Daily Twists & Turns: My 18 Day Expedition Cruise Around Greenland
Daily Twists & Turns: My 18 Day Expedition Cruise Around Greenland
A short while back, I flew in on a charter flight to the airport in Kangerlussuag to join an expedition cruise with Hapag-Lloyd around Greenland. This turned out to be an experience like no other that I’ve had. with ice beating us, incredible sights, twists, and turns, and just an incredible experience.
During the cruise, I kept a daily diary and although I couldn’t upload it at the time, I wanted to still share it with you, so you can see from a day-to-day perspective what this expedition cruise around Greenland was like. Here we go…
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 1: Kangerlussuaq Embarkation
The first big twist came right after the muster drill. As we set sail at 8pm, the Captain announced the itinerary I had booked was being scrapped due to thick ice and bad weather. Instead of crossing to the Canadian Artic first, we would stay in Greenland sailing North and he’d find new places to visit along the way, until we could find a place to cross. But as you will see, even the new plans hit snags too.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 2: Sea Day Sailing North
So how cold is it, and how rough are the seas? I’ll tell you on the first morning, I’m underdressed. Clearly, I need more layers and a hat. It’s definitely getting noticeably colder as we head a bit further north. Yesterday, it was quite warm, about 16 Degrees Celsius. The seas are very, very calm, I guess because we’re sailing in fjords and protected areas, so I’ll keep you posted on that.
After putting on layers, a hat and the cosy blue parka supplied by the line, I headed back outside in time for this. The first signs of what was to come. This amazing iceberg, the first of many today. But as I discovered, icebergs like these were rather small scale versus what I was going to see!
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 3 AM: Uummannaq
Early next morning the ship slowed to cautiously make its way through icebergs scattered around Uummannaq, our first off ship experience. A landing that had some unusual features none of the others we did on the trip had, as I’ll explain.
Now we are here in Uummannaq and behind me are a gazillion icebergs, and we’re in this tiny little village.
It’s home to about 1,800 people, and it’s a really important place for the Inuit community. They used to winter here, but now, there’s more of a settlement with a very beautiful church. There’s an interesting museum with a history of the Greenlanders and people moving here, and there’s a big fishing community.
It’s quite amazing. The scenery is just incredible out here.
This landing had 4 unique things that others to come did not. First, we used the ship’s tender boats as Uummannaq had a place to dock, on all others we used the zodiacs (more on that shortly). Second, all 200 passengers could go on land at the same time, as we were visiting a settlement. In uninhabited places only 100 of us were allowed on land at any one time, and well third and fourth I will explain by showing you, as they happened on the next call of the day. A stop not on my booked itinerary at Storoen.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 3 PM: Storeon
Storeon was a wet landing which meant we got there in zodiac boats. We had to step off them and into the water, so wearing boots (supplied by the line) and waterproof trouser covers (which I brought) were essentials.
There’s an expedition team of 12 and while 6 are experts who give talks on board and are on hand to inform us about the landing sites on things like weather, geology, wildlife, and Inuit culture, the 6 other roles came into play when we landed in here.
One of the things that is very important when you’re out in the Arctic is a polar bear guard There’s a group of guards to watch out for polar bears as we go because it’s kind of dangerous. If polar bears approach them, we all have to head back to the ship quickly because they are very aggressive and are known to attack humans. So yes, those guys are quite important on this trip. We’re out on the second adventure, which is a hike to the iceberg graveyard.
So, this is the iceberg cemetery. It’s a bay where icebergs get caught, and it’s rather spectacular.
We haven’t yet had as many little mosquitoes and bugs as we were warned. But I have noticed that quite a few of the experienced people in the expedition team who are out at various points here have got their little nets on. I did buy some nets, and we’ll see a bit later on in the trip whether I need to use those. I’m going to go and explore a little bit more of this amazing scenery.
I’m back on the ship, having done the walk, and I realised that there was a reason that the regulars had their protection stuff on for bugs. I wish they’d warned us because I’m now bitten like crazy on my head and my neck. Bugs are clearly a thing, so that’s taught me.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 4: Sea Day
I’m all bundled up because I’ve just been outside. The temperature’s fallen dramatically. So it’s three degrees after it was 13 or so yesterday. This is a sea day. We are heading 400 nautical miles further north, which is why the temperature’s fallen so much.
We’ve got three lectures today, one around the weather, the second was around the whole ecology of the Arctic circle, and the third is going to be about the Inuit people. Then we have the briefing for the next few days.
So a little bit chilly. I’m going to go and head outside again. It’s also a little bit misty and foggy.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 5 AM: Cape York
Around 7am on day 5 I woke to find us were gingerly sailing through fog trying to get to Cape York, some 400 miles north from our last call.
