Somehow I’ve booked myself on an ‘expedition’ to East Greenland. I have no idea what I have let myself in for other than an adventure and a chance to see Icebergs!! It is my 70th birthday present to me!! We keep being told ‘you’ll never do it younger’ so I did it! – Greenland is the largest island in the world but also one of the worlds most sparsely populated regions. It originally belonged to Denmark. Pop.approx. 56,483 and only about 150 live on East Greenland. I am publishing my personal diary here so please enjoy and put this trip on your bucket list!
We arrived at a small airfield and joined our charter flight, duration 90 minutes to Constable Point in our twin prop plane…. We flew over vast flat waste land before seeing a few mountains to the north-west of Iceland. Suddenly below us were small white dots , actually icebergs and as we approached Greenland the sea was dotted with hundreds of icebergs sunbathing beneath a clear blue sky. We dropped onto a dirt runway and were ushered into a half-dome shaped shed with 58 pairs of rubber waterproof boots neatly lined up!
No toilet facilities or any other facilities at this airport and so we set off ‘in crocodile’ towards the coast, a 25 minute walk. Our guide carried a Rifle in case of Polar Bears…. More on that later. Fortunately the sun was shining and the wind was sleeping. The puddles were iced over and the half moon slowly disappeared behind the brown barren Mountains!
We boarded the zodiacs and within minutes were on board the Ocean Nova. My room was spacious and warm and the double porthole gave a panoramic view.. the ship has 58 passengers and 1 crew to every 4 people. Day 1 was spent listening to safety briefings. They take the threat of a Polar Bear very seriously even though our chances of seeing one are less than 10% – all shore party guides carry a loaded gun! They also take the weather very seriously..we are in a very remote corner of the world. The Captain is Russian and the crew are from a multitude of countries but they all speak English. Today the sky is cloudless and it seems the weather is perfect but nothing stays the same in this inhospitable place. Our leader was the very charming young and talented Englishman Hadleigh Measham who has a degree in biological sciences and a love of Icebergs. Everyone loves Hadleighs’ ‘wakeup’ messages over the intercom.
Map1:Scoresby Sound where we spent 10 days calling the Ocean Nova home.
Map 2: Iceland and East Greenland
At 11 pm an announcement over the speakers wakes us up – the Aurora had appeared – into our clothes, hats jackets and up to muster station 2 – wow!! The Northern Lights danced across the sky thrilling us all. The Maori believed the Southern Lights were the glow of fires lit by their ancestors who had been carried away in their canoes! Ezekiel may have been the first person to describe an Aurora in 592 BC. My photos are not pin sharp but taking slow exposures on a moving ship is a challenge.
We woke at Frederikson Bay, it looked like The Remarkables in Queenstown except for the tell-tale icebergs drifting past. After a hearty breakfast the zodiacs took the enthusiastic hikers ashore. I discovered the library and a really good Nespresso coffee machine😀. In the library I spotted New Zealand photographer Jane Ushers superb book “Still Life” about ‘Shackelton and Scotts’ huts in the Antarctica.”
The clear morning gave way to high gray clouds and as warned the weather is changing.There is a gift shop run by Yuki, a Japanese lady, a gym, the bridge which is open to passengers 24 hours, a bar adjacent to the The Panorama Lounge and of course the restaurant. There is laundry service and our rooms are cleaned daily. The meals are impressive with 3 choices of main at dinner and 2 desert choices. Cooked breakfasts etc. Phil from Florida put salt on his watermelon; I hadn’t seen that before!! They definitely need a gym on board the food is so fabulous!!
The shore party all wearing their bright yellow jackets looked like little ants in the vast landscape. You cannot go ashore unless wearing water proof trou’, waterproof boots and your life jacket. enjoy a video I took here.
