Andrew Stone checks into Rainforest, a welcoming retreat in Franz Josef Village.
Location: Tucked in the native forest on the edge of Westland's glacier town Franz Josef. From Hokitika it's a couple of hours drive south.
Style: A self-contained tree-hut style apartment surrounded by majestic rainforest. The resort itself can accommodate as many as 300, but in the Covid economy, the numbers are much smaller.
Price: From $250 a night depending on deals. Dorm rooms can be booked for as little as $40 a bed, and budget accommodation is about $100. The website offers a lot of choice.
Perfect for: Couples wanting a cosy stay in a stunning location, families looking for a base in an adventure town, or Kiwis on a southern roadie wanting to park the mobile home for a couple or more days.
First impressions: My hut, called Ngaio, sits on 2m high posts, which means the living level feels nestled in the lush bush. The deck across the front is surrounded by forest, and screens the hut from its neighbours. It is fresh and clean.
Looking up l can see Westland Tai Poutini National Park forest covering the steep flanks of a range that starts just 100m away. There is a sharp edge to the air. Perhaps it has come from Franz Josef itself, the glacier that flows down a nearby valley and for now is out of sight but never out of mind. A small table with two chairs is on the deck, a lovely spot for a cuppa. There is an earthy sense from bush and the foliage is damp to touch.
Rooms: The 40sq m space is generous as l'm flying solo. The king bed is festooned with pillows, while a single remains spare. There is a comfortable couch facing the big double-glazed sliding door. Heavy curtains to seal the hut from cold night air. Stargazing windows are set above the door. They can be covered by blinds but are best left clear to the night sky. The outside cladding is replicated on the rear inside wall, which reinforces the idea of a forest hut. A bush green panel with subdued strip lighting sits behind the main bed.
A generous wardrobe is built into the wall leading to the bathroom. It holds an ironing board, plenty of room for clothes hangers and shelves. The kitchen unit has an espresso machine and milk warmer, a toaster, microwave and a fridge with bottled milk. A heat pump keeps the interior toasty. A wall-mounted TV, which has some cable channels, can be swung out to view from the bed but the real action in this spectacular part of the country is outside. Wi-Fi comes with the package and when a fibre problem in town disrupted service, a manager was on hand to sort out the connection. Some of the larger huts have spas, a warm cheerful luxury in a chilly southern destination.
Bathroom: The winner here is the heated floor which hums along around 23C. The walk-in shower has two heads - a large overhead unit and a smaller, lower hand shower. It's a nice place to get clean and a difficult place to leave. Forest and Bird soaps and gels are mounted in the glass-walled shower and on a board beside the washbasin. A heated rail keeps towels warm and there's a speaker in the ceiling if you need it.
Facilities: The resort has a bar and restaurant with an impressive array of gins, a pool table, and roaring log fires. Besides gourmet pizzas, the kitchen produces tasty mains including ribs and slow-cooked beef cheek. You can get a firm massage onsite, or hop in a soothing sauna.
Accessibility: My deluxe hut had stairs but a number of other units have ramps for wheelchairs. Several of the deluxe units are on the forest floor for ease of access and include accessible rooms.
Family friendly: Kids can explore the retreat on winding tracks through the bush. An area of the resort called the holiday park has a playground and barbecue area. The holiday park has a TV lounge with a big screen Sky TV, and free Wi-Fi.
Sustainability: This New Zealand-owned and operated company is serious about its environmental duties. It has embraced the tourism industry's Tiaki Promise, with an emphasis on sustainability, and created a large resort that blends seamlessly and lightly into a special landscape. They have used recycled timber along its walks, encourage guests to reuse their towels, built well-insulated accommodation and stocks its guest bathrooms with Forest & Bird Botanicals.
Overall: Staff are friendly and helpful, and the resort endeavours to offer stress-free stays. You wouldn't notice but there's a hidden holiday park for camper vans, units for family groups, bikes to hire and little bush walks to explore.