In the summer of 2012 a colleague and I were asked to organize a tour to Greenland for a children’s TV show. They wanted to see global warming in the Arctic in action and visit the top locations where climate change is most visible. We had organized a similar tour in 2010, so no problem. We had six days for the entire trip, in which five episodes of the show had to be filmed, each with a different theme: language, icebergs, life of the Inuit, the inland icesheet, and sea level rise. So we proposed an itinerary to the world capital of Icebergs: Ilulissat, followed by a real Arctic expedition to the inland icesheet at Kangerlussuaq. I will divide this blog in similar parts.
The first challenge is getting the crew to Greenland. Greenland is a large country, but not easy to get to. In general there is one airline that flies to Greenland year-round: Air Greenland. There are seasonal connections by other airlines, most notably through Iceland, but the most reliable connection is the Air Greenland lifeline to Copenhagen. The Danish capital is the only foreign destination of Air Greenland, making Copenhagen the Greenland travelers hub by definition. So travel with us from Amsterdam to Ilulissat:
We start with one of the many daily connections from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, a short 1 hour flight.
The daily flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq leaves very early in the morning. This means that it is best to arrive in Copenhagen the night before. We spend the night at the Airport Hilton, conveniently located opposite the terminals. It also means dragging all expedition gear to the hotel and back.
The flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq is carried out by the only wide-body aircraft in the Air Greenland fleet, the Airbus A330 OY-GRN. The flight takes about 5 hours.
The East Coast of Greenland has high mountains raising from the Arctic Ocean. Minutes after crossing the coastline you are over the inland icesheet. This high altitude ice crossing takes about an hour!
Reaching our flight destination, on the edge of ice and land. Gothab is the English name for the capital of Greenland: Nuuk. Our destination is Kangerlussuaq, on the Arctic Circle, half an hour north of Nuuk.
Kangerlussuaq Airport is an old US Air Force base, also known as Sondre Stromfjord. Early transatlantic flights landed here to be refuelled. Now it is a Coast Guard and military base, as well as the only civil airport in Greenland capable of handling wide body aircraft like our Airbus A330. The town has 500 inhabitants, mostly supporting the airport and the many scientific expeditions that start here.
The airport is small and simple and has no airbridges. Officially this flight counts as a domestic flight within Denmark, so there is no customs clearance. The small terminal building has a small lounge, a small shop, a restaurant, bar and a large hotel.
Like most passengers, we change planes here, but leave some luggage behind for our ice expedition that will start here, later this week.
We have a few hours to spare, so we try our first Greenlandic delicacies at the fine airport restaurant (the airport a la carte restaurant, behind the self-service cafe at the airport is highly recommended!). We booked some typical dishes, so we can dig into ‘Mattak’: Beluga Whale or Narwhal skin. There is also musk ox carpaccio, for the less adventurous.
We change to this small twin turboprop DHC-7. The Canadian-built Dash-7 is the workhorse of the Air Greenland domestic fleet. It has STOL capabilities, enabling it to land and take off from the sometimes very short local runways, under rough conditions.
It looks like a bus, it feels like a bus, the locals treat it as a bus and the pilot looks like a busdriver. But it flies! We hop from Kangerlussuaq to the fishing town of Aasiaat and then another hop to the iceberg capital of Ilulissat, on the West Coast of Greenland, about 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.
The low flying aircraft takes us across the Unesco Iceberg Fjord, which is part of the Disko Bay. It is full of ice!
The airport is tiny, although this is the number one tourist destination of Greenland. The city of 5,000 inhabitants is the second largest of the country, after the capital Nuuk in the South. Because of our ‘VIP’ guests, we are welcomed by a beautiful Inuit lady, who takes us into town, just 5 minutes down the road.
Standing on the edge of the small airport parking lot you see the icebergs towering over the landscape. This is a magical place!
Welcome to Greenland!