Among the Ice Giants
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Greenland is the world's largest island. The ice cap and glaciers cover almost 80% of it.
Someone once told me, if you love Iceland, you should go a step further and try Greenland!
I don't remember anymore, who it was, perhaps a traveller or a photographer I met somewhere in Iceland; I only know he made me super curious! I started to research on the internet and put together a plan. Greenland has so much to offer! Giant icebergs, colourful Inuit villages, World Heritage Sites.
I won't lie, to get to Greenland was very pricey - the flight ticket was more expensive than to Australia! There are two ways to fly there - from Iceland and Denmark. If you are lucky, you can find a ticket for under 1000 EUR. Unlike other places in the world, which we planned and booked on our own, I reached out to travel agents for certain parts of our trip in Greenland. The package deals were cheaper than trying to book accommodation and ferry separately. It is not impossible, but considering that the two main ways to travel around are by boat and plane, it adds up quickly. Although Greenland is accessible year-round, the best weather is in the summer months, when the Sun doesn't set. We booked our tickets six months ahead of our trip, which was mid-July. 2018 was a busy year for me - hopping from continent to continent, probably the craziest travel year in my life. Greenland was the icing on the cake. We flew to Iceland first and spent a few nights visiting Westman Islands off the south coast. Finally, the day came when we took the small Air Iceland plane from the domestic airport in Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq in Greenland. I can't describe the moment when I saw the vast Ice sheet from the window of the plane!
The green South
We booked a 4 -day UNESCO trip with Blue Ice Explorer. After arrival, we received our vouchers for the ferry and the accommodation with times and meeting points written on them. That was it:) Our first stop was Qaqortoq, the largest town in South Greenland with about 3,300 inhabitants.
Our accommodation was just a few steps from the harbour in a cute hotel. The interior was decorated with sealskin and polar bear fur. Since our landing, I felt like in a dream; everything was new, unusual, filled with WOW.
We noticed, people were walking with nets on their heads. We made fun out of it until the moment we arrived at our hotel and already swallowed 100 giant black Arctic mosquitoes. Our first trip was to the supermarket - to buy some fancy hats with nets. Of course, we left ours at home:) It wasn't mentioned anywhere! The only other places we ever had to wear a head net before was in Scotland and Australia. Well, fitted with a sexy hat like a black widow, we headed off for a hike. What usually would be an easy walk turned out to be a nightmare. Have you ever tried to hike with a thick black net on your head? I kept falling over; each time I tried to lift the net to see my steps, the giant mosquitoes climbed into my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Eww!! Fortunately, this was the only place we met the mosquitoes in Greenland.
The farming history in South Greenland began when a small fleet of settlers, led by Erik the Red, arrived in the region just before 1000 AD. They brought with them Christianity, farming and exceptional hunting and fishing skills. He was likely called Erik the Red because of his red beard and hair and his fiery temper. Born in Norway, he moved to Iceland as a child after his father was exiled for manslaughter. Following in his father's footsteps, Erik also found himself exiled from Iceland for murder. He sailed west in 982 to find a new place to live. He discovered a land with an impressive fjord landscape and lush, green valleys. According to tales, Erik the Red was the first to call the island "Greenland".
During our stay in the South, we visited these settlements and ruins, and it was stunning! The ruins of Brattahlíð are in the town of Qassiarsuk. It was the first Viking settlement on Greenland, technically the first town in America founded by Europeans.
Hvalsey Church was built in about 1300, and its ruins can be found in the lush surroundings of southern Greenland.
After the two nights in Qaqortoq, we jumped on a boat to our next stop. A short 4 km walk along a picturesque unpaved country road took us to Igaliku - one of the most beautiful villages in Greenland.
There is a school, a church and a shop. We spent a night in the Country Hotel.
On the Top of the World
Our next stop was supposed to be the capital - Nuuk. Well, I say it was supposed to be because it didn't happen! We boarded the small Air Greenland plane to Nuuk with a short technical refuelling stop in Paamiut. We had three unsuccessful attempts to land in Nuuk. The fog was very thick, so we asked the flight attendant what was happening next? She smiled at us and said - we will try to land elsewhere! Well, considering in two days we had our Ilulissat tour booked, we were eagerly awaiting this unexpected adventure. Finally, we landed in Kangerlussuaq. The locals seemed chilled. At the Air Greenland counter, they just said - here is your voucher for the hotel at the airport and tomorrow you will take your flight to Ilulissat. We learned it happens pretty often! We couldn't cancel our accommodation in Nuuk anymore, but at least we didn't need to pay extra for the hotel. The signpost above is one of the most photographed landmarks in Greenland.
After a short flight, we landed in Ilulissat. Perhaps you have seen the epic red sailboat in front of a giant iceberg before. It was a privilege to attend the trip with the renowned Russian photographer, Daniel Kordan, who created this one of a kind photo tour. Our accommodation was in a 4* Hotel Arctic for five nights with fascinating views over the bay full of icebergs.
We spent our next days and nights aboard of Rusarc Aurora, sailing around these incredible icebergs. In July, the Sun doesn't set; it just slightly touches the horizon, giving a unique opportunity to photograph all night long during the midnight sun period! The red sailboat Peter the First posed for our shots, and we often spent over 6 hours out in the cold Icefjord.
