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Greenland: Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk, Sisimiut
Ilulissat, Greenland: Off Ice Fjords and glaciers
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Another restful night on the ship, I woke up at sunrise. The golden rays breaking away from the clouds was indeed awe-inspiring. As we approached Ilulissat, the first sight of massive icebergs got us all excited. We were amidst Disko Bay. At 3:30 in the afternoon, we docked at the Ilulissat pier.
Ilulissat is situated at the mouth of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, which was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The town is located next to the sea filled with icebergs from the most active glacier in the world, Sermeq Kujalleq.
Excavations of the valley show that people have inhabited the area for thousands of years, and it was once the largest town in Greenland. Today, it's the third after Nuuk and Sisimiut. The town is also known for having almost the same number of sled dogs as people, currently the town is home to 4,600 people and nearly 3,500 sled dogs.
Ilulissat would be our home for the next 4 days & nights. We were booked at Hotel Arctic which sits right on a cliff's edge offering panoramic views of the bay. Undoubtedly, when in Ilulissat, one must experience the hospitality of the hotel. The service of their staff was truly commendable. The hotel's team lived well to the expectations of 20 vegetarians!
The hotel offers complimentary shuttle services from the ferry terminal as well as to downtown. As expected, their vans were waiting for us at the pier. In just about 10-minutes we were at the hotel gate. At 5, we were ready to meet with our local guide who briefed us about the activities of the next few days. We took it easy that evening; enjoying the property and the views it offered.
For our day tours we were in the hands of World of Greenland a local tour company. Their office was in the centre of town and would be our meeting point at all times. The shuttle from the hotel leaves at 40 past every hour to town and returns by the hour every hour.
The next morning we were scheduled to meet the tour guide for a city walk at 10 AM. We took the 9:40 shuttle from the hotel and were ready to explore the little town. At 12 noon we were back at their office. For the next 2 hours we were on our own to have lunch and some souvenir shopping, time permitting. At 2 we would hike to Sermermuit Icefjord.
Sermermiut was an Inuit settlement in the Disko Bay. The location is now part of the Ilulissat Icefjord World Heritage Site.
The pre-colonial history of Sermermiut was pieced together by a series of archaeological excavations during the twentieth century. The area became an area of archaeological interest at the start of the century, although the results were not well documented. A 1953 dig identified that Sermermiut had been used by Saqqaq, Early Dorset and Thule cultures. Another dig in 1983 dated the start of the Early Dorset settlement at around 600–200 BC. Sermermiut was abandoned in 1850 when the last resident moved to nearby Jakobshavn, now Ilulissat.
A comfortable 30-minute walk on the board got us on the edge of the cliff offering fantastic views of the Icefjord below. We sure would be exploring the icebergs from close quarters the next morning.
Sermeq Kujalleq is the name of the glacier at the base of the Icefjord, and it is an impressive one. It is the fastest glacier in the northern hemisphere, moving around 40 metres per day. Other galloping glaciers have periodically moved faster, for instance the one near Qeqertarsuaq, but they cannot keep the pace for long. Sermeq Kujalleq, however, keeps going and going. If you get your hands on a guidebook that is 10 to 15 years old, you will be able to read that the Icefjord is 45 kilometres long, whereas today it is said to be 55 metres long. The revision is simply caused by the fact that the calving front of the glacier has retracted due to climate changes.
The glacier is huge. It is 6 kilometres wide and 55 kilometres long. That corresponds to 66,000 football fields, and the glacier is known for dropping the same amount of ice in the water on a daily basis, as the annual consumption of water of Manhattan. Actually, Sermeq Kujalleq produces 10% of all icebergs in Greenland.
We were back at the hotel at 5 PM. With some much needed rest and a light supper, we were ready at 8 PM to hear about Inuit Legends in a turf hut. The guide mixed a few drinks for our group and told stories, some of them were indeed scary.
First half of the next day was free to explore the town on our own. For lunch, most from the group visited Inuit Cafe that offered delicious burgers, pizzas and fries. At 2 in the afternoon we would be sailing among the icebergs.
A boat trip to the estuary of the Icefjord is quite an experience. Enormous icebergs have run aground by the mouth of the fjord where the water is shallower than further inwards. The shallowness is a result of a large sand bank being pushed towards the estuary by the huge icebergs, causing the ice to run aground. The icebergs will not move until they have melted enough to break free of the sand bank, or if a large portion of ice calved from the glacier at the base of the fjord pushes more ice forward, or if they are lifted over the sand bank by large waves caused by the calving of major icebergs.
Sailing near the icebergs is simply incredible. The officers bring their boats as close as safety allows – naturally keeping proper distance to the enormous giants. The icebergs can be tall as a skyscraper and have a vast areal extent. Different shapes and sizes gives viewer the freedom to stretch their imaginations. I could imagine a bird, a bull, a bear and what have you. The pictures in here will do more justice. This two and a half hour trip is absolutely a must-do.
That evening, the hotel was kind enough to allow their bus driver to take us to some secluded spot to view the Northern Lights. It was a clear sky and we took our chances. We parked our van near a cemetery, a few kilometres away from town and waited. Boy, the luck was indeed on our side. For the next 2 hours our eyes were glued to the sky. Later, the driver agreed that the lights were indeed the best that he could see in the recent past.
At 9 the next morning we had organised a half-day trip to the Ilimanaq settlement. We took the 8:40 shuttle to meet with our guide.
Ilimanaq is located on the eastern shore of Disko Bay, just south of the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord. It was a 90-minute boat ride from Ilulissat. During winters, when the water freezes, transportation between settlements is possible only by air or by sleds. We cruised along the icebergs, almost the same route of yesterday, but the view changed radically.
Ilimanaq has a population of just 86 inhabitants; yet the facilities are all there... a pier, a convenience store, a school, a museum and a chapel. The colourful houses were a sight to watch. We walked in the settlement for an hour and then headed back. We were lucky to sight some whales; albeit just a glimpse.
Since the evening was free and there was a circus in town, we played kids. We saw the circus that kept us entertained for 90 minutes. Dinner was again at Inuit Cafe. We took our chances with the Northern Lights from a different location. We did see them, but not as bright as the previous evening. Sipping hot coffee under the dancing lights was an experience nonetheless.
It snowed all night. What was brown the previous evening turned absolutely white. It was still snowing when we left for the airport; fearing that the flights won't take off. Save for a couple of hours of delay, our flight took off to Kangerlussuaq with a connecting flight to Copenhagen waiting for us!
Ilulissat Image Gallery Photo viewer
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