I can hear little crunches every now and again, which is ice crunching against the hull of the ship. We’re currently sailing towards Cape York, and we’re sailing through sea ice, which is broken up. Now, last night, on the briefing, the captain spoke about the ice because there’s a lot of it around. Whether we can get that far north is still to be decided, and we’ll find out today.
I was over optimistic. It was too foggy to sail safely there. We’ve turned around and are headed to our next stop.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 5 PM: Parker Snow Bay
That stop was Parker Snow Bay, which was not on the original itinerary I booked. I was concerned about how good or interesting it would be, but also hoping this fog would lift as we are not allowed on land if it has not – as it is impossible to spot polar bears and the risk is too high.
Thankfully the fog lifted and we had clear, blue skies!
80% of Greenland is covered by a massive ice field, and at some points it’s three and a half kilometres thick. If it melted, that whole ocean would rise by seven metres right around the world. Scary!
So, from this big ice shield you have glaciers, which are then pushed down through the valleys and the fields and they create the fjords. Because of gravity, they just keep moving. They’re like rivers of ice.
Hiking up it has been kind of interesting because you’re walking on permafrost, which means that it’s almost like walking on a spongy carpet. So it’s actually quite hard going. But, anyway, I’ve got to go and climb much further up there, and I’m going to get left behind if I don’t keep moving.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 6 AM: Expedition Sea Day
Early the next morning I bundled up warm and headed out onto the bow of the ship to see us arrive at the “ice border”. Last night the Captain told us he was going to keep heading North to get here, to what is more or less the start of solid sea ice right to the North Pole. We’re going to spend a day pushing through it , hoping to spot polar bears as they hunt. But he warned that the ice charts suggested the ice may prove too thick to get too far.
Now, we are pushed really far north. I think we’re about 77 degrees north, and we’ve now hit the ice
The ship is ice class, which means it can push into some of the ice. It’s not an ice breaker, so it can’t break through into deep ice, as such. It’s very atmospheric.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 6 PM: Thule
Well, we’re no longer in the ice because the ice coming from the north was too thick. It was about two metres in places, and although we tried to push through, we couldn’t really get moving.
Instead, we’ve come to a place which is really weird but also interesting. There’s the Dundas Mountain, which some people have climbed. This is an old sort of hunting area. Also, it’s a really important area here for the Inuit people.
However, in the 1950s, a massive airbase was built during the Cold War by the Americans. This base was called the Thule Air Base, and apparently it had up to 20,000 Marines there at one time. It was designed as a sort of a midpoint between the US and Russia. As a way of identifying if there was going to be any ballistic missiles coming, and it’s now more focused on tracking activity in space and again, warning for ballistic missiles and so on.
It also was a reminder of just how badly the local people, the Inuit people, were treated. For example, they were given four days. Now bear mind, they’ve been here for I guess forever. They were given four days to vacate the area. Through this whole trip we’ve been learning about how badly the people were treated.
Now, while this call was another unscheduled and last-minute itinerary change, it did unexpectedly make the next stop even more poignant.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 7 AM : Qaanaaq
Just after 08:30 this morning it was my turn to head across on the zodiacs into the town
This is both interesting and kind of a little bit sad. We’re in Qaanaaq which has a population of about 650 people. This was only established in the early 1950s, when the Inuit people had to move from when they were building the Thule Air Base.
This is now sort of a hunting and fishing village, and it is actually the northernmost city in Greenland. But I will talk a little bit about the northernmost settlement a bit later on. Let’s go and explore Qaanaaq.
In the community hall there was quite an interesting mix of things going on. There was Alex Perry who is a relative of a famous explorer, a young guy. He has blue eyes. He’s the only Inuit with blue eyes. He spoke all about hunting and he’s quite inspiring. Sadly, he has Parkinson’s but refuses to leave his community to go to Denmark to get treatment and the medication he needs. He loves the community so much. Also, there are lots of curios and bits and pieces there, which are made out of little glass beads. They were relatively expensive, lots of work going into them, and then they did some drum dancing.
There was so much to see in this small town, a museum telling the story of hunting, a quaint church that is immaculately kept and interacting with the excitable Greenland Sled Dogs pups all around the town. Soon, it was time to head back to the ship to head to our next stop.
But that took much longer than was scheduled! The sea ice in the bay to get back was still thick and the ship had to force its way through. We did finally get to Siorapaluk.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 7 PM : Siorapaluk
This is the northernmost permanent settlement in Greenland. Just 65 people live here, mostly an extended family who are hunters and fishing experts. There were carcasses, polar bear skins and bones dotted around. It has a small and slightly quirky church. Totally isolated during the winter, when it’s only reachable by helicopter.
