If you go to see the glaciers of New Zealand in 2019 there is not a lot to see compared to 2004. If you do want to get up close to one, it has to be done by means of an expensive helicopter flight, or a long walk up the valley.
When I walked on a glacier in 2004 with my seven-year-old son Joe it was totally awesome, like a once-in-a-lifetime experience… at that time we had no idea how true this would be because chances were slipping away for a repeat walk in 2018 on our visit to New Zealand. Due to the glacier hardly being there.
In 2004, we chose one of the many trips offered by Franz Josef Glacier Guides. It was the cheaper option, involving a walk up the valley for about 45 minutes to get to the terminal face where we began walking on the ice.
Below is an extract from Middle England to Middle-earth:
We mounted some ice steps to a rough, stony area where we strapped on our Ice Talonz. After holding onto ropes to aid our ascent up some steep steps we walked on the level for a bit, seeing some crevasses. The ice was blue in places due to refracted sunlight. We stopped to look at a Moulin, a vertical shaft formed by surface water. Water was streaming into the bluish-coloured large hole in the ice, to join the watercourse 150m below.
After explaining about it our guide continued: “We're just gonna go and check out that nice big cave over there, then we're gonna go for a wander up that side of the glacier and then we might stop for about ten minutes and have a bit of food after that.”
Franz Josef Glacier used to extend down to the Tasman Sea, 18,000 years ago during the Ice Age. Nowadays it is receding back up the Waiho Valley due to climate change. This particularly sensitive glacier responds within a few years to snowfall levels at the névé and is exceptionally fast-flowing. The ice underneath the 20m-thick crust moves around one and a half metres a day through plastic flow and sliding on a river which acts like a cushion.
Our guide walked ahead of us, hacking at the rough, pre-formed steps with his ice axe to make the climb easier. Joe, right behind him, was allowed a go with the ice axe too.
In 2018 our family walked up the valley to get as close to the Fox Glacier as possible. It still looked quite far away when we came to the end of the path, as you can see from the photos.
Joe is looking pensive as he ponders the disappearance of the glacier he was able to sit right next to in the photo from 2004.
Signs inform you about the changes.
Today, if you want to get on the ice, you need to be pretty fit, aged over eight and have a lot of money to spare. Check out some guided adventures on the websites below if you are thinking of visiting the glaciers.
Photo, right: our motorhome in the car park at Fox Glacier 2004.
Below: in 2018, Henry with our rented motorhome.