Jobs for Nature skydivers upgrade historic glacier view track

20 October 2020
Department of Conservation
A historic track in South Westland is receiving an upgrade courtesy of skydiving staff who are splitting their time between track building and hosting domestic skydiving customers.

Skydivers upgrade historic glacier view track

As a part of the Jobs for Nature programme, DOC has allocated $13 million of Kaimahi for Nature funding to the West Coast and is working closely with its partners in the Kotahitanga Ki Te Uru Alliance, to establish initiatives designed to help distressed businesses affected by the economic downturn of Covid-19 to retain their staff.

The skydivers, from Skydive Franz and Fox Glacier, have been affected by the lack of international tourists, and have quickly turned their hand to track building and are making good progress on upgrading the historic Alex Knob track.

‘Alex Knob’ is a 17.2 kilometre return track located in the Franz Josef Glacier valley. It saw a 17 per cent increase in visitor numbers (a total of 3800 track counter hits) in the year to June 30, as visitors sought new ways to view the Franz Josef Glacier, which has retreated markedly in the valley.

The new track building crew are upgrading the surface of the track, which over time has become rough and rutted as water has eroded sections and debris has fallen on the track. The upgrade means the track will be more suitable for a wider range of visitors. At present it is classified as a “tramping track”.

Senior Heritage and Visitor Ranger Ian Singleton says, “We showed the crew the ropes and have worked alongside them to be sure they are working safely, and now they are working autonomously with input from us when needed. Working with skydivers gives you the confidence that they’ll follow good processes to ensure safety as they have that culture in their workplace already.”

“Without this opportunity from DOC it would have been difficult to continue operating in the current economic climate."

Robbie Stewart, Skydive Franz and Fox Glacier Base Manager

“A skydiving operation requires a range of highly skilled staff including tandem instructors, pilots, ground crew and front of house staff, all of whom are critical to the operation. The project means that we at Skydive Franz and Fox Glacier have been able to keep all these critical staff employed - without which we would have been forced to close the operation," said Skydive Franz and Fox Glacier Base Manager, Robbie Stewart.

"This opportunity not only allows us to continue operating but also means that, as one of the top nine skydiving venues in the world offering New Zealand’s highest skydive, we can continue to attract visitors to the district thereby making a contribution to the sustainability of the overall community including other operators in the tourist trade, hotels, restaurants and the hospitality industry in the region.”

The track was originally built by the Graham Brothers who developed a Franz Josef guiding business and hotel for tourists who wanted to experience the beauty of this area. Although the track climbs to 1303m, the zig zag construction means it has a relatively gentle gradient up the hill and is suitable for most well-prepared people with average fitness.

Ian Singleton says, “The Alex Knob track is a great example of the type of track you can walk if you take a bit more time in South Westland, and the view from the top is world class –you have a marvellous 360 degree view out to the coast, north and south, and a panorama of the glacier and Southern Alps.”

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