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Glacier country struggling to stay afloat as international tourism dries up

The 230-kilometre stretch between Hokitika and Haast on the country’s stunning West Coast is usually bustling with tourists year-round, but things changed drastically once Covid-19 struck.

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Breakfast’s John Campbell spoke with residents hit hard by the absence of tourists. Source: Breakfast

Very few cars can be spotted along eerily quiet State Highway 6, the only road in and out. It's well bellow what’s ever been seen by locals.

All through the region, hotels and businesses are shutting up shop, left vacant without their usual daily dose of visitors.

In Whataroa, the White Heron Motel sits empty and up for sale alongside many others in the area.

The drop in visitors has been felt by everyone in the area — both directly and indirectly, including the local petrol station where business hasn’t felt this quiet in decades.

“This is what it was like 40 years ago, when we first came down here the road was just like this,” said Whataroa Service Station’s Ian Philip.

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The report has outlined the stark reality for four towns if Government funds don’t come their way. Source: 1 NEWS

Up the road in Ross, a handful of domestic tourists are a welcome site to see but still can’t compare to pre-Covid traffic.

Gold is the main business for the small town, where people can come and pan for it themselves.

Locals say that before the pandemic it was bustling. But without tours travelling through, they sit empty.

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Tanya, a Fox Glacier School teacher’s aide, was laid off after families fled the region. Source: Breakfast

 “We were heavily reliant upon the Chinese tour buses. We would have several a week, 45 to 50 passengers on the buses,” said Kim Morrice of the Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre.

“That was our bread and butter. That kept us going throughout the year.”  

There were once 29 hotels in Ross during it’s prime in the gold rush years, but now it’s just the Empire Hotel, where a busload of tourists would be almost as welcome as gold.

Up in Fox Glacier, the local school’s roll has halved in size as families move away to find work.

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Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne says the community is desperate for Government help. Source: Breakfast

“We have eight families here. Two of our families work on the land and six are involved in tourism and we’ve lost some families,” said Donna Reader, Fox Glacier School principal. 

Before the pandemic they had a school roll of 14 and were looking at having that jump up to 21 when school started up for 2021.

But as families moved away that dropped down to 11.

"The problem for us is when those families move away they will settle somewhere else and aren't likely to come back," she said. 

"We have paradise here and we want to hold onto it."