Glacier Country is an ecologically diverse environment, located on the secluded and untouched West Coast of New Zealand. This place is our Tūrangawaewae, the place where we feel empowered and connected and where we run our beloved bed & breakfast business – Ribbonwood Retreat. In our minds, it is incredibly important to protect and preserve this expansive and magical land. As contributors to the tourism sector in New Zealand, we are always on the lookout for ways in which we can positively impact this industry from a sustainability standpoint. Not only this, but we also love to be inspired by and celebrate other businesses and individuals who are taking a proactive approach to sustainability and working to authentically minimise their impact on local ecosystems and wildlife. And so below, with an essence of pride and comradery, I want to share their stories and amazing efforts with you. My friends and fellow tourism business owners in Glacier Country share the same philosophy as Ribbonwood Retreat when it comes to protecting our whenua, manu and wildlife.
One way in which these businesses are contributing is by supporting and participating in local conservation efforts and restoration initiatives as well as giving their customers the opportunity to be involved in these activities. This not only raises awareness and educates many visitors to our region about the importance of environmental stewardship but also generates additional resources to assist in the restoration and protection of our ecosystems.
Franz Josef Wilderness Tours is a family-owned and operated business that offers a range of outdoor adventure activities in the Franz Josef area, including quad biking and kayaking.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours offers knowledgeable guides on nature walks, bird watching tours, and other eco-friendly activities in the Franz Josef area.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours is passionate about conservation and ensure their business has minimal to no impact on the environment. They are consciously involved in community volunteer programs such as the Okarito Native Plant Nursery to help restore the native forests on farmland and Project Early Bird.
Project Early Bird is an initiative launched by Glacier Valley Eco Tours in collaboration with the Department of Conservation to monitor and protect the bird population in the area. The trapping initiative of Project Early Bird involves trapping predators such as stoats and rats around Lake Matheson to protect the bird population which includes kiwi and their habitat. Ribbonwood supports Project Early Bird by helping with trapping efforts. We want to lend a hand to anything we can to support the preservation of the local ecosystem and this is a great way to get involved!
Ōkārito Boat Tours is a locally owned and operated company that offers guided boat tours of the untouched Ōkārito Lagoon and the surrounding rainforest, dedicated to preserving nature's wonders for generations to come.
As passionate stewards of the environment, Ōkārito Boat Tours embraces eco-friendly tourism, ensuring it is a safe haven for wildlife to flourish and thrive.
Embarking on this unforgettable journey with Ōkārito Boat Tours, guests experience Paula and Swades knowledge and passion while enjoying the breathtaking beauty of Ōkārito Lagoon.
Beyond this, Paula and Swade, extend their love for the land to support critical conservation efforts, joining forces with community projects. Through their involvement in the community nursery, they actively plant native trees, working to restore farmland.
Ōkārito Kayaks a way to explore the natural wonders of Ōkārito Lagoon, New Zealand's largest wetland.
Barry and Gemma, are the passionate duo behind Ōkārito Kayaks. They offer self-guided or guided kayak trips, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the lagoon. Kayaking past the the unique flora and fauna that call this pristine area home, with the breathtaking vistas of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, is an unforgettable experience.
Beyond the kayak trips, Barry and Gemma are champions of environmental conservation through their remarkable initiative called Gorsebusters. This visionary project aims to combat the threat posed by gorse, a non-native invasive plant species, to the delicate native ecosystem of Ōkārito. Through the collaborative efforts of a dedicated team of many volunteers from all over NZ, Gorsebusters remove gorse plants from the area, diligently working to control the spread of this invasive species and restore balance to the ecosystem.
Not merely stopping at on-ground efforts, Gorsebusters raises awareness about the significant impact invasive species have on the delicate ecological balance of Ōkārito, fostering a sense of responsibility and collective action to safeguard the lagoon's natural treasures for future generations.
White Heron Sanctuary Tours is a locally owned and operated company that offers guided tours to the White Heron (Kotuku) Sanctuary in Whataroa.
Ōkārito Kiwi Tours is a locally owned and operated company that offers guided tours to view the endangered kiwi bird in its natural habitat.
"Stoatie!” Jo calls. With a whoop and a holler, an entry is made in the TrapNZ database on my cellphone. This clever trapping app works without mobile coverage, is GPS enabled and is a vital tool for managing New Zealand’s vast network of traps. I joined Jo for a photo opportunity. Making my way further down the track, I contemplate if the birdsong is louder than when we first began our task.
While we get a great sense of satisfaction with each predator we eliminate, I don’t want my reader to think that I am glorifying death in the name of environmental care. It is factual that the destruction and havoc pests such as stoats play in New Zealand's forests, is unprecedented. One kill can equate to numerous birds, insects and invertebrates being able to live on.
Our Own Wildlife Conservation Initiative
The target for Jo and I, with our own trapping initiative, are rats and stoats. The spread of rats throughout New Zealand has had a devastating impact on our native species. This is because, many birds are ground dwellers, often living near wetlands or in damp lowland bush, introduced predators such as rats and stoats threaten these animals living, roosting or nesting near the ground. They consume birds’ eggs and nestlings, native insects and lizards, and without human intervention, would lead to the decline and eventual extinction of our native wildlife.
Stoats were introduced from Britain in the 1870s to control ‘verminous rabbits’ (which were also introduced). Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where winters are kinder and food isn’t as scarce, stoats hunt all year round, regularly killing more than they need to survive. To level the playing field for our precious native birds, bugs and lizards, it’s vital we tackle stoats before they get a chance to breed up their numbers this spring.
Spring is a great time to get stuck into predator control in our backyard. All that is required is a belt bag full of trapping tools and boots. Our track weaves up through the ngahere (forest). I love it there, the sound of the streams offer a feeling of calm that sweeps over me and I notice the smallest joys like the tiny fern fronds unfurling.
Rat & Stoat Traps
In each trap, we place peanut butter as a bait to attract the pests beside an egg which is the visual lure. Eventually, after a successful trap, I clear the rat from the trap, flicking it into the bushes - but sometimes we leave the rats near the trap to attract more prey. Some rats are partially eaten before we remove them and on the next trap check we discover a stoat has been caught, returning to finish its meal and paying the supreme price!
The traps we use are DOC 200 traps which are sturdy and lethal, the most humane trap for the speed in which it kills. At my first trap, I grab my drill, unscrew the screw and apprehensively lift the lid. Although I have checked hundreds of traps, it is still exciting. Funnily enough, catching no pests in the traps also feels like a reward, a positive sign as well, indicating there are fewer pests around.
We are privileged to have the support of Franz Josef Department of Conservation and ZIP Zero Invasive Predators on this project. We were inspired by our work with friends at Project Early Bird.
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
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 of the most spectacular views of Franz Josef Glacier. This is not a stroll in the park though, a return trip will take eight hours or more with a steady uphill climb of over 1000m. This is a tramping track with rough terrain so you will need to be prepared to climb over windfalls and watch out for obstacles. However, a lot of track work from the jobs for nature team has cleared the track making it so much easier. Despite the endless zig-zags, the thick forest and bird life make it worth the time to take a break. Rata Lookout is the first welcome respite with magnificent views of the glacier far below, then further on Christmas Lookout and views up ahead of the summit. The next part of the trip is our favourite with sub-alpine plants that create a picturesque garden such as Leatherwood, Dracophyllum Hebes and Coprosma, as well as more zig-zagging as we climb to the summit of 1303. 360-degree views await you here, with the Southern Alps, the Tasman Sea, and 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.