During lunch we continued deeper into the North West Fiord and as we did so the icebergs became larger and more plentiful. The ship stopped in Eskimo Bay… And we all went ashore. Hundreds of years ago the Thule people, pronounced twoleee, lived here. They were Inuits. In winter they made shelters from the rocks and wintered here eating whale meat and musk ox. Musk Ox are still in the region and we saw one grazing not too far away. There are artefacts here, it is a National Park and the artefacts are scattered about and human skeletons are visible in the burial ground rocky mounds. Prior to burial and Christianity the Thule people committed their dead to the ocean. I particularly liked the Lichen covered boulders in this bay.
Musk Ox Photo by Denise Haag
This afternoon I didn’t need my gloves on whereas previous excursions have been extremely cold! We heard an almighty boom while on shore; an iceberg split or calved but we saw nothing.
Morning excursion ashore and a photo walk to the lower ridge to see views of the head or the source of all the ice bergs in this region. There they were, hundreds of icebergs parked up waiting patiently for a breeze to help them float down the sound to the open ocean.
Today we will be sailing as far into Nordvestfjord as we can go, allowing for ice and weather conditions. We hope to land at Immikkoortilaq for a hike to a viewpoint that overlooks the ice choked head of Nordvestfjord. This walk was about an hour although the fitter passengers amongst us walked for over two hours quite high up into the mountains. The were rewarded with sightings of the beautiful snowy white Arctic Hares.
There was a small tarn frozen over and a few very stumped foliage examples, like the willow tree which grows a few inches in height but spreads across a metre or so.
After lunch we went on the zodiacs in amongst the icebergs..words fail me..extraordinary sights and the fresh snow on the mountains added to the scenes. There were deep blue streaks, pale blue streaks, and an assortment of shapes!! Stunning scenery . The zodiacs handled the ice so well; mini ice breakers!! “Everyday I fell in love with an Iceberg”
After dinner an amusing talk by a young Cambridge graduate about his first trip to Greenland!!
We woke to a very pretty sunrise creating pink icebergs beneath the fresh snow on the mountains. Land trip this morning to explore the ‘bear’ islands. Maybe ‘bare’ islands as there is never a tree to be seen. Some passengers will kayak between the islands Breakfast was berry pikelets, bacon, eggs fruit etc… So much food! We are being offered an option to go by zodiac today so I might do that this morning! Each time we go ashore we all walk through a disinfectant bath and again on our return.
The prominent south-facing peninsula of Sydkap and the surrounding Bear islands have been an important hunting ground for nearly 4,000 years. On shore are remains of early civilisation in the form of stone cairns, Indicating perhaps a mess house or summer house. Nearby was a skeleton, probably from a Narwal!!
Vegetation was scarce but some tiny black berries were edible. I opted for the zodiac voyage and short walk… It was extremely cold.
Our Captain is very proud of himself – he anchored in an uncharted bay!! Stunning scenery like the Remarkables in Queenstown – but with ice and then smooth rounded islands with snow skiffs to sea level!!
The ship has forward Sounding sonar which enables it to see 300 m in front under the ice or water. Consequently we go up Fiords not normally explored by people.
11-30 pm the Northern lights were fabulous, we get woken by the dulcit tones of Hadleigh the exhibition manager. The lights danced for hours and at 1 am I left them on the world stage as I needed some sleep.
Harefjord (70°55.0’N / 028°00.0’W) runs north-west from the north end of Rødefjord.
Zodiac trip around the two glaciers. Then we stopped to watch a Glacous Gull Sitting on top of an iceberg. Suddenly the bird flew off and the 3 story high ‘berg’ started listing and rolling, calving off ice.. JIll moved our zodiac super fast to a safer distance and we sat in awe watching the berg rolling forward and back … An adrenalin rush for sure and an impressive site. One not often witnessed.Video footage here and here. I’m no videographer but!! Interesting footage of a ‘berg’ moving! After lunch a much needed rest – then heading out on the zodiacs for another Iceberg tour. These are enjoyable as you get pretty close and start to appreciate the scale of these ‘bergs’. The landscape is a vast wilderness covered in a light snow fall, a sign winter is on its way. There is no sign of humanity anywhere.
