Ribbonwood Retreat is located in the heart of Glacier Country on the secluded West Coast of New Zealand. The property is surrounded by nature abundant with wildlife, sprawling valley farmland and rainforest that eventually kisses the base of the mighty Southern Alps towering out of the ground.
Ribbonwoods intimate connection with nature is one of the reasons we love sharing the space with people from all over the world, so that they can experience New Zealand culture at its best, the way we get to every day! From the moment you step outside of the Cottage or our Waiho Rooms and breathe in the fresh country air, it's as though the kaleidoscope of West Coast lakes, rivers, mountains, valleys and streams envelope you, pulling you into the present, stimulating your sense of adventure and conjuring a deep appreciation for the natural surrounds.
We are proud to have created a space and experience where nature is quite literally on your back door step with the accommodation set upon two and a half acres of lawns, natives and edible gardens creating fresh produce for our guests year round, yet we are located merely a few minutes to the hub of Franz Josef Glacier. It is here that you can jump on a helicopter to experience the world renowned Glacier Heli Hike, pack a picnic, soak in the famous Waiho Hot Tubs and take a dip in nearby Lake Mapourika, dine at one of our boutique restaurants and cafes or take a stroll through temperate rainforest on one of our many short or long walks.
Read on to see why Ribbonwood Retreat is a must-stay for nature lovers or those longing for slow-down, rejuvenation and reconnection. Lets bring it back to New Zealand nature...
Ribbonwood Retreat is located in the heart of Glacier Country - a mecca for native birds, with the iconic rowi or Okarito brown kiwi found only here. Our land is home to a combination of natural wetlands, such as the Okarito Lagoon, coastal forest, farmland and alpine forests - it is not surprising Ribbonwood Retreats backyard is abundant with birdlife.
We encourage birds to linger in our backyard by planting bird-attracting tree species - there are many self-seeded native trees growing in our garden. One of these is fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata), one of our few deciduous trees. Its prolific flowers attract bellbirds, wood pigeons and the tui bird to the garden in early spring. We witness beautiful bird song from dawn to dusk, starting with bellbirds at first light then tui and the fantail bird all day long. This winter we put up a sugar water feeder in a fuchsia and after waiting with anticipation, eventually a tui started feeding there! The tui would come to the dining room window to remind us when it was empty.
Descending to just 250m above sea level, Franz Josef Glacier is one of only three glaciers in the world that drops into a temperate rainforest zone, the others being Fox Glacier located a slow one hour drive from Ribbonwood Retreat and the Perito Merino Glacier in Argentina.
Ribbonwood Retreat is lucky to be surrounded by this gorgeous rainforest no matter which direction you turn. We have 5 metres of rain a year in Glacier Country, most people exclaim with horror when they hear this but the thing is, when it rains it pours and we are well balanced with long fine spells in between making for the perfect opportunity to explore the glacier and glorious rainforest right in our backyard. The waterfalls come gushing down, our mountain views are stunning, the glacier is just “a stone’s throw” away from the village and of course, without the rainfall we wouldn't have our stunning forest!
A Unique Stay in Glacier Country
Another way in which Ribbonwood Retreat is uniquely connected to nature is because we are located in a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO is tasked with safeguarding living heritage for future generations and we do what we can to support that by giving back to nature whenever possible.
Environmental sustainability ethos exists at the heart of our core values – that is why we use environmentally friendly cleaning products, make our soap in-house and provide NZ-crafted, eco-friendly products. We have planted 500 trees on the property as a carbon reduction initiative and are actively involved in community environmental projects. At present we are setting up our own predator control programme in the glacier valley.
A little taste of how our retreat connects you with New Zealand nature...
Our sunny and private cottage is set in passionately landscaped surrounds offering views to the glaciers and glorious mountains of Westland National Park. We invite you to relax on your large private deck and witness the breathtaking colour palette one of our famous West Coast sunsets. Embrace the welcoming warmth of the Scandinavian style cottage built from solid timber.
