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A small note to clarify some things!
The Greenlandic people hunt some
none-threatened whales, seals and
other animals. They do that to get
food to eat, and have long lived a
life in balance with nature.
Some people (mostly from US and
parts of Europe) sees that as some-
thing they should stop doing,
though it is US etc. that has driven
so many animals near extinction in
the first place.


Trip to Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, Greenland
August 2006


When Danes travel, it’s usually to warmer countries in the summertime (Danish summers are not always that warm) and to cooler places in the winter (skiing). In 2006 I chose to seek the cold on my summer holiday and thereby got myself an experience out of the ordinary.

Besides the will to break old travelling habits, it takes money to do it. Going to Greenland is pricy. It doesn’t have to be, but if you don’t know the place or anybody up there, you’ll likely need to buy a travel package containing hotels, flights between cities in Greenland etc.

Greenland is part of the Danish kingdom. For many years, cities in Greenland had both Greenlandic and Danish names. In respect of the Greenlandic people, the Danish names are now fading away. Whenever possible I’ll only use the original Greenlandic names in this text.

My journey began in Copenhagen Airport where not everything went as planned. It was a very busy day at the airport, and to make thing worse, the Security Check in the terminal, I was in, was closed, so everyone had to line up in an other check, placed between two terminals. That took some time!
Then my plane was late. Very late. It was meant to leave the airport in early evening. Instead it was in the middle of the night before that happened.

Finally I arrived in Greenland. The first stop was Kangerlussuaq. Maybe not much of a town, but the airfield is large enough to take larger planes, so most travels to Greenland starts here. Also the place usually has nice weather (the main reason for placing an airfield there in the first place) – not this day, though. It’s rare to see clouds in Kangerlussuaq, but this night it was raining! It didn’t matter that much to me. My plan was to check in at the hotel, placed in the same building as the airport, and then go to Nuuk the next day.

Niviarsiaq - national flower of Greenland

Next day I had some time on my own before I could fly to Nuuk. I spend some of that time on a musk ox safari. The area has a very large population of musk oxen, but it’s also a very large area, so I didn’t see any. I wasn’t a great loss, because I did see a lot of the marvellous Greenlandic nature … and a young polar fox.
I suggested to the guide on the musk ox safari, that we called it a polar fox safari instead – and a successful one, since we actually saw one.

Once again I experienced delay in my travelling plans. This time the problem was fog in Nuuk. The plane before the one I was supposed to fly with, had been forced to turn around and come back to Kangerlussuaq. So when I finally left Kangerlussuaq on a small propeller plane, I did not know if I would be landing in Nuuk or have to return.
Luckily the fog was beginning to lift, when we were near Nuuk, so the pilot dared take the plane down at the airstrip there.

In Nuuk – the capital of Greenland – I had a fantastic dinner at the restaurant in Hotel Hans Egede, where I also spend the night (at the hotel, not the restaurant).
Early next day, I went down to the harbour, where I went on board the ship Sarpik Ittuk, which would take me north, along the western coast.

sarpik ittuk 

Unlike my usually stile of travelling, this was pure luxury! My own cabin, a restaurant onboard with a fine menu and just spending the time on deck or at the salon, watching the country, the sea and – a little later – the icebergs. What a life!
Whenever the ship went ashore, I used the opportunity to see the towns.

Travel by sea 

The first stop was later the same day of my departure from Nuuk. It was the town Maniitsoq. A pretty little town with a new church decorated inside by the famous (at least in Greenland) artist Aka Höegh. The town also has the oldest church made of stone (mostly they build houses with wood). I didn’t have much time for sightseeing before the ship took off again.

Next morning we arrived at Kangerlussuaq – yes, the town I landed in earlier, but this time I visited the town by ship. Because of the low water level, it wasn’t possible to bring the ship ashore. Instead we were picked up at sea on a small boat.
I had enough time in Kangerlussuaq to travel to the icecap. To get there, you’ll have to follow something they call a road. There aren’t many roads in Greenland – and the first part of the road does look like something, you could actually drive on with a normal car. The last part of the road – just before the icecap begins – would eat an ordinary car. To force that part, a car with big wheels and four-wheel drive is necessary. The road was build by the motor company VW, to test their cars in cold climate. At that time, it was possible to drive right from the road out on the icecap. Few years ago, VW stopped using the icecap as a test facility, because it was too expensive to maintain the driving fields on the ice.
In the past few years the global warming has melted so much of the icecap, it’s no longer possible to drive from the road and out on the ice. You now have to park the car and then climb down a slope and walk a bit, before you stand directly on ice!
The ice might look dirty. But it’s just because the wind blows dirt out on the ice – you don’t have to walk far, before the ice looks pure as – well – ice.
On our way back to Kangerlussuaq, we made a short stop at a place where we could grill some whale meat and musk ox (yes, I did see musk ox this time … on my plate). Wonderful! I also saw some live musk oxen, but from long distance.
I managed to get on the last boat that could bring me out to the ship. After that the water level would be so low because of the tide, that even this boat wouldn’t be able to reach the harbour.

When I flew from Denmark to Kangerlussuaq and from Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk, I passed the polar circle (artic circle). Then I passed it again by ship, when I sailed up the fjord to Kangerlussuaq, and then again sailing out from Kangerlussuaq – and once more when the ship was at sea again, sailing north. It was the first time, I’ve ever crossed the polar circle – and I really got to cross it some times. ;)


Very early the next morning, we reached the town Sisimiut. The harbour was mostly a fishing port, but the town is beautiful.
Later that day, we came to Aasiaat – another nice looking town.

