Blog Archives: Greenland


Grounded in Greenland – Exploring Tasiilaq

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I have always been a firm believer that the best travel experiences start when something goes wrong. So when Air Greenland delayed my flight out of Kulusuk for two days, I relished having the additional time in Tasiilaq so I could explore further this remote region of East Greenland.

Tasiilaq

Getting to Tasiilaq from Kulusuk requires just a 10-minute flight in a bell helicopter (there is only room for a small helipad). The flight in over the coastline strewn with icebergs was spectacular, although the thud, thud, thud of the rotor made me feel like an extra in a scene from the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’. Tasiilaq is small town, but with just over 2000 inhabitants it is the largest in the Sermersooq municipality. Its brightly coloured buildings cling to the steep sides of the hills that drop down into a deep fjord which is only accessible by boat from late June to mid October.

There is a small but interesting museum to visit that charts the history of the region. Outside, three tiny canons are fired ceremonially when the first supply ship of the year arrives. A reason for celebration as Tasiilaq is iced in for up to eight or nine months each year. Next to the museum is a traditional turf hut. There is also a visitor’s centre and church but a visit to the community workshop is a must. This area is renowned for its traditional carvings and tupliaks. The community spirit, typical of Greenland, can be readily seen here where anyone from the town can come to use the tools and work their craft.

Grounded in Greenland – Exploring Tasiilaq

Wilderness

Explore the wilderness either on foot or by kayak or in the winter, by dog sled and skiddo. The surrounding scenery is beautiful.  During the summer explore on foot through the Valley of Flowers passing lakes that reflect the snow-capped peaks of the adjacent mountains. Alternatively, follow the coastline of the fjords keeping a look out for whales in the bay. For those looking for a more challenging walk, there are multi-day options out towards the Sermilik glacier and beyond. There are plenty of boats in the harbour which can take you out to the island of Angmagssalik through the Sermilik Fjord in search of wildlife. Nearby villages such as Tiilerilaaq can be visited where you can lunch with the locals and try some of the traditional delicacies.

Grounded in Greenland – Exploring Tasiilaq

Kayaking

One of my highlights, was that I was able to go kayaking in the fjord; a favourite pastime of mine. Some of the icebergs were grounded by the tide so it was safe to paddle around them. There is nothing quite like seeing icebergs from the water. The blue hues and the strange shapes carved by escaping air and the waves, are even more beautiful up close. It is even possible to dive among the bergs. I tried my hand at sea fishing too and was much more successful than normal. Although none were big enough to take back to eat, it was another good excuse to be out on the water.

Grounded in Greenland – Exploring Tasiilaq

Culture

The Greenland culture is very strong, and I was lucky enough to hear a local choir sing in Aleut, their local language. Despite not understanding the words the music made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I noticed a young drum dancer, and could see the traditions are just as important to the younger generations. The rhythm and the passion with which he played was intoxicating. The Greenlanders are a nation who are proud of their heritage and although often quite shy, if you ask, they are happy to tell you their stories.

Grounded in Greenland – Exploring Tasiilaq

So, was I annoyed with the delay? No, I had a fantastic time in Tasiilaq and when the flight did eventually arrive in Kulusk, the captain came out to apologise and promised to make it up to us. True to his word as soon as we reached cruising altitude he opened the cockpit door from where we saw the Greenland ice sheet as we flew into the setting sun. Before landing in Nuuk he flew down through the fjords, pointing out various mountains and sharing stories from local folklore. And when I asked why the flight was delayed, he explained that the end of the runway at Kulusk had been washed away. I couldn’t argue with that.

Now is the time to see the Northern Lights

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A double peak ‘Solar Max’ is expected in late 2013 and again in 2015 so if you have always dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights, now could be the time to plan your trip and see some of the most spectacular aurora displays.

A Solar Maximum is a period when sunspot activity is at its greatest levels and this tends to happen approximately every 11 years. A sunspot is a dark patch appearing from time to time on the sun’s surface. These cooler areas appear dark by contrast with the surroundings and are prone to eruption which cause solar flares across the surface of the sun. These flares release charged particles into the solar system, which are the catalysts of the northern lights.

During a time of Solar Maximum sunspots are more prevalent which can result in some of the most frequent, dramatic and stunning Northern Light skies. We can help with travel to a number of destinations where the Northern Lights can be seen including Iceland, Spitsbergen & Canada.

We are also excited to announce a new tour by Luxury Train between Moscow and St Petersburg, over the Christmas and New Year period, when you can see the Northern Lights in the Russian Arctic.

For further advice or information contact our specialists on 01285 651010.

Big 5 wow moments in Greenland

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1. That first moment you hear over the ship’s intercom, “right folks, if you’d like to make your way portside, we’ve spotted a polar bear eating his kill on the sea ice”. You squeal at whoever you’re with before rushing as fast as you can through the ship to where everyone is lined up along the edge watching a polar bear just a few metres away. Here you remain for 2 hours which feels like 10 minutes.