The Waiho Suite boasts views of stunning Westland National Park and vistas that travel as far as the eye can see, inviting you to truly let go, relax and jump off the conveyer belt of life. The Wahio Suite encompasses two bedrooms of which both have ranch slider doors that open out onto private decks, perfectly positioned to soak up the majestic nature scapes.
Retreat to our Rainforest Garden
We have a large garden and tunnel house, producing vegetables and berries which are served as part of the food experience at Ribbonwood Retreat - another way in which we connect you with nature! Bringing it inside, on your plate!
Our large walk-in berry house houses garden fruit including strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, especially grown for our guests breakfasts. Explore our raised and covered garden beds which provide a variety of seasonal produce including spinach and silverbeet. Will you be inspired to grow your own food at home?
Jonathan was pleased to learn that hazelnuts suited the poor silty soils here, as these are his favourite nuts. Over the years we have planted nearly 100 hazelnut trees of five different varieties to enhance pollination. Enjoy reaping the hazelnut tree rewards every March.
All green waste is composted with leaves and grass clippings and layered onto the beds to enhance soil fertility and drainage. We love watching the native trees and shrubs we planted years ago mature, providing food and habitat for so many birds.
We look forward to welcoming you to Ribbonwood Retreat soon :)
We love to break the journey up from Franz Josef to Wanaka by stopping along the way for short and very rewarding walks to stretch the legs. We are excited to share with you two of our favourites Ship Creek and Munro Beach. Here we will talk about the penguins you may see there if you're lucky!
We are beyond honoured that Ribbonwood Retreat has been selected as finalists in the Development West Coast Leading Light Business Awards on the West Coast, New Zealand.
Ribbonwood Retreat are intensely focused on making a positive contribution to eco-travel and sustainable New Zealand tourism industry. The tourism downturn of recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed us more space to take part in environmental volunteering community programs. Read on to find out more about just one of the volunteer experiences we were recently part of in the journey to restore nature.
Living in Japan’s volcanic archipelago, tramping every weekend was de rigueur for me. Passing local hikers on the mountain tracks, they would ask where was I from. When I replied New Zealand, they replied with hushed awe ‘ah Milford or Fiordland National Park'. It seemed everyone knew this place whether they had been there or not.
Our guests often comment on this tramp, speaking with reverence of their experiences having walked it so I decided to write a blog about it.
Milford Track New Zealand
Making the most of our quiet long hot summer, we recently tramped to the Goat Pass hut in Arthurs Pass last week in the sunshine. This is the midpoint on the Mingha/Deception track that many people complete as part of New Zealand's iconic multisport Coast to Coast event.
In the 90s Jonathan was a possum hunter. For some months he used the Deception hut as his base. Situated on the West Coast side of the traverse, the hut was often in the shadow of the mountain. While it could be damp and cold at times, what an exhilarating place to live and work in.
With our glaciers, mountain peaks, forests and farmland in Franz Josef, there is plenty to see right here. When the pull to explore kicks in, we are fortunate that just 17 kilometres away lies Ōkārito, tucked just a little way off SH6, right here on the South Island’s West Coast.
Ōkārito is home to just a few dozen people, but over 70 species of birds. Once a gold mining town, like so many West Coast settlements, it’s surrounded by ocean, wetlands, cliffs and native forest, with the mighty Southern Alps as a backdrop.
When chatting with them, it often occurs to me that my guests seem to know the rest of New Zealand better than me! We have always been quick to fly away from New Zealand. Well now seem the ideal time to 'do something new New Zealand!'
First stop was where Jo hails from; Wellington. It is always great to catch up his his sister Sooze. Having my bike was great! Straight off to the cities best viewpoint, Mt Victoria at 196 m. This ride affords a good puff and a reminder of all there is to love about this place. With many hilly walking trails, beaches, birdlife and the ferry on it's back door to the South Island, Wellington is an excellent place to be.
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, overlooking the Tasman Sea.
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.
Keen on the outdoors, we often hike around our local area so we can pass on all our knowledge about Westland Tai Poutini National Park.