West Coast glacier towns plea for help as populations nosedive

There's concern for the future of two glacier towns on the South Island's West Coast.

Fox and Franz Josef have experienced a tough few years with washed-out bridges and roads.

Now the loss of international tourists has slashed the towns' populations as longtime residents are forced to move out.

Stunning glaciers put Fox and Franz Josef on the 'must-do' list for international tourists.

But with borders closed they've become ghost towns. Trading at the Matheson Cafe in Fox Glacier is down by 90 percent.

"It means we're existing on reserves and borrowings. And really there is no margin for the businesses to survive," says owner Chris Alexander.

It's a similar story just up the road in Franz Josef. This is usually peak season at the Orange Sheep Campervan Park. Tonight there's just a single vehicle booked.

"This entire place would be packed, every site would be taken, there'd be a queue out the driveway of people waiting to check-in," manager Logan Skinner says.

It's far too quiet for Dale Burrows, who leads a range of adventure tours on Lake Mapourika.

"Same day last year we would have been putting through close to 90 people. Today we've put through five," he says.

The region's had a bad run. In 2019, the bridge linking the glacier towns was washed out and last summer massive slips closed the state highway.

Motel and shuttle manager Anne Tunnah says businesses rely on four months of bumper summer trading to carry them through the rest of the year.

"Here we've had a two-and-a-half week summer this year. Unfortunately, that's not going to carry us through," she says.

"There were no people before Christmas and school holidays. There was next to zero customers," says The Landing Bar manager Anshul Dogra.

Kiwi travellers have been getting out and about with DoC reporting some regions are busier than normal.

But at five hours drive from Christchurch or Queenstown the glacier towns aren't a quick getaway.

"It's really special to be able to show people this. We just wish there were more people to share that with," Burrows says.

Businesses have been forced to slash staff. Franz Josef's population has plummeted from 1000 people to less than 400 as skilled workers leave the district.

"And we won't have a town, and we won't be able to reinvent when the borders do open. There'll be nothing here to come and see," Skinner says.

"I'd like to see some government support down here, to at least come and acknowledge our problem. We've seen no one," Tunnah adds.

A plea for help, as businesses contemplate their survival.