2. The moment you’re sat quietly on the side of a zodiac next to a 4 storey high glacier, when the booming crunch of an iceberg calving hits your ears and a bus sized chunk of ice slides off into the sea before your eyes, creating a big slow wave that lifts the zodiac and gently puts it back down again. It’s nature at work like nothing else you’ve ever witnessed.

3. The moment you’re sat in the ship’s bar late at night moored off the north coast of Iceland on the last night of your voyage and a crew member strolls in nonchalantly stating “you can see a bit of aurora up there”. Eyes widen momentarily before you grab hat, coat and gloves and practically run up to the flying bridge where you lie on your back watching the lights dance until they fade away.

4. The moment a fluffy little Arctic fox trots across the tundra and through the middle of your group, passing about 2 feet in front of you gazing inquisitively around in search of food. He loops you a few times before wondering off and another two appear; bright white against the green shrubby tundra.

5. The moment you’ve been hiking up a hill, iPod in, picking and eating blueberries all the way up, and suddenly you reach the top of a ridge and spot a mother and baby musk ox staring at you, backed by the ice capped mountain range and still lake down in a valley. Incredible.

To hear more about our trip or for further advice about planning your own cruise in the Arctic, please contact our specialists on 01285 880 980.

Spitsbergen, Greenland & Iceland adventure

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It’s the first full day of my expeditionary voyage of the  Arctic and what an incredible day! We were told at our briefing after breakfast that there were two walruses on the beach, which was really good news as we’d been told this was probably our only chance of seeing them on the trip. We all got into all our thermal and waterproof gear, made our way to the bow, down the gangplank and into the zodiacs and were off towards the shore.

We landed a way away from them so we could approach them slowly to not scare them away. We trudged through the gravelly sand for a few minutes before seeing two big brown humps getting larger. As we got closer one of the massive humps lifted an enormous tusked head and sleepily gazed at us for a few seconds. An incredible moment; we all froze in our tracks, but he seemed to almost immediately decide we weren’t worth bothering with and put his head back down. As we crept round them we saw there was a third smaller one behind them. The three of them were companionably snuggled together having a snooze.

I sat down on a gravelly ridge about 30 feet away from them and just watched. They were so huge close up, bigger than you’d expect and so incredible to watch, even while sleeping! The bigger one did keep lifting his head and having a glance around, just to check everyone was behaving, but they really didn’t seem at all bothered that we were there, which was wonderful. The two larger ones shifted around a bit, and the largest one put his flipper around the smaller one; everyone instinctively went “awwwwwww” but even then, the noise didn’t faze them one bit. I’d forgotten since my last wildlife based trip all the reasons it’s so incredible to see animals in the wild rather than in a zoo. Seeing them in their natural habitat is so exhilarating.

As we were sat watching, the ship’s naturalist said that there were Minky whales in view from the beach back towards the ship. Everyone scanned the water until we saw a back rise and fall back down into the depths.

Back to the boat for a hot creamy mushroom soup and an afternoon nap in the warmth and then off again for a walk across the boggy tundra. We were quickly rewarded for our efforts by the sight of two gorgeous little Arctic foxes, one white and one grey. They’re so small and cute with big bushy tails and one ran right past about 3 feet in front of us, they’re not shy in the slightest! We also saw a couple of herds of reindeer, much smaller than I had envisaged and again really cute! Everything’s woolly and sweet here! It’s so amazing how close you can get to everything.

Back onboard now and about to enjoy the captain’s welcome drinks before dinner. What a fantastic first day!

Polar Bears and Fin Whales in the Greenland Sea

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10 Aug

I wish I could photograph or somehow capture for you the exhilaration I’m feeling at this moment. I’m lying on my bunk enjoying the sway of choppy seas as we cross the sea between Spitsbergen and Greenland. The reason I’m so excited is that, after an absolutely brilliant day spotting my first polar bear and the sight of a massive glacier calving, I’m told that in a couple of hours we will be reaching a part of the sea where some large swell has stirred up a load of nutrients in the water and where it is just possible that we might see blue whales.

This would be a lifelong dream fulfilled so I’m trying desperately hard not to get my hopes up too high, as nature is of course wonderfully
unpredictable and beats only to its own drum, but am failing. I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. All the other passengers have gone for a couple of hours sleep before the exhibition leader will intercom us to come up to the bridge if there’s anything to see, but I couldn’t sleep if I tried, despite my anti-seasickness pill induced drowsy state! Up to wait in the bridge I think…

11 Aug

It’s 10 o’clock in the evening, just watched a film down in the lecture room because we’re on at “at sea” day and then wandered to the bar for a drink.