Quite a few people have asked me about the key difference between the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica, and I think this is a really good example of one key difference, which is settlements.
What you don’t have in Antarctica is settlements of people. You’ll find some old abandoned whaling stations and some research centres. You don’t have indigenous people that have lived or are living their actively. That’s one key difference.
Another important difference of course is polar bears. These you get in the Arctic. Penguins you get down in Antarctica.
After a walk on the gorgeous beach, with mountains and glacier in the distance, I headed back to the ship. Once everyone was back on board, the Captain told us the ice had melted enough for us to cross Baffin Bay, to explore the Canadian Artic and we would cross there now.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Days 8 – 15 Canadian Arctic
So many of the Greenland cruises, just like this one, come across the Canadian Arctic and visit really remote places, as you do in Greenland. Although I’m going to focus on Greenland, it’s worth just mentioning the Canadian Arctic is pretty special as well. And this is actually where we’ve seen, so far anyway, the most polar bears. I think we’ve seen about seven of them. Of course, they’re quite far away. They can be as much as a kilometre away, so you need a really good strong lens. This morning we saw, sailing in here, a mother and a baby – that was kind of special. You see another side of the Inuit community and understand some of the differences.
The scenery is even more rugged. If you’ve got the time, looking at the Canadian Arctic extension is a must.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 16 AM: Ilulissat
After a very rocky crossing back to Greenland across Baffin Bay we visited Ilulissat, one of the best-known and visited towns in Greenland. I had no idea there was a UNESCO World Heritage Site here, and just how remarkable a sight it was. After a short zodiac ride into the town, past the first and only other cruise ship I’d seen on the trip so far, we entered the picturesque harbour jam packed with small fishing boats. I jumped on the cruise line’s bus transfers to the Isfjord Visitor centre and headed off down the signposted path.
Looming out the mist just behind me was the most remarkable site. It looks like it’s a glacier, but in reality it’s floating icebergs. Huge chunks of ice that have broken off the Greenland Ice Field. They get pushed down here, but because it’s really shallow here, they basically get grounded and stuck.
This is one of the most popular places to come and visit because of this incredible ice field, as it’s called, and it really is quite something.
It’s about a one and a half kilometre walk on wooden pathways to get there.
Let’s go and take a look and explore this amazing ice field. It is just mind-boggling. They said to us it’ll be incredible, but it is more than that!
Massive glaciers break off the Greenland Ice Field at the end of Isfjord over 70 kilometres from here. The fjord is around 700 metres deep until it gets here, where it’s around 200 metres deep. The giant icebergs get stuck creating a 70-kilometre iceberg traffic jam.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 16 PM: Disko Bay
After that incredible sight and a quick look around the town, I hurried back to the ship, as we were setting sail for the afternoon activity – a zodiac ride around the icebergs in Disko Bay. After they melt enough and make their way past the blockage. Another stunning sight.
Ilulissat, Disko Bay and our next stop were all on the original itinerary I had booked – as those first two were so amazing, I was really looking forward to the next one. It was memorable but for the wrong reason.
Expedition Cruise Around Greenland Day 17: Sisimiut
This port had one thing that no other place we had called at in Greenland or the Canadian Arctic had. But that wasn’t really a plus.
Today we’re probably in (I apologise to the people who live here) one of the least interesting places we’ve been to, which is Sisimiut. Again, like Ilulissat, it has about 10% of the total population of Greenland, about 5,500 people.
I think one of the key reasons we’re stopping here is it’s on the way back to Kangerlussuaq, which is where we disembark. But also importantly, it’s probably the only place that the ship can actually dock.
Here is where the ship takes on fuel, gets rid of waste, and stores all of the supplies. I suspect the real reason we’re here is because it’s where they can basically restock.
There is actually quite an interesting museum. It’s a series of buildings, all historical buildings. And in there it tells the story of how this evolved from a whaling hunting village into more of a fishing village. It’s also one of the important centres of fishing and fishing processing.
I’ve been asked a lot about the weather. Temperatures, that kind of stuff. The warmest it’s been was 15 degrees Celsius, which is actually when we embarked in Kangerlussuaq, which was a very unusual temperature. And the lowest it got on the trip, the captain told, was minus two degrees Celsius. But most days, it ranged between two or three degrees Celsius up to about eight or nine degrees Celsius, probably about 10 degrees Celsius here in Sisimiut.
Anyway, the ship could only be docked for a certain amount of time here and it’s now anchored in the bay. So I’m going to go and head back to the ship.
Once back on board I had time to reflect about my trip.
Having my booked itinerary scrapped could have made for a terrible trip, but as you have seen, it was far from that. Greenland was fascinating no matter where we went. However, it does show that expedition cruising has many surprises.
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