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Lush, Jurassic rainforest surrounds a still kettle lake. The deep, tannin colour transforms the water’s surface into a reflective expanse, mirroring a mountainous valley of ice and snow. Dawn is breaking on Lake Mapourika. Soon, this calm, tranquil scene will be forever etched into the memories of another day’s visitors.

 

Explore Beyond the Glaciers

 

Franz Josef Wilderness Tours is a family business operating out of Franz Josef Township since 2013. I caught up with owners Dale and Bronwyn Burrows at the start of their 11th summer season for our Local Spotlight Series.

 

How did you get started?

 

Dale: I always wanted to run a guiding business. After years of adventure guiding, I found myself in Canada, where Bronwyn and I met, working as a kayak guide. Kayaking seemed much more inclusive than other adventure tours I’d been involved with. It’s an activity that people from any demographic can take part in and have a good time.

 

Bronwyn: When we returned to NZ, we ran Rakiura Kayaks on Stewart Island for a while. It was really challenging but also a fantastic learning experience in terms of running a business. From there, we were able to purchase the kayak company here in Franz, which was such a great opportunity.

 

Double kayak and mirror reflection lake mapourika

 

You’ve grown quite a bit, right?

 

Dale: That’s right. The first step was the boat coming up for sale. That was so good because it allowed me to leave my previous job with the Franz Josef Glacier Guides and work full-time at the family business. From there, we added boat tours, fishing trips and paddle boarding to our list of activities, which brought a whole new dynamic to what we were already doing.

 

Have there been any major challenges with expanding?

 

Bronwyn: We’ve grown so much that one of our biggest challenges has been keeping such a large crew feeling like a family. We’re up to 18 staff now! Luckily, we have a fantastic team, which made it possible.

 

Dale: Another big challenge has been finding accommodation for the team. I literally have spreadsheets (laughing). Fortunately, being a part of this community for such a long time has its advantages, so things always work out …. just!

 

boat, mountains, lake mapourika

 

You recently acquired the local quad bike company. Can you tell us a bit about that?

 

Bronwyn: We were always fans of the Quad Bikes. It was a family operation, so taking the business over had a real ‘one family to another’ feel, which was wonderful. It’s definitely been a welcome addition to our menu.

 

Dale: It’s quite an iconic adventure tour here on the West Coast, so we’re pretty excited about it.

 

Bronwyn: It’s a really fun trip with jaw-dropping scenery. The reviews speak for themselves: safety, guide knowledge, and endless views like nowhere else. People love it!

 

Quad Biking, Franz Josef, West Coast NZ

 

You’re an ecotour company that focuses heavily on the natural environment. Some people might wonder how quad bikes fit into that dynamic.

 

Bronwyn: We follow a set track through the rainforest. The Waiho River flows extremely hard, and the riverbed itself is constantly changing, so there’s no real impact on the area from these tours.

 

Dale: In order to get people to care for nature, they need to experience it. Our Quad Bike tours broaden the availability for a new demographic of people. We can share this stunning environment with those who wouldn’t normally have that chance.

 

At the end of 2022, you achieved quite an exciting environmental goal. Can you expand on that?

 

Dale: Yeah, we’re now Carbon Zero. We achieved this by reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible and offsetting our emissions. It was a big commitment and one we’re very proud of.

 

Franz Josef Wilderness Tours, West Coast, NZ

 

What would be your perfect day on the job?

 

Bronwyn: Getting outside (laughing). I spend a lot of time focused on the admin side of things, so enjoying the lake, trails and beautiful surroundings would be my idea of a perfect day.

 

Dale: Let’s see (looking at Bronwyn cheekily). A fishing trip in the morning, followed by an afternoon Cruise & Nature Walk, would be ideal. Also, landing some fish on that morning trip, of course.

 

What do you love most about working and living in Glacier Country?

 

Bronwyn: There’s so much to do right outside our door, like taking the boat out with the kids after school, having a fish, then camping out in a beautiful spot not far from home. Also, I just love the lake. Mapourika is so calm in the morning. It’s such a cool spot! You can literally get anyone into an awesome environment.

 

Dale: Yeah, we live in a massive playground. Not only do we enjoy it ourselves, but we also get to welcome people from all over and show them our backyard. I really enjoy guiding. I enjoy sharing experiences with people and taking them outside their everyday lives. Doing this on a daily basis is incredible.

Fishing Lake Mapourika

 

What is your favourite New Zealand plant, animal or insect, and why?

 

Bronwyn: (Laughing and looking at Dale) I love Tī Kōuka (cabbage trees). He always laughs at me, but I really like them. They remind me of something from a Dr. Seuss book. I also really like the Kea (NZ parrot). They’re very smart and really cheeky.

 

Dale: I’m a big fan of the Pekapeka (NZ long-tailed bat). In 2021, our team joined the Department of Conservation for the Jobs for Nature program, and we discovered some new populations. They were also voted Bird of the Year that year, despite actually being New Zealand’s only land mammal. That was pretty cool!

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

 

Bronwyn: The lake isn’t a freezing cold glacier lake. It warms up to around 25 or 26 degrees Celsius in the summer, so swimming is very comfortable.

 

Dale: Just because you’re kayaking on water doesn’t mean you’ll get wet. We have plenty of gear to keep you dry. But like Bronwyn said, the lake gets pretty warm, and many people love to swim. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to get wet.

 

Lake Mapourika, Franz Josef, West Coast, NZ

 

What are you waiting for?

 

Franz Josef Wilderness Tours is at 30 Main Road, Franz Josef Glacier (beside the Landing Bar & Restaurant). Look for the big yellow kayak! With so many activities, you’re sure to find something that suits you. All activities run rain or shine and include gear and free photos. Having trouble choosing between trips? No worries! They offer combo tours, so you can try more than one.

 

Drop in to see Dale, Bronwyn and the team, or get in touch to book your adventure here in paradise.

 

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Mike Bilodeau is a content writer for eco and sustainable tourism operators and an advocate for Slow Travel.