Ribbonwood Retreat Finalists in the Leading Light Business Awards
When we first looked at the application for the Leading Lights Business Awards we were not quite sure if we were up to it, but with some trepidation we decided we would give it a go.
The blurb read, 'this event offers an ideal opportunity to celebrate business excellence in our region and acknowledge the valuable contribution West Coast businesses are making to our local economy. The Development West Coast Leading Light Business Excellence Awards attracts the most progressive business minds on the West Coast, all vying to be the best in the West.'
The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough for business owners in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. A report found 518 jobs have been lost in Glacier Country while businesses still standing were only operating at 20 per cent normal capacity. Domestic tourists were the life for some villages in New Zealand but not our area. We lie a couple of hours drive from the Hokitika airport and six hours drive from the nearest city of Christchurch, too far for a weekend away.
Our Bed and Breakfast had been at high capacity before the pandemic crisis hit. It wound up being shuttered for more than two years. Reopening this summer only saw a tiny trickle of guests. But on reflection we think the entire experience, which included the draining of our savings, made us more determined to stay involved with a range of sustainability initiatives — our core mission.
The pandemic brought time; time for ourselves, and time to work on our business. The time to rest, reflect and reset meant there were no longer those day to day distractions or excuses and I was always making to tackle those tasks I would have otherwise put off. The opportunity to take up business mentoring support helped give us confidence to continue developing and growing our business despite losing our guests and not knowing how we were going to keep up our momentum.
We did make it into the finals for the sustainability category and had a spectacular night out. We received the promo video above from Dave VisionCo. Dave worked hard to give us this quality production.
Here's the credits...
See more about the support we received:
When I first put up our hands for a day as a gorsebuster, Barry sent a message explaining that we could start with breakfast, a barista coffee, would be equipped with all the tools, join in for dinner, entertainment and he was “stoked to get local support and participation.” I thought that sounded great.
Barry and Gemma from Ōkārito Kayaks organise, lead, equip, accommodate and feed volunteers for a “Kiwi working bee” week in autumn each year, targeting gorse around the lagoon. Gorse has spread through the waterway, creating a dominant canopy over the low growing, natural lagoon vegetation
My day being a gorsebuster started with that delicious coffee then standing back in awe at the well-oiled organisation going on about me. I felt a bit overwhelmed, but there was someone every step of the way to show us the ropes as we gathered our tools and kitted up. Gemma was watching out for us and gave us a push off in the kayak as we headed off on a lovely paddle across the channel to the island. Experienced hands were there to show us what to do, then we set about our work chopping away. The work required some physical effort, but it was a positive job for the environment and I was in the company of some really interesting people. We chatted away over our work, taking moments between to look around at the spectacular mountains and pristine waterways.
Okārito 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.
My friend who was there the whole week explained she” felt a sense of achievement, had broadened her horizons and had some wonderful memories, while also benefitting the environment and wildlife, too.”
This is not a week's holiday, nothing like booking an Airbnb for a week somewhere relaxing. It’s an entirely different experience where you find out about the local lifestyle. Gorsebusters' huge success is a testament to the strong relationship between local community and conservation minded people.
Kathryn Ryan from Radio New Zealand talked to Barry.
Photo credit for these three photos: Petr Hlavacek | NZICESCAPES IMAGES
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.’ 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.
I have scant memories of the first time we walked the track fifteen years ago, mainly because the weather was overcast and cloudy. This time when we began the track in clear skies and warm sunshine, the scenery and track seemed like it was all new. As the vistas unfolded with the steep mountains stretching out, I felt that despite all the walkers, the track was unspoiled and it was easy to slip the crowds and be alone.
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.