(Updated 18 Jan 2012)
When I returned to New Zealand after 18 years of living overseas, I could not understand why, in a country famous for its sheep, there weren’t more New Zealand yarns on offer. I’d go into a yarn store, and find… Australian wool. Or wool from an undisclosed origin, imported from manufacturers in the UK, Italy or the US.
But once I started to scratch the surface, I found them, a few in yarn stores, but mostly tucked away in the rural corners of New Zealand, available on the internet if you looked hard enough, appearing in local farmers’ markets, craft shows and regional fairs that one might be lucky to come across. Or at the farm gate.
Each of these little businesses are family run affairs, employing maybe a few others, all pulling together to create their marvellous products. It amazes me how these people have survived despite our small population. I guess it really is a labour of love.
Think about it: a population of just over four million – that’s one city in most major countries. But spread over a land mass that is actually a bit larger than the UK. Somehow, almost without an international audience, and in some cases, not even a website, these people are doing it. The ones who have managed to attract the attention of the discerning international market are hitting well above their weight.
I think it’s great how as a knitter, I’ve been able to personally meet so many of these people and hear their stories. They fill me with optimism about the strength of small.
This is an entry mostly based on my experience – it is not comprehensive, and I have concentrated on showcasing interesting ‘yarnie’ experiences, and the more significant yarn ‘outlets’ that are committed to commercial production of yarns but that are not selling through yarn stores, rounded out with what else you can get here in good yarn stores. I have not fully addressed the very small businesses – the small alpaca producers (most of the larger alpaca studs are in the South Island), home spinners and indie dyers, but have attempted to point you in the general direction of where you might find them, such as farmers’ markets, craft markets and exhibitions.
Starting at the top then, in the land of beach and sun:
North of Auckland & Bay of Islands - this area is an artisan haven. Of the crafty things I have seen up there, most seem to be of the non-knitty kind. It’s amazing, but just not knitty. However, not all is lost. Just out of Kerikeri, in the Bay of Islands, is Akatere Woolcraft, on the corner of State Highway 10 and Pungare Road. The Bay of Islands area is a very beautiful part of New Zealand, and if you are visiting, you’ll probably want to go there. I have not been to Akatere Woolcraft myself, but having seen it mentioned numerous times, it’s on my own ‘hit’ list. According to internet search sources, they stock knitting and weaving yarns which are their own. I have yet to validate that.
The area around Warkworth to Leigh is a treasure trove. Matakana, a village in between Warkworth and Leigh, is a little haven of artisan delight. Well worth a quick look – go on the weekend (I think Saturday), when the craft markets are on. There’s also the Matakana Country Park, which hosts a gallery of craft by local and regional artisans. Unfortunately, I went when the market wasn’t on but was sufficiently excited by what I saw to especially mention this region.
If you are up that way, you should also drive the few minutes to the village of Leigh to visit the marine sanctuary there (Goat Island). The fish swim right up to the rocks around the shore, and it is possible to stand on the rocks and see fairly large specimens swimming by. I am an idiot and was sufficiently mesmerised by the scenery not to remember to take photographs until after the event. Doh.
On both the northern and southern end of the motorway around Auckland, is Mohair Craft. I’ve been to the Dairy Flat outlet. It’s on State Highway 1, at the service centre that you need to stop at to pay for your road toll to go north. You can’t miss it. They have a very nice selection of well-priced mohair and other fibre goodness.
If you are visiting Auckland, I understand that the yarn scene there has improved in recent years. Stores that sell a nice range of New Zealand yarns – Mishi Yarns (143 Campbell Road, One Tree Hill, Tel: 09 622 1810); The Little Craft Store (201 Point Chevalier Road, Point Chevalier, Tel: 09 849 3295) and Wild and Woolly Yarns (36 Victoria Road, Devonport, Tel: 09 445 3255). One of the larger yarn stores is Masco’s, which is in the Westfield Shopping Centre at the bottom of Queen St, in Auckland’s central business district. I haven’t been to Masco’s, so I don’t know what it’s like, but I hear it does stock some New Zealand yarn.
Down the road past Auckland now we’ll go to the coastal Bay of Plenty area.
Tauranga. The city itself has a number of yarn shops. Probably the best one here is the Tauranga Knitting Centre. A small shop, it is crammed to the rafters with yarn. They have Touch Yarns and Naturally, amongst many others.
Another good store to visit is Creative Outlet, on Grey Street in downtown Tauranga. In addition to stocking a range of New Zealand and imported yarn, the owner hand-dyes a range of her own yarn in very pretty colours.
Click here for more samplings of her yarn.
There is also a farmers’ market on a Saturday I think, that has quite a lot of good stuff. You’ll have to enquire of locals to find it.
You may also want to pay a visit to the Kaimai Woolshed on your way over the Kaimai Ranges to Hamilton.
Up a short driveway, its new owners have revamped the store, ensuring that it’s stocked with quality New Zealand products, including knitting yarn and fibre. I got some rather lovely handspun alpaca there.
