This is big 'berg country - no such thing as a dinky little ice cube in these here parts. Glaciers can migrate up to 30m (98ft) a day and calve more often than a herd of spring cows, with some of the little beauties weighing in at seven million tonnes. The Disko Bay archipelago is an iceberg-studded expanse 300km (185mi) north of the Arctic Circle and during the summer its five major towns - Kangaatsiaq, Ilulissat, Qeqertarsuaq, Qasigiannguit, and Aasiaat - experience true arctic days and stunning midnight suns.If glacier-viewing gets tough on the eyes, the islands have excellent hiking prospects, and each place has its own speciality. Aasiaat is renowned for its leather craft shop where hides are tanned, dried, and sewn the traditional way, and for its picturesque Inuit old town complete with grumpy snapping sled dogs. Qasigiannguit has a museum with one of the most extensive collections of relics from the Saqqaq period. Kanngaatsiag, or 'The Fairly Small Foothill' is a tiny multicoloured fishing and sealing settlement with drying sealskins festooned around the place, and Qeqertarsuaq has whaling paraphernalia and the Arctic Research Station.Islands in Disko Bay are regularly serviced by planes and ferries and in some cases helicopters. The islands are over 600km (372mi) away from Nuuk as the crow flies.
Ilulissat translates as 'the icebergs,' an entirely fitting name for a town that gazes out on a mirrored sea crammed with icebergs and floes, drifting beneath unrelenting grey skies. Ilulissat still has a frontier feel; its scruffy, feisty spirit is at odds with its status as one of Greenland's most popular tourist destinations but completely at one with its long and chequered history. Archeological digs dating back 3500 years put Ilulissat as one of the major settlement areas for the ancient Saqqaq and Dorset tribes and locals still rely heavily on traditional fishing and hunting to supplement the tourist trade.The man who is famous for, among other things, uttering the words, 'Give me winter, give me dogs, and you can have the rest,' has a museum - the Knud Rasmussen Museum - named in his honour. Inside are exhibitions dealing with his Arctic expeditions, as well as Danish and Inuit artefacts and history. The Cold Museum (one would have thought a redundant idea in Greenland) is interesting for the fact that it doesn't require heat to preserve its contents - it's now a repository for tools and machinery from the old trading settlement.One of the major attractions is the Ilulissat Icefjord. The face of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier measures 5km (3m) wide and umpteen metres thick; it's the world's most prolific glacier outside Antarctica and a source of one tenth of the glaciers swanning around Greenlandic waters. It's surrounded by so much ice that the only thing there's not much of is liquid water. The fjord is reached from the old heliport 1.5km (0.5mi) from the town's centre.Hiking tracks are marked with blazed cairns, although the easiest and most pleasant hike is the one that takes you to the ruins at Sermermiut and Holms Bakke, where the entire town of Ilulissat gathers to welcome the sun back on 13 January. Other hikes include the five-hour circuit to Vandsø en and back, and the more challenging trip to Akinnaq and back.Ilullissat can be reached by plane from Nuuk, Sisimiut, Kangerlussuaq, Uummannaq, Upernavik and other destinations in Disko Bay. Ferries sail into town from Nuuk, over 700km (434mi) away, at least two or three times a week during summer. Smaller ferries zip to and from the larger islands in the Disko Bay area.
In many ways Kulusuk is an unlikely focal point for travellers; it's a small island, a mere dot, off the east coast of Greenland. In other ways it's the perfect place for a rendezvous with Greenland. Its international airport makes it easily accessible by air and frequent flights from Reykjavík make it ideal for day trips. Kulusuk is the perfect introduction to Greenland; the tiny village clings to the rocky island above a glittering sea of icebergs with dramatic mountain peaks as a backdrop. Many of the residents still survive by hunting. Curiously enough, Kulusuk remains relatively immune to Western influence despite the regular influx of tourists, partly because the villagers follow a more traditional way of life and partly because visitors tend to only stay short-term.Don't miss the beautiful, haunting cemetery, which is festooned with plastic flowers and set against a stark and icy Arctic landscape. Icelandair organises informal qajaq demonstrations and dance performances, but all bets are off if the performers prefer to go hunting. The island is relatively small so hiking from the airport to the village won't take more than 40 minutes. The walk takes youu across the Arctic tundra carpeted in Arctic flowers and glacier buttercups, or you can hike straight up the hill to an eerie moutnian lake before descending to the town. In summer there are daily flights from Reykjayvik, although these operate on a day trip basis only. Passengers cannot officially travel to Wets Greenland after disembarking and are only permitted to visit the region for between three and five days. Ferries connect the neighbouring island of Tasiilaq and, ice conditions permitting, leave at least once a week.