When we sailed further north towards Ilulissat, the first icebergs began to emerge. From a talk I had with a Greenlandic woman on the plane from Denmark, I knew that the first icebergs would be small and nothing to waste a lot of pictures on. But since those were my first icebergs, I took a picture anyway (not shown here, since the icebergs I saw later on was much more fantastic).

Late that evening, we came to Ilulissat. As it was my plan to spend the rest of my holiday in this town, after the boat trip, I didn’t go ashore this time, but chose instead to sit at the salon on the ship, with a cup of coffee, watching the busy life at the harbour. It was hard, but somebody had to do it.

(Click see larger image)

After Ilulissat on the way to Uummannaq, I saw lots and lots of icebergs in lots of different shapes and colours. I think it may have been there, I lost my heart to Greenland. Just writing these lines makes my eyes moist.

I also saw whales – on a distance.


Uummannaq is fantastic! The bright coloured houses looks as they were sprinkled evenly over the rocks. Most towns in Greenland give that impression, but with Uummannaq, the whole town has that look. If you ever go there, try to visit the church. It is build with large granite blocks and extremely nicely done, both outside but especially inside.

Ilulissat (click to see larger image)

After Uummannaq, the ship turned south. When we once more reached Ilulissat, my seaside adventure ended, and it was time to seek more experiences on land.

Ilulissat is centre for tourism (even more than Kangerlussuaq). It is one of the largest towns in Greenland (but since all towns in Greenland are small, so it this). Ilulissat has more dogs than citizens. In all towns above the polar circle, you’ll see lots of sled dogs. They look so sweet, lying there looking observant at you. But don’t try to pat them. They are not as domesticated as they might appear. It’s not just to look nice, they have been tied up. It’s to prevent the dogs from going rampaging and maybe mistake small children for a quick snack.

sled dogs 

You will see loose dogs, if you visit towns above the polar circle, but as long as it is the dog that comes to you – and not the other way round – there’s seldom anything to be nervous about. I padded a loose dog that came over to me, and I’m still here to talk about it. A little later the dog wasn’t quite so nice to a boy that came out from a nearby hotel. Luckily the dog just used the boy as a plaything, and acted as nice as a semi-wild dog can do. But unless the dog later on was put on leash by its owner, it probably isn’t here anymore. Only puppies and dogs with small puppies are allowed to be without chains.

In Canada they also have sled dogs, but of a different breed – more domesticated.
In Greenland the only way to get really near the dogs is to be there together with the owner. To the dogs, the owner is the leader, and while he or she is there, they won’t see you as a new dog, that needs to be show where in the pecking order you belong.

While I was in Ilulissat, I stayed at Hotel Hvide Falk. One of the (at the time) three hotels in the town – as I said: Ilulissat is centre for tourism. The hotel serves a Greenlandic buffet Monday and Thursday, where it’s possible to taste some of the specialities from the country.
I got to taste some very delicious, fresh caught fish, and some seal, whale, musk ox, reindeer, polar beer and mattak.
The fish, musk ox and reindeer always taste good. Whale and seal can taste good, depending of the cooking. Polar beer tastes odd – and it wouldn’t be a great loss, if I never ever have to eat that again.
Mattak is a Greenlandic speciality: the skin of a whale. Doesn’t sound nice to eat, but it still tastes a lot better than polar beer!

Iceberg Iceberg

While I was in Ilulissat, I had the chance of a helicopter flight over the ice fjord, containing the most ice producing glacier on the northern hemisphere. It is believed that the iceberg that sank Titanic came from the ice fjord at Ilulissat!

I also had the chance to get a closer look at the great icebergs, as I got the opportunity to see them from a small fishing boat. So beautiful – and so exceptional cold! I can’t remember when I have frozen so much as I did on that trip, but it was all worth it. I also saw another whale, closer this time.

On my last day in Ilulissat, I went on a hike in the area. It’s amazing how short you have to walk, before it seems like you step on unknown territory, where no one has gone before. When leaving town, the roads end at the town border. Most of the time there’s not even a path to follow. Instead it goes over rocks, cracks and streams. Because of that, a 7 km hike with only a very short break, took between four and five hours.


Next day it was time for me to leave. I flew from Ilulissat to Kangerlussuaq, with a touchdown on a very, very small airstrip at Aasiaat, where the small propeller plane had to make use of every bit of the short runway.
After that another plane from Kangerlussuaq to Copenhagen, and then: home.

I’ve exchanged a lot of money for an eventful holiday – something I don’t regret!




Mobile phone
It's possible to use mobile phone in Greenland, but only within town borders, and only if your phone company has a roaming agreement with Tele Greenland.

Most places has a rule that dogs older than six month has to be in chain, and with good reason. Never go near a sled dog in Greenland. Besides the trouble you could get, you wouldn't be very popular by the owner either. If you get bidden by a dog - even a chained one - the dog will be put down!

"Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna".
If you buy souvenirs in Greenland, you sometimes need a CITES certificate, as a proof that the souvenir wasn't made of endangered species.
You get the certificate the same place, you buy souvenirs.

Almost all people in Greenland speaks Danish. Some also speaks English. In Ilulissat you'll be able to get assistance in other languages, like German and French in the tourist agencies.

Greenland is part of Denmark, therefore the currency is Danish Kroner.

Text & photos:
Erik Asmussen



Written by

Erik Asmussen



© 2006 © Erik Asmussen. All rights reserved.