property overlooking Manu Bay – then known as Raglan Wagon Cabins but now Solscape – for a house on a large block of land just west of Dinsdale where they could at the time keep their Kaimanawa ponies. Instead they now have more than 100 alpacas.

Miriam is adamant they didn’t really want to leave Raglan, where they’d met and married more than three decades earlier, but says it ultimately became necessary. Peter had health problems that made breathing difficult because of the altitude there on the foothills of Mt Karioi, she explains.

“But we loved what we had created,” she told the Chronicle of the Wagon Cabins back then. They’d established 20-odd basic railway cabooses – most of which are still in place today – on site as alternative surfer accommodation.

And ‘Lonely Planet’ travel guide had given the funky cabins such a good write-up that the couple had backpacking surfers coming to stay from near and far at a time when bunkrooms in hostels were the norm.

“We loved meeting people from all over the world,” Miriam enthuses.

The couple also relished their involvement in the local community as stalwarts of Raglan Surf Life Saving Club where Peter was president for 10 years and Miriam both secretary and a master instructor at a time, she says proudly, when there were only six in the country.

The club had an average of four lifeguards back in the late 80s when Miriam set about training up her own teens and others in the community, she recalls.  That increased during their time in surf lifesaving to about 40 “clubbies”, many of whom she and Peter still have contact with today.

“We spent a lot of time with the lifeguards,” Miriam says, instigating swimming training once a week at the pools in Hamilton and putting on barbecues Friday and Saturday nights around the spa of their home with its 85-miles of coastline views.

Peter was a panelbeater in town but “his spare-time job was rescues out-of-season in the rubber boat,” Miriam adds.

Miriam was also busy with the local Scouting organisation in Cliff Street, and worked too as a Raglan agent for Waikato Real Estate.

It was a good lifestyle and when the Dixons had to sell up to “drive over the hill”, as Miriam puts it, they were particularly pleased it was to local couple Phil McCabe and Bernadette Gavin, who still own it today and have developed what Miriam and Peter started.

“It’s a magic place,” says Miriam of the 10-acre property, “and they were the perfect people (to take over).

“I still look at Raglan hills and see the sunset, just not the ocean,” she consoles herself of their 18 acres on Howden Road, a stone’s throw from the popular Taitua Arboretum.

Despite now being grandparents in their early 70s the Dixons are as busy as ever thanks largely to ‘Karisma Animal Companions’, a thriving business breeding alpacas for lifestylers. They started with four females and now have a herd of 110 alpacas – including champion stud Karaka – in an array of colours from black and chocolate brown through to grey, fawn and white.

“They’re such awesome animals,” says Miriam. “They’re addictive.”

Miriam also makes garments from their own alpaca fleece – felting it herself, and working with a small knitwear team. She sells the handcrafted garments at Pirongia’s monthly market.

The couple who met as teenagers on the beach while holidaying at Raglan have now been married more than 50 years, and say they still make a trip back once or twice a year.

Peter, a bearded bear of a man who unsurprisingly once played Santa in town – in a gig pulled by a Timor pony – sums up their affection for Raglan. “It’s an awesome place,” he says somewhat wistfully.

Edith Symes

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