Kia ora! We are a New Zealand owned and operated local family business who have been living in the Franz Josef Glacier area for about 17 years. Our lead guide and co-owner Cliff has been guiding in New Zealand in our national parks for the last 20 years, and in the glacier valleys here since we arrived in 2003. We live with our two children (and chickens, dogs, frogs and goat) at the beach in the bush in Okarito. We made the easy choice to stay here and raise our children in the wildnerness of the West Coast - this is where we feel safe, where there is a huge sense of community, where we live in nature, where there are no traffice lights. But it does have it's obstacles - our kids have a 3 hr return bus ride to high school each day; we drive 3.5 hrs return to buy groceries, building supplies and access vet clinics, and a 40 minute game of netball for our daughter!
Born in Taranaki, in the North west coast of NZ, Cliff spent his childhood playing chess, skateboarding, surfing and woodworking, as well as playing in the rivers, lakes and seas of this beautiful area. He left high school and started working in a timber mill workshop, but his love of wood lost as he struggled being inside all day amongst the noise and dust. He met someone who was off to the South Island of NZ, (where he had never been) and on a whim decided to join them, which would lead to a life-changing adventure busking, hitchhiking and WWOOFing over the next 7 years.
He had a rule that he would move on from a woofing job when he got to $1000 in his pocket, and would stop exploring NZ (his goal was to drive down every road in NZ) when he got down to $100. He was a kayak guide in Milford Sound where he is famous for sinking a tractor into the sound (which they named after him). One time this $100 rule stopped him in Franz Josef, where he managed to secure a job as a Glacier Guide for The Guiding Company. Six months later, he moved to the rival guiding company, Franz Josef Glacier Guides, where he worked for the next 1.5 years. He did a 1 year Outdoor Recreation course at Whenua Iti outdoor pursuits centre in Motueka, where he met Tash. A one night stay at a backpackers led him to live there on and off for years to come, in a Tipi with a firebath and outside shower. He loved this lifestyle of living on the land.
One day he found himself back in Motueka, guiding small groups on the Heaphy Track for Bush & Beyond, and ran into his old friend Tash... fast forward a bit and he managed to convince her to move to the West Coast, where they found the perfect house in the bush in Okarito, bordering Westland National park (where Rowi kiwi live), fernbirds, robins that try to live in the house, creeks and fords that flood (sometimes we can't get home!) and he went back to work for The Glacier Guides for the next 15 years. His friend Mike had a guiding business Glacier Valley Eco Tours that was a long standing family owned and operated company, focused on nature, flora and fauna, history and the glacier valleys. When walking access onto the Franz Josef Glacier stopped in 2013 (becoming helicopter access only) Cliff decided this wasn't for him - as much as his love for the glacier, he didn't want to spend every day in a helicopter! He negotiated with Mike for the next few years to buy the business, and managed it in 2016.
Cliff is a Coaster at heart - self-sufficient, stubborn, humorous, easy-going & a natural story-teller. Nature guiding in his own business in this area is his dream job and his love and passion of the West Coast's history, environment, rain, extreme weather and nature is what keeps him in this unique area of Aotearoa. He spends his time off whitebaiting, wood carving, kayaking, volunteering in our community predator trapping project (Project Early Bird - see below!) while doing a lot of these things with his kids as well. He has trained to carve traditional Maori wood carvings, and has a lot of these at the 5* Te Waonui Retreat in Franz Josef, as well as for sale in our Tui Gallery (situated in our office) He has a pet goat called Nicole which he takes for walks on the beach with his dogs.
Born in Timaru, Tash spent her childhood playing piano and loads of sports & anything creative. She moved to Nelson after high school to do a Diploma in Visual Arts majoring in Textiles Mixed Media at NMIT. She moved into a new flat, and her flatmate was on the course at Whenua iti with Cliff. She attended a short course there, then bought a housebus and did various jobs over the next few years - nannying; working in a playcentre; cleaning a bakery in Mapua; arts therapist at a art centre; working in a community organic garden; administration work for a trust; before deciding she wanted to be a graphic designer. She managed to get a job with a small family company who produced industrial design for mainly mechanics and garages, and started by counting business cards, and working the guillotine. She then ran the vinyl room while being trained to be a graphic designer, which she loved but didn't want to spend 10 hrs a day on a computer! She ran into Cliff outside the supermarket one day (4 years after meeting him) and, well, you know the rest... they were married in 2010 on the beach in Okarito, and had a 3 day party on their land at The Forks! Before running the business, she worked as a kayak guide for Okarito Kayaks and admin for Glacier Country Tourism group, amongst many other things (28 jobs in her 40 years!) and raising children. She rediscovered her love of playing guitar and singing, and due to lack of live music, began an Open Mic night in Franz Josef. She performs at various community events and has begun collaborating with a friend in Hokitika and hope they will be performing on the coast soon! She also has a huge passion for this area & spends her down-time kayaking on the Okarito lagoon, walking dogs on the beach, playing music & creating.
Named after the Okarito Brown Kiwi - (the Rowi) she is an active and confident 13 year old who enjoys walking the dogs, playing netball, paddleboarding, performing in her schools' Kapa Haka group and horseriding.
Named after Louie Zala (who had a saw mill at The Forks, Okarito c 1890's), Zalas is a 9 year old boy who loves riding his bike and skateboard up the Main street of Okarito, going to the skate park in Hokitika, playing minecraft and taking apart gear boxes!
Glacier Valley Eco Tours hold a Department of Conservation license to operate guided tours in the South Westland World Heritage area/Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The last few years we have had all New Zealand 'Kiwi' guides, and we aim to continue this to give our clients the most knowledge and best experience possible.
Enjoy our local art and craft Tui Gallery featuring Cliff's handmade Maori and contemporary woodcarvings, Tash's paintings & sewing, as well as handmade clothing, jewellery, textiles, soaps, local greenstone, art and more from local artists and craftspeople. The only place in Franz Josef to buy local art and crafts!
Located in our booking office in Franz Josef Glacier.
See our Facebook page for more info: www.facebook.com/tuigallerynz