AT­TACK and re­treat

A stren­u­ous ice climb and a lux­u­ri­ous for­est re­treat ho­tel com­bine for the per­fect jux­ta­po­si­tion of ad­ven­ture and tran­quil­lity.

Element - - Staycation - By Ni­cholas Mcbride

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.

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