16 Jun 2023

Fox Glacier residents optimistic about impact of proposed cycle and walking trails on business

2:11 pm on 16 June 2023
Fox Glacier

Last summer was good for business in Fox Glacier. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A ghost town - that's what Fox Glacier residents feared their town would become after access to their main tourist attraction was severed four years ago.

In March 2019, a major landslide destroyed the road to the glacier.

Less than six months later, locals were told it wouldn't be reopening and the government was stepping in to help fund alternative attractions.

Cafe Nevé owner François Goosen was not feeling confident about the town's future in the early aftermath of the closure.

But he has since changed his tune.

"We're going to stay optimistic. I mean, Fox is not going away," Goosen said.

"I know a little while ago we were pretty negative. But then I think most people were just taking so much pressure and strain. But I think things are looking a lot better at this stage."

Last summer was good for business, and the town has been ticking over and preparing for the next wave of visitors to come later this year.

"We're getting it across to people slowly that it's not just the glacier, there's so much to do around here.

"There's definitely a positivity towards that side, and Development West Coast and (the Department of Conservation) have done a lot of work towards that ... they used Covid when there weren't that many jobs around, they had people clearing tracks and cutting tracks. It's been really good."

He remained optimistic about a proposed scenic cycle and walking trail linking Fox Glacier and Franz Josef.

"They are looking into it and I believe that will change this whole area. Everybody's got a bicycle on the back of their van, car and campervan now so if you get something like that, we can only go forward."

Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell has also been feeling optimistic.

"We survived the last couple of years on very, very little, and look, what was seen through the summer was the visitation level of demand has been much higher than anyone anticipated."

The government has helped out with close to $4 million from the International Visitor Tourism and Conservation Levy.

The money's been used to build walking and cycling trails up the south side of the glacier, invest in different attractions like a new trail from the township to Lake Matheson, as well as a new day walk to Lake Gault.

"We've had the use of international visitor levy money where we did up the access road to make it a walkway/cycleway up to the Fox Glacier for some fantastic views. That's now pumping again. There's still a lot of great, positive reasons to come and visit the Coast."

Development West Coast destination and tourism manager Patrick Dault said they've come up with different ways to attract visitors to the glacier and the valley, and it has been working.

"The international visitor levy - that has been a game changer - and the Jobs for Nature programme. I think that collaboration between DOC, the local community, (Development West Coast) and, of course, central government has been really, really beneficial."

Visitor numbers were down in the first quarter of the year, but spending was up as people stayed longer and explored more, he said.

"The undeniable attraction of the glaciers and the glacial valleys is still present and still very much evocative of New Zealand for our international visitors.

"But the reality is that we are in an environment where we are on the coal face of climate change."

Dault said work was underway to help the community to become more resilient and offer more to see and do.

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