Was just stood out on deck on the port side having a chat when I saw a blow in the distance! I kept watching intently and it happened two more times! I was so excited! I ran up to the bridge where everyone had congregated because the naturalist, who’d been keeping watch, had announced on the intercom that they could see a fin whale. As we watched it surfaced several more times to blow about 100 metres from the ship. Absolutely incredible!

The fin whale is the second largest whale on the planet and this one was about 20 metres long, practically black in colour. Fin whales surface three to five times before going under for about three minutes. The ship stopped while we watched as he looped the boat a few times, the staff are incredibly skilled at predicting where they’ll next surface. My first whale!!! A lifelong ambition achieved. Certainly brightened up a long day at sea!

13 Aug

After our three days at sea crossing between Spitsbergen and Greenland I’ve been so content today spending hours out on the bow just watching the ice floes drift by. As far as the eye could see in all directions we’ve been surrounded with ice in varying shades of aquamarine blue. However, when at about 9pm there came an announcement from the bridge that they’d spotted a polar bear on the ice, I’ve never seen a bar empty quicker in my life! We all rushed to the bow and there he was straight ahead of us eating. When he’d finished he rolled around for a while and had a stretch, quite clearly showing off for the cameras, and the only attention he paid to us was to stand up and put his nose in the air a few times to have a sniff despite the fact that our able crew had managed to get us within about 40 feet of him.

He walked over to the edge of his piece of ice and the corner broke off, sending him into the water, we all stifled chuckles as we were trying to be quiet for him. He clambered out again onto another piece and shook himself off like a gigantic white dog. As he migrated around to the port the side of the ship and looked to be close to swimming off, another bigger one appeared right next to us on the starboard side, again within about 40 feet. He also put on a show for us, most enjoyably of all putting his chin and chest on the floor and pushing himself along with his back legs! It was absolutely amazing all silently watching him while he just went about being magnificent for us!

He eventually swam off into the sunset, the boat began to pick up speed and we sat back down in the bar to compare photos, when about 5 minutes later we all rushed out to the stern to see yet another polar bear! It’s so thrilling how quietly and slowly our little ship can approach them so that you’re practically within jumping distance, it was the most incredible encounter.

With just an hour and a half to wait until the midnight sun we stayed up looking at photos and playing cards until heading up to the highest deck to look at the hands down most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous colours in the sky reflecting on the perfectly calm sea between the thousands upon thousands of chunks and slabs of sea ice. Every day on this trip seems to bring a more spectacular view.

Including one bear we saw through binoculars lounging on a patch of snow on a cliff in Spitsbergen, that brings the count up to four.

Wildlife of the Northwest Passage

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While the history of the 300 year search for the Northwest Passage which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is well documented, travellers in search of a polar adventure may be less aware of the huge variety and numbers of wildlife to be enjoyed during a voyage through the Canadian High Arctic.

According to Aaron Lawton, a Northwest Passage Expedition leader, it is possible to be truly inundated and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of marine mammals, polar bears and birdlife that appear during such a voyage.

Lawton says: “One memorable day at Beechey Island last summer saw three polar bears; two white morph adult gyrfalcons taking turns feeding their chick; three beluga whales swimming along the shoreline; a bearded seal poking its head up from time to time; hundreds of harp seals, thousands of fulmars, kittiwakes, thick-billed murres and even a few black guillemots! Plus, about a dozen Arctic hare were easily visible even from the ship’s anchorage.”

This bombardment of wildlife sightings is by no means an isolated experience as passengers on board the impressive ice-strengthened Akademik Ioffe will discover. Using zodiacs (inflatable boats) with the quietest of motors, travelling upwind of a polar bear, it is possible to safely get within metres of these beautiful creatures as they stroll along the shoreline. And, with a real chance of seeing pods of beluga or bowhead whales, a raft of ringed, harp or bearded seals, a herd of walrus and staggering numbers of birds, many with chicks in various stages of fledging – it is certain to be a wildlife experience to remember.

Travelling along one of the most legendary shipping routes in the world also provides a fascinating opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a host of courageous polar explorers, including the ill-fated Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen, the first to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage.

Today’s adventurer will travel in much greater comfort than the remarkable polar explorers who went before them. Facilities on board include a bar and lounge, a library and media room, plus a theatre-style presentation room, gift-shop and wellness centre with massage, sauna and hot tub, as well as a dining room serving sumptuous meals throughout the voyage.

Additional highlights of the 14-night trip, which travels between Kangerlussuaq in Greenland and Coppermine in Canada, include majestic, steep-sided fjords and massive tabular icebergs; the chance to visit remote Inuit communities and meet traditional Greenlandic kayakers; and the opportunity to participate in hiking, kayaking, photographic and birding expeditions in the company of expert guides.

There is a choice of two voyages through the Northwest Passage this summer.