THE normally bustling summer streets of Nelson have fallen silent this week with frightened tourists steering clear of the popular coastal hamlet as smoke billowed over surrounding hills from the Kentbruck bushfire.
Tourism operators have been hard hit this week as cancellations mounted for fishing and adventure outings on the Glenelg River. Such trips are the lifeblood of the local economy over the holiday season.
Fires in nearby Kentbruck and Lower Glenelg National Park sparked an exodus of visitors from the popular coastal spot over the weekend, leaving locals to count their losses.
Nelson canoe hire owner Chris Carson said his business had suffered following the outbreak.
“We haven’t seen a soul or any cars. It’s a ghost town,” he said.
While still offering motorboat hire and short canoe trips in Nelson itself, he said the business had been forced to cancel 18 upstream canoe adventures in which visitors camp at landings along the river in the national park.
Last week police located parties encamped along the river landings, relocating some to the Princess Margaret Rose Caves.
Meanwhile, numbers have halved through the doors of the Nelson Hotel.
“We’d expect to do between 110 and a 150 meals a night for this time of the year. We’re only doing about 60 to 70 a night,” publican Neil Shelton said.
“This time of the year is our peak and they’ve just taken off.”
Despite main roads to Nelson being closed this week, Mr Shelton said his thoughts were with those facing the fires near Dartmoor and further abroad in New South Wales and Tasmania.
“We’re not under any threat unless the wind changes,” he said.
But he conceded the fire had “whacked a hole” in the town’s peak tourist season.
“The (Lower Glenelg) national park holds a lot of people. It’s the town’s playground,” he said.
Visitors and fishermen are expected to pour in to Nelson next weekend for the annual Australian bream tournament.