Franz Josef, Fox 'heading for rock bottom'

The populations of both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are shrinking. Photo: ODT files
The populations of both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are shrinking. Photo: ODT files
Glacier towns that were welcoming up to a million visitors annually are withering in the Covid world and will have to create a future away from tourism in order to survive.

The populations of both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are shrinking, and that is putting pressure on their social structures.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said they would hit rock bottom before they started to recover.

Franz Josef Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Mike Charles said it had been decimated by the population loss.

‘‘We have gone from 11 to four members, plus one volunteer support officer. It’s lucky we don’t have a lot to do. But there will be times we cannot respond.’’

Westland district councillor Ian Hartshorne said the glacier community was in dire straits.

Two motels had closed and others could last only last weeks. The community had canvassed ideas, but there were not enough domestic tourists in the country to fill the void.

‘‘We are losing people all the time,’’ Cr Hartshorne said.

‘‘During the season we had a [working] population of about 1000; now we would be lucky to have 350.’’

Mr Smith said the district was watching a replay of the late-1980s with the closure of native logging, which had decimated Hari Hari and Whataroa.

‘‘Those communities never recovered, and now we are seeing an international pandemic devastating Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. They will shrink and continue to shrink until they hit rock bottom and recovery starts.’’

He again called on the Government to release the $24 million planned to be spent on rock protection around the Waiho (Waiau) River.

The South Island, and the glaciers in particular, needed a structural change in tourism — away from a total reliance on international numbers, he said.

He was keen to see stand-alone businesses, such as a Conservation Centre of Excellence training base or the proposed Franz Josef gondola project, developed in the glacier region. 

Comments

I have said it for years There are far too many small neighbouring villages in NZ and Franz & Fox is an example. Everything in these twin towns is duplicated. Franz should have been closed down years ago.

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