Hopes of reopening in June

The Franz Josef glacier. Photo: AP
The Franz Josef glacier. Photo: AP
The Department of Conservation hopes to reopen the access road to the Franz Josef Glacier in early June - two months after a flood devastated both glacier valleys.

That meant tourists arriving in the glacier townships have been unable to see the ice, except by helicopter.

While the road is being reinstated at Franz Josef, the Fox road will remain closed.

Reopening the washed-out road at Franz Josef has proved to be a huge effort in itself.

Doc conservation services manager Wayne Costello, based at Franz Josef, said they had to build a causeway in the Waiho (Waiau) River bed where the road had been washed away, and then had to build that up 3m to 5m.

However, demand for rock was so high, the nearest quarry at Whataroa could not cope so contractors were instead sourcing heavy rock from the riverbed.

At Fox Glacier, the long-term situation was more serious. An expert assessment of the valley was due to be reported back by the end of June.

Tourism operators at Fox Glacier are worried.

Collin Robertson from Ropatini's Homestay, told RNZ recently that people came to the glacier towns because they wanted to see the ice.

''To stand at a distance and look at it - that's what they don't want.''

It was still possible to see the glacier from a viewing point across the bridge on the south side of the Fox River, however, there was a lack of car parking and toilets, and while it was possible to walk there from the township, pedestrians would have to cross the busy one-lane suspension bridge on State Highway 6.

He agreed there was no easy fix, but something had to be done with the glacier valley now closed.

''It's going to kill us.''

Lake Gault, a three to five-hour return, walk was ''very tough'' and Gillespies Beach was a 20km drive out of town on an unsealed, winding road.

''Of the customers we get, 80% are over 50, and not that active,'' Mr Robertson said.

Franz Josef Community Council chairman Craig Rankin said trade had picked up since the Waiho River bridge had reopened.

However, as word got out that the glacier valley was still closed, it was affecting things more.

''They are a key part of the visitor experience.''

This week, two operators restarted tours on to the ice via a track they had made.

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