There can only be one more exciting feeling than knowing you are only several metres away from some of the most majestic creatures on the planet and that is to see the huge fluke of a humpback whale rise out of the water in front of you as it takes its next big dive for food beneath the waves.
This was a privilege I enjoyed on more than one occasion in Greenland – every day in fact and we lost count at over 60 sightings of humpback and fin whales throughout the 5-day trip there.
My visit to Greenland during the first week of August was nothing short of magnificent. I, at only 2 days back in the UK, am still looking at my photos thinking ‘I could not possibly have seen that with my own eyes’ and I want to share all of the experiences in the hope that you consider this magical place as your next adventure!
Normally you would start an itinerary on Day 1, right? But my ‘new’ experiences actually began the night before – in the South Terminal of Gatwick Airport! Arriving just shy of midnight I checked into my pod at Yotel. If I am honest, I booked this accommodation because it is extremely reasonably priced and I was also intrigued at what they would be like. I was very pleasantly surprised! Tiny in size but perfectly formed with a bed, TV, shower and toilet and even space to hang your clothes all inside the space normally occupied by a double bed! It also meant that it took me from my bed to duty free all inside 30 minutes which can never be a bad thing! I would highly recommend this for anybody travelling at an unsociable hour and I will certainly use it again.
My early morning flight took me through to Copenhagen where I then flew on to Kangerlussuaq on the western coast which is Greenland’s main transport hub and it’s largest commercial airport. Finding enough landing space in Greenland is a real difficulty due to the tough terrain which means that the airport’s location is truly amazing and certainly makes other airports look particularly drab! Surrounded by mountains and right by the sea it is, as far as airports go, pretty stunning! From here we took our small, fixed-wing plane carrying only 20 people to Ilulissat. Travelling at a much lower altitude you have an amazing view over the landscape, the fjords and of the icebergs floating below – if you’re really lucky you can spot whales even on your flight! On arrival into Ilulissat we checked into our hotel and once settled took a walk through the city and out towards the ice-fjord. A wooden plank pathway leads you directly to a natural viewpoint where you can watch the sunset over the pack ice – what a way to start the trip!
This morning in glorious sunshine and under beautiful blue sky we set sail from Ilulissat harbour and started the journey towards the small settlement of Ilimanaq. Our progress was slowed however by the sign of huge puffs of water appearing from the water to our left which could only mean one thing – whales! As we watched a small group of massive fin whales gliding through the water we heard a loud crack and an iceberg broke and crumbled into the water in front of us. Two of the most iconic sights to see in this country, and we witness them all within a matter of 15 minutes on the water – unbelievable! Even our guide said that this was particularly special so we were all feeling very lucky. On arrival into the beautiful Ilimanaq we were treated to a first-glimpse of the new cabins being built right on the cliff edge with spectacular views across Disko Bay. These cabins are currently being built and hope to be ready for customers by spring 2017 – keep an eye on our website for these when they are available as they will be snapped up quickly! After a delicious homemade lunch with a local family we set sail again (and saw more whales!) this time to Qasigiannguit. A geological-inspired hike awaited us on arrival before an exceptional dinner to end the evening in the restaurant of Hotel Disko Bay.
After breakfast we took a guided tour of the town and met an elderly man who had a workshop making jewellery using local materials such as soapstone, horn and wood. Using tiny saws and intricate filing equipment he expertly whittled the various materials into pretty shapes ready to be threaded for necklaces and bracelets. Afterwards we had lunch with another of the local families. They had lived here in Qasigiannguit for over 45 years and had collected so many artefacts and trinkets and so their home felt a little like a quaint museum of Greenland gone-by. Boarding our boat again we headed south to Aasiaat. On arrival we checked into the Aasiaat Seamen’s Home which would be our base for the night. We then headed down to the harbour and got kitted out for some sea kayaking! Leaning back in your kayak, beneath the sun, as you paddle through icebergs has to be one of life’s great moments. Made all the better when you see puffs from humpback whales in the distance and reminding yourself what an incredible place this really is.
Today was the day we headed for open sea and sailed across to Greenland’s west cost to the pretty town of Qeqertarsuaq. Today was the day for a 12km hike across the coastline. The scenery can only be described as breath-taking – like something from Jurassic Park with the rugged cliff edges and the crystal clear blue sea beyond. If the hike was not already special enough we were able to watch humpback whales swim, dive and jump as we walked. To see them bubble-netting (the way in which humpbacks feed – learn more here at Whale.org) from the shore was incredible – they really did give us quite a show! The hike made us realise just how many whales were present in these waters and when our guide offered to take us out in the evening after dinner for another whale watching opportunity on the water we jumped at the chance! With the engine off and nothing but the sound of the icebergs cracking and the exhalation as the whales surfaced to listen to we enjoyed several hours of watching the whales around us. It is something that dreams are made of.
Our final day in Greenland and we sailed back across the sea to Oqaatsut which is a tiny settlement approximately 30 minutes from Ilulissat. We enjoyed a guided tour of the settlement – there are only 45 inhabitants and there are far more dogs than people! We met some of the local puppies as we went along. After lunch we sailed back to Ilulissat for our final night. Ilulissat was celebrating its 275th anniversary so there were fireworks over the town as we ate dinner in a local restaurant. The evening was brought to a close by enjoying a ‘night cap’ of Greenlandic Coffee.
Recipe for Greenlandic Coffee:
1 measure of Whiskey – this is to represent the strong Greenlandic men
1 measure of Kahlua – this is for the sweet Greenlandic women
Black Coffee – to represent the land and soil of Greenland
1 measure of Grand Marnier, set aflame – to represent the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights
A scoopful of whipped cream – for the icebergs!