Meet Bruno the guard alpaca, protector of the sheep

In my wildest dreams, I never expected a fiery redhead to come between newborn lambs and me. I imagined myself cuddling their soft bodies like pillows in my arms while feeding them milk from a bottle. But Bruno has none of that.

Bruno, a mature reddish colored male alpaca, was introduced to Wallinga Farm to protect the sheep from predators, namely foxes. And Bruno takes his role as shepherd very seriously. Extremely serious.

Even Wallinga farmer Mick Azar can’t get too close to the flock when the ewes lamb. During our visit to the farm on the outskirts of Mudgee, Mick, his wife Alina and their two youngest children, Cooper and Ruby, must stand up to Bruno who throws his weight around like a nightclub bouncer. Despite his spooky puppy eyes and long cheeky eyelashes, it’s clear Bruno would fight to the death to defend his flock.

“The alpacas will chase the fox and kick or trample it,” Mick tells us.

Mick says Bruno has a thing for redheads (even though he clearly has one himself). Maybe it’s because the red hair reminds him of foxes, or maybe he can see the lightest red color. Whatever the reason, I would suggest putting on a cap if your hair leans towards the flame color.

We learn about the fascinating relationship between alpacas and sheep, manage to (secretly) cuddle a lamb, and meet the resident chickens on a two-hour tour of the farm that opened last year.

The Azar family moved trees from Wollongong on the NSW south coast to Mudgee in 2017. Raising their three children on the farm has given the family space to roam, raise animals and live a simply impossible lifestyle in the big smoke. The family of five and Zoe the kelpie now share their carefree rural life with friends and lucky visitors, including us. While most visitors to Mudgee come for the amazing vineyards, the Azar family saw a gap in the market and opened up the farm stay to give visitors the chance to experience farm life as well.

Before arriving, we pre-order a fresh 12-year-old Cooper-made shock. He waits for us in the oven as we park the car, admiring the open sky and the view of the surrounding mountain ranges. Visitors stay in a two-bedroom cottage in a secluded location with bucolic views, a private deck, and a fire pit. The contemporary cottage features a kitchen and living area, air conditioning, one queen bedroom and one bedroom with built-in bunk beds that can sleep four, making it ideal for families.

Days in Willunga are spent watching ewes and lambs graze (under Bruno’s watchful gaze), gossip hunting, walks around the property, cricket in the yard and blazing sunsets, a glass of Mudgee wine in hand. We trade stares at the screen for nights spent roasting marshmallows and chatting around the fireplace under a blanket of stars. Even though the chalet has a TV, it doesn’t even occur to us to turn it on.

Depending on the season, a range of on-farm experiences are offered, including hand-feeding lambs, collecting chicken eggs, branding lambs and even fencing. We watch the children of Azar round up sheep on minibikes and take part in a fun race at the dam.

Of course, no visit to Mudgee is complete without checking off at least a few wineries. Notable wineries include Lowe Wines, Burnbrae, First Ridge and Huntington Estate. Alina can even take you on a personalized tour of her favorites.

For us though, given our handkerchief-sized yard in the city of Newcastle, having all that space is new. Instead of our daughter spending hours playing, she enjoys playing tennis in her garden, kicking a soccer ball and collecting kindling for the fire.

As we slip into bed on our last night after sitting around the fire pit, we hear loud banging and footsteps on the deck. Running out the door in our pajamas, we look out to see the entire herd of sheep surrounding the cottage, grazing under an inky black sky and a fingernail moon.

I scan quickly to see if the fiery redhead is on duty and of course he hovers like a protective father. Every step you take, every move you make, you can be sure he will be watching you.

THE DETAILS

The NSW Central West region begins a two hour drive from Sydney. Direct flights from Sydney to Mudgee are available with Fly Pelican. See flypelican.com.au

STAY

Wallinga Farmstay costs from $350 a night, minimum stay two nights (sleeps six). Homemade shock absorber $10; farm tour $25 per person and half day winery tour $200 for four. See wallingafarmstay.com.au

AFTER

Traveller.com.au/mudgee

Sheriden Rhodes was a guest at Wallinga Farmstay.

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