Anchored about 7 am in Goose Fiord. Very windy 14 knots in the bay but stronger outside the fiord. Cloudy 4 degrees. We went ashore and my group walked to the stream and I loved the colours of the grass and plants…. Reds, yellows and creamy colours..little tiny daisies. Two Ravens were flying about. Back to the ship by11 am, some groups hiked to the ridge and saw into the next fiord but it was too steep for me! 😬😬
Some of the walkers saw a ptarmigan bird, beautiful white snow hens!
Pm. Anchor up … Meghna Dan Glacier. The skipper moved the ship to the glacier face, no mean feat as this is uncharted!! Spectacular landscape seemed like we were in another world the glacier cracked and boomed and calved creating spectacle after spectacle. Then we got taken in the zodiacs up close, well as close as they dare; the zodiacs were shifting ice and manouvering around small icebergs. Again the glacier calved right in front of us.. A very special day and special place!
Above: The Meghna Dan Glacier ‘calving’.
Below: a panoramic view
11-30 pm a party went ashore to shoot the aurora, a first ever as in the dark it could be dangerous if a polar bear appeared!! This was Hadleighs dream to land at night! I stayed ashore and shot the aurora. It was a spectacle unlike I’ve ever seen, a silent opera, or an elegant ballet…the aurora danced all around the sky, north, south, east and west. WOW!!!
We Woke to a lovely sunny clear day but windy on shore, plumes of dust were being blown around the receding glacier to our left. This is as far west as any ship goes in this system of fiords. On shore were 10 musk ox and I saw several of them; I also saw an arctic hare – however no great photos! Moved ship a few miles. After lunch we did a zodiac trip and learnt more about the terrain and mountains. I saw a duck today maybe a Gullimot – We are anchored at Husky Bay adjacent to a huge iceberg and the glacier face… and it’s warmer 8 degrees!! Not a cloud in the sky! Pretty tired actually but everyone is. Watched the aurora last night until 1 am. Tried to send emails but no luck😬 there is no internet in these parts! My hair looks like straw!! Oh well… woolly hats and Buffs cover it most of the day! Tonight there is a BBQ up on deck. We are heading out of this fjord now 5-20 pm
BBQ on deck 5 – tables and seats, mulled wine, ribs, steak, chicken, baked potatoe, salads etc. berry crumble 😍 but it was freezing. We sat with Kirk and Chris, lots of laughs. The younger folk danced to blaring Greenlandic music as the sun set. I went to bed early!
Clear skies, beautiful dawn with a crescent moon. It is very peaceful in these fiords and yet they are seriously inhospitable if you should find yourself out in the weather unprepared or heaven forbid in the water. You have 3 minutes to get out of the water before you perish supposedly, I wasn’t about to test the theory!!
A Polar Bear Skull
Expedition Morning: Gåsefjord. Landing at Krogen Polar Bear search day!!
At breakfast Hadleigh announced a sighting of a polar bear and there it was on shore walking up toward the snow line. Too far away for a photo!! Lots of glaciers around us today. We did a zodiac cruise around the area. After lunch we had moved ship and did another zodiac cruise, this time there was a beautiful large berg like a pavlova attached to a mountain with three peaks…absolutely stunning. We saw the most amazing basalt rock formations.
Then we landed on an island and somehow managed to clamber to the top …not easy in our land boots !! Surprise surprise!! The crew brought up an iceberg to smash up for drinks and served Baileys or Jameson’s whiskey in red tumblers on the island. Group photos were taken here too. I was grateful for a helping hand coming and going on the uneven rocky surface. After dinner they showed a movie about an Inuit village as tomorrow we visit a village. Our first sign of human life in over a week.
