West coast

Tourists flock to West Coast

Tourist numbers on the West Coast exploded last month, including a new record at Franz Josef Glacier despite the six-week rail closure that resulted in 17,000 cancellations on the Tranz Alpine train.

March 23, 2017

Franz Josef article

Tourists flock to West Coast

The train resumed only today after the Midland Line was closed on February 7 due to fire damage in the Canterbury high country.

In addition, it was constantly cold and wet in the first half of February, although operators have attributed the influx on international advance bookings.

At Franz Josef, the February total for people walking the glacier track was 103,852, for a 44% jump on the 71,905 counted there in February 2016.

The busiest day was February 4, when 6684 people turned up. That was even busier than the busiest day in January.

"This makes February 2017 the busiest February for that track counter ever; the next closest February is 2006, with 96,908.

There are only six Januarys going back to 1999 that are busier," said Wayne Costello, Department of Conservation Franz Josef conservation services manager.

His staff described a "monster" increase in tourist numbers at the glacier.

It was a similar story at Punakaiki. The pedestrian counters on the Dolomite Point Track to the blowholes recorded 75,038 people compared to 71,085 a year ago.

Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said the growth was in spite of the shocking weather during the summer.

He said he believed some of the growth was masked as growing numbers were staying in private homes in Airbnb or campervans.

For the year to January, international guest nights were up 14.5% on a year ago.