Franz Joseph Glacier: Then and Now

As humans it seems to be easier to ignore things rather than deal with them. This applies to simple things like doing your homework after school, getting your washing done or going to the dentist. However we also seem to easily ignore far larger problems. In this case, I’m talking about climate change.

A lot of us believe in climate change (and perhaps more of us don’t), however we don’t really do much about it and just continue on with our everyday lives and say that will get to it one day, or perhaps it will just sort itself out. Many of us are probably just hoping the whole thing isn’t true. After all, it doesn’t feel any hotter than it did last year and I heard that it snowed in the Sahara Desert, so how bad can it really be? Like many things, it isn’t until it is right in front of your face, laid out in front of you that you finally realise what is happening. For me, the effects of climate change were laid out in front of me when I re-visited Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand.

I first visited Franz Joseph Glacier in 2005. It was the second glacier that I visited on that trip, after having helihiked on the nearby Fox Glacier. I was so impressed and intrigued by the huge amount of ice tumbling down from the mountains above and flowing down the valley. I remember walking up to the face of Franz Joseph Glacier, the huge ice face towering above me. I could see tiny dots climbing up the ice face as a glacier trekking group made their way up for a hike on the ice. It was so impressive that I had always wanted to return.

Franz Joseph Glacier, New Zealand

Franz Joseph Glacier, January, 2005

It wasn’t until over 11 years later that I made that return trip, this time with my wife. It was her first trip to New Zealand and I wanted to show her all of the amazing places that I always talk about over there. We travelled by campervan around the South Island, making our way over to the West Coast where I was excited to show her the glaciers. We drove to the car park at Franz Joseph Glacier and began the hike up the valley. When we reached the first viewpoint that looked out towards the glacier, I was simply blown away.

“Where was the glacier?!”

I had to squint to see it. The huge river of ice I remember from my first visit simply wasn’t there anymore. It had receded right up the valley, mostly hidden around the corner at a much higher altitude. All that was left was a bunch of grey rock where ice had once been. I was shocked and devastated.

Franz Joseph Glacier, New Zealand

Franz Joseph Glacier, October, 2016.

We trekked up the valley until we reached the point where the ice used to be. You can no longer walk up to the face of the glacier as it is too treacherous and steep, and the treks that used to go up the face and onto the ice no longer exist.

The effects of global warming were laid out in front of me. If that wasn’t evidence enough to make me believe in climate change, then I would simply be an ignorant fool. I have absolutely no doubt that the climate is warming. Nothing else can melt ice other than heat. You don’t need to be a scientist to work that one out.

It has only been 11 years, a blip in the age of this glacier, and yet it has melted and receded so far back that it is a mere fraction of what it used to be. Many of you may not believe in climate change, and I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong, and you are certainly entitled to have that opinion, but answer this question: if the climate isn’t warming, how on earth do you explain this?

I was shocked by the change in Franz Joseph Glacier over such a short period of time, and it has certainly opened my eyes more than ever to the importance of limiting my effect on this warming climate, however small that may be.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you believe or not believe in climate change? Have you experienced anything like this during your travels, or even at home? There is one thing that I am now certain of, and that is that we at least need to start talking about climate change and not ignoring it or leaving it for future generations and politicians to deal with. We need to deal with this now. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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4 comments… add one
  • Antoine Jan 31, 2018

    I love the fact that you are using the power of your blog and readership to highlight a first-hand experience of witnessing climate change. Thank you for that.
    Antoine recently posted..Arches National ParkMy Profile

  • Angelica Raul Feb 5, 2018

    Good pictures. Yeah the difference is clearly visible in the pictures. In fact the full glacier is looking different. Amazing post.
    Thanks.

  • NZ Vacations Feb 13, 2018

    Thanks for sharing this. It can serve as climate change awareness to the people. I am personally shocked on what saw in the your photos. Your post is an eye opener about climate change.

  • travelouts Feb 20, 2018

    Excellent post – so many great tips and very helpful

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