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Avanersuaq (Thule District)
Avanersuaq lies in the realms of Ultima Thule, that most inaccessible of all lands at the northernmost region of the world. Its discovery worked overtime on the imaginations of armchair travellers and amateur anthropologists back in the Old World, and firsthand accounts of a land of glittering ice towers, hostile landscapes and a tribe of furred people bestowed upon Ultima Thule the kind of mythical proportions that only Shangri La and heaven could aspire to.Even today Avanersuaq is difficult to reach, difficult to traverse and not cheap. Adding to its enigmatic quality are the regulations governing the movement of foreigners; tourists are not permitted into the district between 15 September and 15 April, and any foreigner visiting the Thule airbase requires a visitors pass issued by the US Air Attaché, the Danish Ministry or the Danish embassy.After you've had a look at the Knud Rasmussen Museum in Qaanaaq, there are very few human-made artefacts to hold your attention. The Thule District is for doing rather than looking; several spring dogsled tours are operational, as are eight-day trips between Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk. These trips include meals, seal and walrus-hunting and accommodation in cabins and igloos. However, the most challenging possibility is a 15-day hunting trip over the sea ice to several Avanersuaq villages.Avanersuaq is over 1500km (930mi) north of Nuuk. The best way to get there is by plane; there are weekly flights from Kangerlussuaq. It is possible to get to the Thule District by ferry, but only if you luck out in a serious way. One boat does an annual run from Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat to Qaanaq, normally in the first week of September when ice conditions are favourable.
If you're a dedicated hiker the trek to the lake of Motzfeldt Sø will stretch your hammies and stamina, but the effort will be well worth it. The long elbow-shaped lake is surrounded by towering 1600m (5248ft) peaks of ice and fed by two glaciers calving into the sea.You can strike out from either Igaliku or Camp Blue Ice with the trek taking you somewhere in the vicinity of six days for the return trip. Along the way you'll pass the dramatic Qoororssuaq Valley, a deep gash in the space between the giant peaks of Illerfissalik and Suusugutaussa, and the Qoorqup Kuua River, which drains Motzfeldt Sø. Camp Blue Ice offers accommodation in a wilderness setting although it's of the simple dome tent kind. Detailed directions for the hike to the lake are available on the Narsaq sheet of the Hiking Map - South Greenland.
North East Greenland National Park
The world's largest park is also the most difficult to get to; not only does it lie at the extreme northern end of Greenland, encompassing the entire northeast quarter, but for many years it was closed to all but scientific research teams. UNESCO has recently dubbed it, somewhat sonorously and chauvinistically, A Man and the Biosphere Reserve, presumably to mark it as an eco-reserve par excellence. Perhaps not without reason: it does have a pristine aura, its vast tundra being a haven for musk oxen, polar bears, caribou wolves and a variety of Arctic plant life.One of the big crowd-pullers is the chance to go to the end of the world - or at least its northernmost point. For years it was accepted that Cape Morris Jesup was the tip of the world, but then a small speck of land even further north was discovered; a small island that earned the name Kaffelklubben Ø, or 'coffee club' island, no doubt for its warm and cosy ambience. Kaffelklubben Øwas then superseded by a mere scrap of gravel 100m (328ft) across - Oodaaq island - which as far as anyone knows is absolutely and positively the last bit of land in the northern hemisphere. Getting to this small parking lot is possible only by chartered helicopter and oodles of money.In recent years access conditions have been relaxed a smidgin and private expeditions can now lodge formal applications to visit the park. Traditional hunters and officials on business are allowed unlimited access, but other hopefuls require permission from the Dansk Polarcenter and must be lodged by December of the year prior to the intended visit.If you're lucky enough to get permission to visit the National Park, five-seater Piper Navajos, or 15-seater passenger jets, can be chartered from Flugfélag Norourlands in Akureyri. Iceland, to Mesters Vig airport.
Even though Uummannaq is 500km (310mi) north of the Arctic Circle, it's known as Greenland's sunniest spot and the drier conditions mean some relief from the hordes of summer mosquitoes. Uummannaq used to be at the centre of the whaling grounds and was the location of choice for Dutch whalers back in the 17th century. Many of the older traditions still survive. Every spring, at the sighting of the first ship for the season, the entire village gathers on the hill to the west of the town and, with uncharacteristic military flair, a three-cannon salvo is fired to welcome the inbound.Uummannaq Museum is on the site of the old hospital. An entire room is devoted to the ill-fated expedition of German scientist Alfred Weigner. There's also background information on Greenlandic archeology and history, the Qilaqitsoq mummies and the whaling era. The Blubber House is not somewhere you go to have a good cry - it's the old building that served as a whale-oil warehouse. The blubber wasn't boiled down there though; the smell would have caused mass relocations. The real Santa Claus' castle is a leisurely two-hour walk from the city centre. Other countries that lay claim to it are, according to Uummannaq residents, johnny-come-latelies. Even more intriguing than Santa's house is the cave farther along the coast known locally as the 'troll's grotto.'Uummannaq Mountain is to Greenland as Uluru is to Australia; a natural geographic formation of startling beauty and ever-changing colours. The mountain is made of basement gneiss rising upward in whorls of black, white and red, changing colour from moment to moment. Although it looks unclimbable a few determined expeditions have made it to the top, although most visitors are content just to look.Helicopters fly in and out of Uummannaq four to five times a week. The big ferry serves the town at least weekly in each direction and it's also the destination for most of Greenland Tourism's summer Disko cruises.
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