ATTACK and retreat
A strenuous ice climb and a luxurious forest retreat hotel combine for the perfect juxtaposition of adventure and tranquillity.
In the small West Coast town of Franz Josef there isn’t a whole lot else to do; you inevitably find yourself climbing over the eponymous glacier. Or up the side of it, in my case. Whether you are greeted by sun or the more likely rain, Franz Josef is a breathtaking destination. It almost seems more fitting for it to be raining for the visit – the mist rolls over the mountains and through the trees, and the moody omnipresence of the alps, up there in the clouds, seems to seep down the valleys.
Franz Josef Glacier Guides runs a variety of activities out on the ice, including full and half day walks as well as a heli-hike, but if you want high adventure then ice-climbing is the way to go.
There is something to be said about climbing up a wall of ice which you can see melting in the sun as you climb it - your concept of faith shifts.
Much of it to the fine art to burying crampons (detachable shoe spikes) and ice axes into a solid ice face. You soon learn the pleasure of an unyielding connection to the ice and, even better, heaving yourself over the top.
Whether or not you knew the other people in your group beforehand, you’ll be able to share the bond of accomplishment and exhaustion and any language barriers come secondary.
The glacier guides have a special love for and commitment to the place where they live and work. Their environmental programme saw them awarded a Silver Enviro Award Rating through Qualmark New Zealand in 2009.
They also undertake a number of local activities including stoat trapping, recycling visitor rubbish and old equipment, composting, using biodegradable cleaning products and educating visitors about the best way to care for this pristine ecosystem.
As you walk back after a full day of climbing, you can’t help but feel you have been put through the Speights Southern Man Finishing School.
There is the option to stop at the local hot pools on the way back, but I’d already spied my digs – the Te Waonui Forest Retreat, and knew that the exertions of the day would only enhance the luxury of this special accommodation.
It is as though some giant hand has parted the trees to make room for the building. Almost every aspect has an unencumbered view of the native bush, which gives it a hugely serene mood. However, what really sets Te Waonui apart is its Rain Forest Courtyard. You notice it as soon as you enter your room – immediately outside your balcony and in the centre of the hotel lies preserved native bush.
But Te Waonui’s further efforts to minimise its impact on the bush that makes the surrounding area so beautiful are not as easily seen – many are instead integrated seamlessly.
The buildings blend in with their surroundings but also act to protect them from some of the harsh weather that the West Coast is renowned for.
To reduce its carbon footprint the hotel prioritised renewable materials in its buildings, a decision which paid off visually and environmentally. Natural lighting is abundant, and the carbon footprint of the building is minimal thanks to energy efficient design. Furniture and fittings incorporate natural wool carpets, organic cotton bedspreads and even possum skin cushioning.
The Retreat also encourages native bird populations by using feed stations thus enhancing the biodiversity and atmosphere of the courtyard.
While the town is more geared towards international visitors, this trip would be the ideal team-building exercise, or just a great weekend away to simply re-spark the soul and refresh your energy.
Hurry, the glacier may not be around for long.