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by Irene Butler
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)

Fjords and soaring peaks, icebergs and glaciers, glimpses into the lives of the people who call the world’s largest island home has long been on my husband Rick’s and my bucket list!

Our overnight crossing of Davis Strait begins under an amber sunset, and by morning we are facing Greenland’s Eqip Sermia Glacier from the bow of our ship. Known for its iceberg calving with thunderous roars, this giant is silent today.

Our thoughts dwell on how 80% of the country is covered by a massive layer of ice – known as the Greenland Ice Sheet. This leaves only the edges of exposed land for human habitation, with most settlements found on the western coastline of the country. It’s also the least-densely populated country with about 57,000 residents of which 88% are Greenlandic Inuit (including Inuit-Danish mix) and 12% are Danes and other Europeans.

Our vessel, the RCGS Resolute with One Ocean Expeditions, docks at the port town of Qeqertarsuaq (ke-ker-tar-sou’ak) on Disko Island off Greenland’s coast. Renowned Viking, Eric the Red, paid visits to this island circa 985. It is believed to have been a summer hunting and fishing base for Norse colonists. Skip to 1773 when a whaling station was founded by the Danish, prompted by the large amounts of whales found off these shores. University of Copenhagen’s Arctic Station is located here; the oldest continually manned station in the Arctic.

After a high energy breakfast, we leave the ship to wander the streets sided by brilliantly coloured houses in this hardy community of 850 people.

We return to our ship for a zodiac ride to view the basalt cliffs, confirming the island’s volcanic origins. Jagged rock faces in patterns of swirls, arcs and Lego-like stacks are breathtaking. Glacial melt water spills over the cliff in waterfalls.

Atop the cliffs the landscape transforms from black rock to lush green growth in the mineral laden soil.

The following day we arrive at Ilulissat Icefjord (aka Jacobshavn Icefjord), a UNESCO World Heritage site for the dramatic and awe-inspiring wonder of icebergs calving from the Ilulissat Glacier into this fjord. On the world scale, it is one of the most active glaciers moving 40 metres per day, creating an estimated 50 cubic kilometres of ice annually.

After docking we are greeted with friendly smiles of locals in our meanderings around Ilulissat town. Sled dogs are everywhere; older ones tied by their pens, the pups frolicking loose with some coming over to sniff us out.

We find the tundra-protecting boardwalks leading to the fjord edge to view the massive accumulation of icebergs that have calved from the glacier.

An otherworldly icy white silence spreads out before us. It is a most humbling experience to sit on a rock and reflect nature’s majesty and how this ice-world is changing. It is difficult to pull ourselves away from this captivating sight.

On a later zodiac cruise around the gargantuan icebergs at the fjord’s mouth, we are regaled by the sprays of surfacing whales, following their fins until they dive again with a splash of their tailfins.

Sisimiut is our next stop, a town of 5,500 residents. The museum houses artifacts from archaeological excavations of the ancient Saqqaq settlements near the town dating back thousands of years. Outdoor exhibits are an old church and a reconstructed traditional Greenlandic peat house.

Back on board ship all eyes are focused on the waters below for a “kayak rolling” demonstration by a former Greenland kayak champion. Oohs and ahhs and applause are in order!

This kayaker must have inspired a dozen of our fellow passengers to brave the frigid water with a polar plunge off this ship-side zodiac…while content in our down filled parkas we snap photos.

The following morning zodiacs transport us to Kangerlussuaq, a key Greenland post.

A tundra buggy rattles us along a pot-holed road to the Greenland Ice Sheet. We hike up a path to the edge of this astounding body of ice covering 1,700,000sq km – the grandest of finales!

A large USA airbase being here during WWII left this small town with one of Greenland’s largest commercial airports, from which our Arctic adventure comes to a close with a flight back to Canada.

Greenland will forever stir memories of the dazzling tundra colours, ice and more ice. We came away with a deep admiration for the resilience and resourcefulness of its citizens, especially during the long dark frigid winter months. Their gracious hospitality warmed our hearts. A bucket list dream realized!


More Info:
Our Greenland visit was part of the Arctic adventure “Baffin Island & Greenland Explorer” with One Ocean Expeditions, booked through Fresh Tracks Canada. PHOTOS by Rick Butler
1 Eqip Sermia Glacier
2 Town of Qeqertarsuaq
3 Basalt cliffs
4 Lush growth atop Basalt cliffs
5 Sled dogs checking me out
6 Trek to Ilulissat Icefjord
7 Massive icebergs in fjord
8 Icebergs and whales
9 Town of Sisimiut
10 Kayak rolling demo
11 Polar dip
12 Greenland Ice Sheet
13 Our dream realized!

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