The most vivid memories of my childhood are often about playing in the outdoors. A large Kowhai tree in our garden was the centrepiece for my imaginary play. It's pods would hang down heavily from the tree in season with its seeds and leaves used for counting, food for my dolls and treasure to hide. There was no technology until a black and white TV entered into the lounge. Sitting for long in front of it was never an option due to my grumpy parents. I know the amount of time I spent as a child appreciating nature is directly linked to how I cherish the simple things of life; fresh air, a walk in the forest, a swim in the lake. How fortunate I am to live in Franz Josef where those activities are on the doorstep.
As I watch the news I can't help but feel negative about the future of nature. Surely though it can't be helpful blaming industry and the slow pace of government change for the over development taking place on Earth So do we all have to stop driving our petrol cars, become vegetarians, or stop buying anything new? Maybe we will achieve more by being mindful of what we are doing and how we can do it better, grateful for what we have already and being able to change what we can.
We collect our own rain water and as such all drinking water is safe, fresh and delicious. So bringing plastic bottled water is not necessary.
Rubbish and recycling
We follow the three Rs in relation to the environment – reduce, reuse and recycle.
We buy goods in bulk to reduce packaging and reuse when possible. Recycling is fostered by composting all suitable
materials, separating bottles, plastics and cardboard to be sent to our local recycling facility. Any
remaining rubbish is sent to an approved local body landfill. We also pick up rubbish along our local roads
(piccie Julie with rubbish) (garden & compost bin)
We monitor where goods are coming from to ensure sustainable best practice is used. We support initiatives such as Fair Trade and buy and support local whenever possible.
We have a large and prolific garden at with nut trees, berry bushes, a tunnel house and raised vegetable garden plots.
There is nothing quite like getting fresh berries, herbs and vegetables from our own garden. We also preserve our garden surplus by freezing and making jams and pickles.
To further reduce the environmental footprint we monitor our electric and water usage and reduce
both as much as possible turning off appliances, switches etc, using energy efficient electrical items
and invite guests staying at Ribbonwood to do the same.
We use environmentally friendly in-room toiletries and cleaning products and donate any unwanted
items to charity. To reduce packaging, we make our own bar soap from sustainable accredited
Local environment and native wildlife
Over the 20 years we have owned the property we have planted more than 500 trees and shrubs.
Some were for firewood, many for shelter and also long lived native species, which hopefully will still
be growing in 500 years time. Where possible the trees were grown from locally sourced seed, or
transplanted from self seeded sources. These have encouraged prolific bird life, which in turn bring in
more native seeds which germinate and enhance our species diversity.
It's hard to put a finger on the one thing I liked the most about staying at Breakers. Jan and Stephen's place is situated on the West Coast's Punakaiki Coastline on the Great Coast Road. With absolute beachfront on the West Coast's beautiful Punakaiki coastline, Breakers overlooks the Tasman Sea. We seldom encountered anyone else on our walks on their wild beach. Lucky enough to be there during low tide in the early evening, we were treated to a sublime sunset and a fascinating rock pool walk. Looking up to the backdrop behind Breakers is lush subtropical rainforest with spectacular alpine tops. We know from experience, fantastic tramping opportunities abound up there. Each of their four guest rooms have a fantastic sea view, so the hardest part is choosing which one to book. As always though, it is the hosts that play the major role in making sense of what we were experiencing and they made our stay very special with their warm welcome. Staying longer than one night gave us a chance to get off the beaten track. Jan and Stephen took us up the 10 Mile Valley where the mines and relics were fascinating, we loved exploring this wild and remote place. Our guide regaled us with stories from his deep interest in mining history. The extraction of coal was evident from relics and mine entrances set in the lush forest. We could only begin to imagine the characters toiling here, where daily life would have been a struggle with the cold, rain and strenuous work.
Punakaiki has many colourful local crafts people with jewellers, carvers, painters and potters. Tourism activities include canoe adventures, horse trekking, knifemaking and cave rafting to name just a few. The West Coast is famous for its friendly hospitality but Jan and Stephen at Breakers went above and beyond all our expectations to give us a truly wonderful time during our stay.
I enjoy showing my guests the best places to go for walks to find superb views surrounded by temperate rainforest. To truly appreciate the mountain tops though, it's worth shouting yourself a flight over the Southern Alps. With views of rugged native forested land, lakes, mountains, farmland, wild coastline and the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, it's guaranteed a massive smile will be planted on your face. Landing on the ice, the views are of pinnacles, crevasses and the deepest blue colour ever of the ice in the glaciers with Aoraki rising above it all. From experience I can promise you it is a memory will always be there, along with the feeling of exhilaration!
Douglas and Peters Pool Walk
One of my favourite rides is to the Douglas Walk in the Glacier Valley. The bike is abandoned, jogging shoes donned and off round the 4 km loop taking in these fab views. I can never take enough photos of the moods of Peters pool, a lake which reflects the glacier. It was created by the retreating glacier dropping a chunk of melted ice that formed into a kettle lake about 1800 AD.
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
Visiting the glaciers in New Zealand is unique as they are within easy driving and walking distance from the main highway.
