Locals keep Bluff ticking

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Oyster Cove owner Ross Jackson is feeling the impact of border closures. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO

IT is unusually quiet at Stirling Point, one of Bluff’s most popular tourist attractions.

Normally, tourists would be excitedly chatting as they stand beside the famous signpost to have their photos taken.

But since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the border closure on March 20, the famous spot has had a drop in visitors.

Up the hill, Oyster Cove restaurant owner Ross Jackson has felt the effect of this. He has lost about 75% of his business since the borders closed.

“A lot of our sales have gone because we have no overseas tourists. A huge part of our business was those tourists.”

Mr Jackson said they received on average “a bus full of tourists” daily.

“I would say we used to have 1000 international customers every week.

“The local people have been great. They are trying everything they can to help us but they can’t replace the number of customers from overseas.”

The restaurant attracted headlines in March after a wedding reception was held there.

The celebration turned to tragedy for attendees and those associated, eventually becoming known as one of New Zealand’s largest Covid-19 clusters.

In the beginning, Mr Jackson wondered if the negative news would affect his business.

“Honestly, I don’t think it has. We had some less-than flattering comments on social media but the community got behind us and helped us.

“None of our staff tested positive because of the strategies we had put in place. So I do not think it had any negative impact.”

Bluff Community Board member Raymond Fife was also worried.

“We [Bluff] got a name which probably wasn’t fair as no-one in the community tested positive for the virus. But that is the way it is.

“Fortunately, the community was very positive and helped each other in those challenging times.”

Despite all the headlines, Bluff businesses had not felt the impact as much as other towns in Southland, Mr Fife said.

“We are an industrial town. The big businesses in town – like the wharf, fishing boats and Sanford – were operating during the lockdown as they were essential services.

“Bluff doesn’t really rely on tourists.”

The impact was more on the small businesses located in Gore St, but since Queen’s Birthday weekend he had noticed an increase in people visiting the town.

Bluff Four Square supermarket owner Andrew McLean agreed.

“Bluff has been fortunate as we have quite a number of essential workers, so I don’t think it affected the local economy quite as much. But it’s still early days.”

The biggest impact Covid-19 had on the community was the cancellation of the Bluff Oyster & Food Festival, the biggest attraction in town, held annually in May.

Festival promotions officer Lindsay Beer said the monetary fallout of cancelling the festival was “probably worth $4 million to the Southland economy”.

However, the organisation was looking forward to the return of the beloved festival next year.

Looking to the future, Great South and a range of stakeholders have been developing the draft Bluff Masterplan to provide a strategic framework for the development of tourism and recreation opportunities.

A Great South spokeswoman said the Bluff Community Board put forward an application to the Government’s Shovel Ready Fund for phase one of the draft masterplan, which included a range of projects with a community focus.

“While this application was not selected to go forward to the Minister, it was put forward to the Provincial Growth Fund,” she said.

A joint Invercargill City Council and Bluff Community Board workshop would be held tomorrow to consider the draft and, following this, Great South will invite stakeholders to discuss and refine the masterplan.

“Continuing to develop this plan will help place Bluff in the strongest position to collaborate with central Government to promote economic stimulus following the impact of Covid-19.”

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