There is also a nice café on the premises, serving good coffee and yummy food, so a good place to stop for a quick cuppa while travelling.
The McLarens Falls Park is also just up the road – a lovely place to stop and visit for a walk among the trees. There’s also an animal park within it that the kids can have fun at (and a few breeds of sheep to examine, for the fanatics like me).
At the southern end of the Bay of Plenty is Opotiki. A sleepy little town at the end of a vast stretch of white sand ocean beach that runs all the way from Mount Maunganui/Tauranga, it is home to the bi-annual Fibre & Fleece Festival, the next one being held in July 2012. I went last year, and my post about that event can be found here. In addition to the stunning fibre exhibition there are also a large number of trade stalls selling all manner of fibre goodies – from spinning wheels to raw fleece of all kinds, to yarn. You do not need a ticket to visit the craft market.
On to Rotorua, you’ll want to visit the Agrodome which hosts all manner of exciting activities suitable for everyone (singles, mum, dad and the kids). There’s a very cool sheep exhibition and show. The kids get to bottle feed a lamb if it’s that time of year. The shop stocks a reasonable choice of yarn, although I’m not overly impressed with what I’ve seen on the website (it’s been a while since I visited the centre). There are other yarns out there that are just as good but better value. But the experience is well worth a visit.
Going down through Taupo and the Tongariro National Park (do stop and go for a walk if you have time – it is spectacular ‘high country’) you come to Taihape, Gumboot City. A few minutes down the road is The Wool Company.
A large barn store clearly marked, you can’t miss it going down State Highway 1. In particular, I recommend you avail yourself of some of their yummy possum merino yarn.
In the Hawke’s Bay, one of NZ’s main wine and fruit-growing regions, you cannot leave Napier without visiting Skeinz, the factory shop of Design Spun, one of the three major spinning mills in New Zealand (5 Husheer Place, Onekawa, Napier. T: +64-6-843 3174). Make sure you bring an extra bag – here you can find the Elan Forever Green organic range, a good variety of Design Spun’s own line of 4 ply (baby) merino, 8 ply (DK) wool yarn, mohair (12 ply) and mill ends of the brands that they spin for (at the time of visiting, I saw Jamie Possum, Shepherd and Naturally yarn). I went back twice in one day…
If you are travelling the route from Napier to Palmerston North/Wellington, there’s a little store called Michelle’s Wool’n’Things in Woodville on the main road going through the town. Obviously catering to the tourist, as they have tourist-style items in there, she also carries very well-priced New Zealand yarns, including Millspun and some other brands I haven’t come across before, such as Kairanga Handcrafts. It’s worth a stop if you’re passing that way. Just a couple of shops down is a second-hand bookstore, Windmill. I found a few knitting book treasures in there.
If you can fit it in, I highly recommend a visit to the Little Wool Co in Feilding. You do need to call in advance to make sure Anna Gratton will be there as she travels often. Anna has a sheep’s back to shop floor operation, and she farms the sheep whose wool she then spins into yarn on professional machinery. I don’t think anyone else in the North Island has a range as large as hers – unless you count the large brands that sell through stores.
Once in Wellington you must visit Holland Road Yarn Company (281 Jackson St Petone, opposite the water fountain). It’s the latest yarn store in town, and it’s Good. Stocking her own range of hand-dyed sock yarn (Knitsch), she also stocks a carefully picked range of New Zealand indie-dyed yarns and quality overseas yarns. Here you will be able to acquire some beautiful yarns to take home with you that you cannot easily find elsewhere in New Zealand.
You should also pay a visit to the Knit World yarn store. It’s slightly tricky to find – you need to go down an alleyway off Cuba Mall. But there’s only one alleyway, so as long as you know it’s down there, it won’t be hard to locate. This store is the company’s “Studio” brand, and stocks a large range of New Zealand and other yarn – including NZ brands Ashford, Artisan Lace, Forever Green Elan Organic, Knitsch, Naturally, Rare Yarns, Touch Yarns and Zealana.
At the moment, there is also a craft market that happens in the Frank Kitts Park car park, every Saturday, from 10am to 4pm. Once a year there is a focus on wool week, which is well-attended by the local yarn scene, but on a normal day, you won’t find much yarn there. It’s worth a visit from the perspective of New Zealand craft though.
My post about South Island yarn is here.
Other reference points that you might find useful:
Dunkleys Great NZ Craft Show (This is a nationwide craft show that travels around different cities in New Zealand, featuring local and national artisans who exhibit their goods for sale – yarn, clothing, food, cosmetics, jewellery, etc. Check this link for dates in the areas you might be interested in).
International Fibre Sources and Shops (note that this website is not up to date. Quite a few of the stores mentioned in this directory no longer exist but enough of the main ones are there to still be useful).
Those in the know will also find Ravelry (in particular, the Kiwi Crafting group thread Recommendations for Travellers) particularly informative on this topic. You do need to be a member to view this site.