When we first arrived in Franz Josef in 2000, we would don our boots and walk up to the terminal face. There we would put on our crampons and head up onto the ice, following the guides tracks and cutting our own. In the 1900s tracks and bridges were built to provide access onto the glaciers. Early photos show hikers with some nails in the soles of their shoes and women in long dresses exploring with mountain guides! In 1955 a photo shows my mother being guided onto the ice with far more suitable equipment and clothing.
Up until 2010 it was still possible use crampons to hike up on the ice from the terminal face without needing a helicopter flight. Foot access onto the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers is now limited to helicopter flights. Despite an advance in the mid 2000’s, both glaciers have been shrinking and the terminals of the glaciers receding. The rocky terrain below each of the glacier terminals is too dangerous to traverse on foot.
Both glaciers have periodically advanced, but are several kilometres shorter than the maximum extent reached during the mini-ice age of the 1700’s. During the previous global ice age which finished approximately 15,000 years ago, these glaciers reached nearly to the current coast line, 15 kilometres west of the present glaciers extent.
Walking access to view the glaciers has remained problematical, caused by storm events and river erosion of the valley floor. Franz Josef access track has been re-routed as the river flowing from under the glacier has changed course, requiring construction of new tracks on the valley walls. In 2017 at Fox glacier, a massive debris flow from Mills Creek, a side creek in the valley, forced the main river to cut into the west bank where the access road was and is now closed.
While glaciers around the world are retreating, the Franz Josef glacier is still the most accessible to visit in the world. It is an easy walk along ancient river beds through valleys with steep mountain sides. One of the most impressive features is the bed rock with vertical stripes, contrasting with the horizontal gouges caused by rocks imbedded from when the glacier scraped past. It remains a favourite walk for us though we have to leave our crampons behind.
Roberts Point Track has great views of the glacier from the viewing platform, rainforest and fascinating historical features.
Over the years tramping this track, we have always set off in good weather conditions but invariably the afternoon cloud arrives with hill showers, though the village not far away stays bathed in sun! The track then becomes slippery with slow progress. Whenever we walk it, we have a chance to think about our surroundings, and marvel on the old and new.
Roberts Point track was constructed in 1906, funded by a grant from the “Department of Tourism and Hot Spas”, which was set up to promote tourism. Providing access to the Franz Josef glacier, which was higher and terminated much further down the valley than it is today. A technological feat in track building, 'Hendes Gallery' was a cantilevered or suspended walkway which traversed a steep section of bedrock. This gallery is still in use with the wooden steps replaced in the 90’s. The supports are made of forged iron, driven into holes that were drilled into the bedrock and secured with molten metal and still in excellent condition today.
The impressive new Roberts Point Swing bridge (111m) replaced a wooden staircase which was destroyed by a rockfall. Swing bridges like these are common on New Zealand tramping tracks. They are suspended from two metal cables, and can span a considerable distance over a river or gorge.
A new observation deck and picnic table high above the glacial ice is a welcome respite at the end of the track and affords magnificent views of the Franz Josef glacier, towering rock faces and waterfalls.
Franz Josef is renown for the glacier but many tourists are unaware that there are other fabulous walks in the region. Here are two of our favourites.
Three Mile Lagoon
The Three Mile Lagoon was once home to a thriving gold mining settlement and it is hard to imagine the thousands of people who briefly made their home and living there, over a hundred years ago. The township was situated on a low spit of sand between the Three Mile Lagoon and the Tasman Sea although little remains of the buildings these days. The spit is now covered in low forest but with some exploring in the area, stone hearths and the odd iron implements can be found.
The track is a three to four hour round trip in two sections which start and finish at the sleepy seaside town of Okarito. One section follows the historic horse and dray "pack track" through lowland rimu forest, climbing above the seaside cliffs before descending to the new Department of Conservation bridge that spans the lagoon. The other section follows the beach below the cliffs and links to the bridge at the lagoon. If visitors are lucky they may encounter a New Zealand fur seal hauled out for a rest from the rough seas.
The beach section of the track is tide dependent and must be travelled within two hours either side of low tide. Local knowledge helps here too, as the beach can be exposed to wind. The walk is much more enjoyable with the wind at your back when walking along the beach.
If time is short, a side trip to the Okarito Trig can reward visitors with panoramic views of the Southern Alps. The track crosses a small wetland on a curvaceous boardwalk above rippling swathes of oioi, the endemic New Zealand jointed wire rush. Occasionally the elusive kotuku white heron can be seen fishing there. The track climbs up to a viewing platform overlooking the lagoons and south Okarito forest, home of the rare kiwi species known as Rowi. We think that it is well worth the hike to the top for such a grand view!
Climbing Alex Knob will reward trampers with some the best views of Franz Josef Glacier. This is not a stroll in the park though, it will take eight hours with a steady uphill climb of over 1000m. This is a tramping track with rough terrain so you will need to be prepared climb over windfalls and watch out for obstacles (I have been known to forget to look upward and banged my head on branches jutting out.) The track zig zags endlessly on, but the thick forest and bird life are good reasons to stop and take rests. Rata Lookout is the first welcome respite with good views of the glacier far below, then further on Christmas Lookout and views up ahead of the summit. The next part is our favourite with the sub alpine plants making a picturesque garden including shrub daisies such as Leatherwood, Dracophyllum Hebes and Coprosma, continuing on climbing and zig zagging to the 1303 summit. 360 degree views await here, with the Southern Alps, the Tasman Sea, the tiny village below, while the whole Franz Josef Glacier lies before you.