Day 9 Ittoqqortoormiit
For our visit the community has organised a selection of informal activities for viewing that will provide an insight into life in a remote Inuit settlement. The Tourist office has a small gift shop (accepting: Euro, US Dollars, Danish Kroner and credit cards).Going ashore was fun?, well tricky landing in the zodiacs on the rocky foreshore with a 1m swell running. Once all ashore we were issued with a map and were free to wander about. I spoke to a man with a new tractor. It wasn’t his though but he was very proud of it. I spoke to another resident who told me the snow comes up to the windows of his house in winter. A teenage girl said they do a lot of snow mobiling in winter. I saw the local school , supermarket and church. A few dogs, they have rabies so I kept my distance! In the museum the lady was knitting wrist warmers so I bought a pair for my grand daughter. The shop sold maps so I bought two to show where I’ve been and two post cards US$60-00 just like that! Helping the local economy anyway.
A pretty god forsaken place really. Two ships come with supplies annually and a flight arrives every Wednesday so our post cards will leave on that. A helicopter landed from Constable Bay. There is a hospital and a retirement home of sorts.
The colourful houses certainly brighten up the drab and exposed coastal town. Photos of the Danish Royals hung in the museum. I enjoyed the trip ashore – the locals drive like madmen! I saw one truck, Iveno brand, delivering water to the houses. No pipes between homes in this environment. We were asked not to purchase at the supermarket as they only receive supplies twice a year! I didn’t find the cemetery – but because winter is approaching they have already dug a number of graves. Once it’s frozen it’s impossible to dig graves!!
See our ship to in the center right.
Ittoqqortoormiit was founded in 1925 by Ejnar Mikkelsen and 85 Inuit settlers (70 people from Tasiilaq and 4 families from western Greenland). They were brought on the ship Gustav Holm on 1st September 1925 and settled 400 km south of the last known Inuit settlement in north-eastern Greenland. The settlement was encouraged by the colonial power of Denmark, which at the time had a growing interest in northeast Greenland. At the same time, the colonization was intended to improve declining living conditions in Tasiilaq, from where the settlers were more or less voluntarily transferred. The settlers soon prospered on the good hunting conditions of the new area, which was rich in seals, walruses, narwhals, polar bears and arctic foxes. Nowadays, Ittoqqortoormiit counts 381 residents
Back on the ship.. We are leaving for Iceland across the Denmark Strait; a 36 hour voyage. Much bird life at sea.. Fulmars I think. After dinner I watched the Walter Mitty movie.. about Iceland and rather amusing….
In bed and the ship is rolling… Every time it rolled to starboard I slid down my mattress!! I didn’t get a lot of sleep! Big swells…. however I feel fine. A few passengers suffered from sea sickness. Only 20 people at breakfast in the morning. They offered crystallised ginger and I notice sick bags outside every room.
Overcast morning. Fulmars flying all around us – I’m guessing they have a 1 m wingspan, we saw few birds in the fjords so lovely to have them entertain us today. A few Orcas were also spotted briefly but September is too late for whales. I’m pretty tired today, dosed off after breakfast for a while.. Another lecture on glaciers but I skipped it. Well I saw some of it. The scientist was adamant global warming is man made!! Regardless it is of great concern to see the ice cap melting and the glaciers receding. His suggested reading. One way to off set your carbon foot print is to plant trres. Big farewell speeches etc… Champagne all ready to hand out when the ship lurched..smashed glass everywhere!! the second time this that has happened this evening… So the toasts were postponed until after dinner when we are in the shelter of Akeyuri Town on the north side of Iceland. After dinner an 18 minute slide show of our expedition was shown; selected photos from 2000 submitted… I was pretty happy to have about a dozen selected😀I’m in bed early 10-30pm ready for disembarkment at 8-30am luggage has to be ready at 7-30 am Anchored in Akeyuri we awoke to a beautiful misty morning and a touch of Autumn colour. Straight off the ship to the airport and a 45 minute flight to Reykavich.
So that folks is how my Greenland expedition unfolded. I thoroughly recommend QUARK Expeditions to you..so professional and safety conscious.
My book “ICE” by Lynn Clayton with many stunning photographs will be available from the online bookstore at http://www.blurb.com in time for Christmas… or just to view online.
P.S. words in blue are links to websites… surprising how many folk don’t know this.