Nuuk was founded by the unfailingly optimistic Hans Egede - the Danish missionary with soul-conversions on his agenda - who promptly named the settlement Good Hope (Godthåb). The naming turned out to be more of a Hail Mary than a prophesy: first the native Inuit moved out of a neighbourhood that, to their way of thinking, had become too congested, and later smallpox and tuberculosis epidemics ripped through the small settlement. Even today Nuuk is small by modern standards, with a total population of only 14,000. Despite a wealth of land and a paucity of people, Nuuk has insisted on housing the population in immense apartment blocks with imaginative names like Blok P - a kind of Gulag on ice - and the urban sprawl is now spreading out along the road to the airport.Kolonihavnen is a pleasant exception to the rest of Nuuk's Lego-city look: it's a picturesque 18th-century fishing village in the heart of Nuuk and gives some idea of what the town looked like before the industrial harbour was built.Nuuk's real attraction lies in its proximity to any number of excellent day hikes into the hinterland and the fabulous views from the tops of the nearby mountains. Organised tours, boat trips and the rental of equipment is also easier from the capital.
Qaqortoq, sitting at the tip of the peninsula in the south of Greenland, is a clean pleasant harbour town built on the site of Hans Egede's search for the lost colonists. Although only boasting 3500 people, it's considered to be the hub of the south and is worth visiting in summer when the place explodes with wildflowers.The town's pride of possession is the town square fountain - the only one in Greenland - with the names of the town burghers, past and present, in brass letters on the base (although many names have fallen victim to souvenir hunters). Qaqortoq museum is worth a gander - it's one of Greenland's finest - and exhibits artifacts from past and present cultures. Aka Høegh's Stone and Man project is sculpture on a massive scale; it uses natural rock formations as base material for myriad abstract shapes and figures.Mostly, though, Qaqortoq is used as a base for hiking treks: either one day hikes up 'Peter's Cairn', or around the edge of the Tasersuaq lake, or as a departure point for the three- to four-day treks to the neighbouring town of Igaliku.The Hvalsey ruins, sitting on a coastal strip just out of Qaqortoq, are the most extensive and best preserved Norse ruins in Greenland. Hvalsey is mentioned in the Icelandic annals, Flateyjarbók. It lays claim to being the site of witch-burnings in the early 15th century, as well as being the church of choice for the last of the marriages between an Icelander and a Greenland colonist.There is a choice of ferry services on most days of the week, and several daily flights to other settlements along the west coast. It's also possible to trek from some of the neighbouring towns. Qaqortoq is 450km (279mi) down the coast from Nuuk, although the distance by foot would be much greater given the heavily fringed coastline.
Visit Upernavik (population 1100), the northernmost ferry stop, and you'll never complain about the cold again. You haven't even begun to know cold until you've been to this town 800km (496mi) north of the Arctic Circle. The name translates in a rather droll manner as 'the spring place': the average summer temperature hovers around a rather chilly 5°C (45°F). Makes you wonder what a winter place might look like. Although some locals are involved in the fishing industry, seal and polar bear hunting are still the mainstay for many people here.Bundle yourself up and get out to see the Old Town Museum, which is Greenland's oldest. The last visitor's book, lasting over 60 years, has been inscribed by many of the famous and infamous Arctic explorers. Exhibits include a qajaq ensemble complete with harpoon, throwing stick, bird skewer, knife and leather thong line. Plans are underway to incorporate the entire historical district into the museum.The three-hour hike from Upernavik's highest peak, Inuusuussuaq, to the northern tip, Naajarsuit, will take you through a magical landscape. The rocks are streaked with brilliantly coloured mineral deposits, including veins of natural graphite and streaks of red, yellow, violet, orange and green. Just to add to the hyperreal effect, the acoustics in the valleys give a whisper enough oomph to travel miles; the whole experience is like being in a brilliantly baubled echo chamber.There are three helicopters per week that fly between Ilulissat and Uummannaq. Ferries from Ilulissat and Uummannaq stay in port for just an hour, but on several runs in August, the schedule allows you to disembark in Upernavik and catch another ferry south 24 hours later
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