The icebergs were dressed in pastel hues, and the fog created a mysterious atmosphere. Occasionally we spotted whales or other boats. I remember it was freezing in the bay, but we didn't want to miss any moment, so we decided to stay outside most of the time. There was a day that we sailed out at 5 pm and returned at 3 am! We even had to cancel our trip to Eqi Glacier the next day as I was sleep-deprived. Shooting from a moving boat is not easy at all! I had two cameras around my neck - one with a telephoto and the other one with a wide-angle lens. It wasn't possible to change the lenses frequently. The ice is moving too, so fast times and higher ISO are required. It is impossible to use a tripod and do bracketing; therefore, a graduated ND filter comes in handy! A polarising filter is a must! I only wish I had the magnetic filters from VF FOTO back then!
The red sailboat gave an excellent scale to these giant icebergs, which were truly breathtaking! Sermeq Kujalleq glacier is the place where the massive icebergs in the world are born. It is the fastest moving glacier in the world. Within the last ten years, the glacier has doubled its speed. Today it moves at a pace of around 40 meters every 24 hours.
During the day, we hiked to Sermermiut, an Inuit settlement in the Disko Bay. The location is part of the Ilulissat Icefjord World Heritage Site. There are several hiking trails and fantastic views from the top. Perfect for whale spotting!
We also visited a few settlements near Ilulissat: Oqaatsut, Ilimanaq and Qasigiannguit. Oqaatsut (Rodebay), the smallest village in Disko Bay, lies 15 km north of Ilulissat, at the base of a mountain. We learned about the Greenlandic national costume, which consists of a beautiful bead collar, sealskin pants and long, white kamik boots. Every single detail displays the Inuit craftsmanship.
The settlements have traditional colourful houses, and we found a few cute sledge dogs, too. In each village, there is a Cafe or a Restaurant, which we visited. We also sampled the Greenlandic beer Qajaq.
In Oqaatsut, as we arrived, we saw the fishermen catching a seal. When we finished our dinner, the seal was processed, and only a patch of blood reminded us of that poor seal. You can find whale, muskox and seal meat on the menu everywhere, and I am glad we had our veggie dish! Would you dare to try the Greenlandic plate below?
The ice formations are fantastic for the drone shots, but unfortunately, Greenland claimed our drone. It was working fine in the South, but as soon as we tried to launch it from the boat in the Icefjord, it flew straight into the water. The same happened to another photographer a day later. Disko Bay is particularly notorious for drowning drones. This is mainly due to the large amount of iron in the bedrock making the drone's GPS going crazy.
Fortunately, we found an IT store in Ilulissat! It came in handy as I needed a disk to back up my pictures. We also bought a new drone - which we didn't use much as we were worried to lose it again. Eventually, we crashed that one too, in Seychelles two years later! Rest in peace, Mavic.
The Ice Cap
After the action-filled six days in Ilulissat, we flew to Kangerlussuaq for our last big adventure - camping on the Ice Cap! Only two ice sheets exist in the world, namely in Antarctica and in Greenland, where the settlement of Kangerlussuaq is fortunate to enjoy a distinguishing feature – it is the only place in Greenland where you can drive to the Greenland Ice Sheet, and it is situated 25 km from Kangerlussuaq! We met our guide and drove approximately one hour to our destination, Point 660. We received our crampons and the camping gear in a waterproof bag. We had to pull a pulk with our equipment, which was relatively easy. We set up our camp and enjoyed a warm meal. After a walk in the area, we snuggled up in our sleeping bags. Listening to the wind and cracking ice was eerie but very exciting! We loved the million-dollar view toilet - check out the picture below!
In the morning, we enjoyed our breakfast in the camp with hot coffee! We went for another hike and saw fascinating waterfalls, blue lakes (all coming from meltwater). As we walked, it suddenly started to snow! In Mid July! That was back in 2018. Unfortunately, the Arctic region is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet under climate change. Unusual weather can occur at any time. In summer 2021, for the first time in recorded history, rain fell on the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet. In the last decade, Greenland has lost more ice than it did in the previous century. That meltwater is streaming into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise, threatening coastal population centres worldwide. Alarming and very sad!
We enjoyed a packed lunch on our way back. The overnight on the Ice Sheet was the highlight of our Greenland trip!
Kangerlussuaq means "Big Fjord" in Greenlandic. It is Greenland's central air transport hub and its largest commercial airport. The airport dates from American settlement during and after World War II when the site was known as Bluie West-8 and then Sondrestrom Air Base. The Kangerlussuaq area is also home to Greenland's most diverse terrestrial fauna, including muskoxen, caribou, and gyrfalcons. It is a tiny town with a population of 500. We took a walk around; there was not much to see except the container houses, which I found pretty authentic! Since I don't eat meat, we headed out on a mission to find the second restaurant hoping that they have vegetarian food. We finally found the pub, and they were serving beer and veggie pizza! The interior was just as you would expect it in Greenland - decorated with a polar bear fur! The rocket engines (JATO bottles) are used as ashtrays.
Reflecting on our trip over a beer made it clear that Greenland can quickly become addictive!
After all pandemic restrictions and lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, Greenland opened its borders for travel again. I prepared in collaboration with a local Travel agent an interesting program for my Photo Tour in September 2022, visiting many places mentioned in this blog. It will be unforgettable!
More information HERE.