The exterior of the Rainforest Retreat, Franz Josef. Photo / Thomas Rees
Helen van Berkel stays at Franz Josef’s Rainforest Retreat on the West Coast
Location: 46 Cron Street, Franz Josef Ice Cream Parlor. Enter the village of Franz Josef and the retreat is right there – as is a view of the eponymous glacier.
Style: The retreat offers accommodation ranging from holiday park style cabins and motorized sites to deluxe treehouses and cabins to more basic motel style rooms, where we stayed. Our Lockwood style upstairs room had a well equipped kitchenette and a bathroom with a deliciously powerful and hot shower.
Price: We paid $75 for the two of us to stay one night. We had booked a cabin but were upgraded to a motel style room.
Perfect for: The range of accommodation suits most budgets and group sizes. The retreat is well placed for a few days stay whilst walking in the local bush and kayaking on the local lakes and of course seeing the Franz Josef Glacier only a short drive away. Some cars in the parking lot had bikes strapped to the back, so the retreat obviously appeals to adventurers as well.
First impressions: We were pleasantly surprised by the Rainforest Retreat from the second we walked through the doors. We expected much less, given the price – although remember we went off season before international borders opened. The reception staff were friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely pleased to see us. We were able to park a short distance from where we were staying.
Bedroom: It was on the second floor and the quality of furniture and fittings provided was excellent. We both headed straight for the Nespresso machine for a fresh, hot coffee to quench our thirst after our west coast drive.
Facilities: After a walk as close to the glacier as possible, we headed to the (free) thermal pool on site to relax. The bubbling hot water was just what our backs needed after a day in our rental Nissan. It was a magical place to watch the blue of day fade from the sky to be replaced by the blackness of night. Newly serene and satisfied, we opted for dinner at Monsoon, the on-site restaurant, enjoying a beef burger (mate) and seafood chowder (me) – and the drink was free.
Friendly and family: Larger studios are also available at Rainforest Retreat, most with their own spa pool.
Nearby: The great asset is to descend into the neighboring valley: the Franz Josef glacier. It can be seen from a number of vantage points around the valley and a nearby field is set up with helipads for those who want a closer view of the ice tongue. Information boards along the promenade also point to the impending tragedy of a warming world that is melting the once mighty Franz Josef. Will the glacier be at this point by 2100, a sign asks rhetorically – pointing to a point well in front of the end of the current glacier. Ōkārito Lagoon is also nearby, New Zealand’s largest wetland and home to many rare birds.
Accessibility: Those with mobility issues are catered for with ground floor units.
Sustainability: Signs throughout the accommodation remind you to turn off the power when you leave your room and recycling bins in your rooms encourage waste sorting.