Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cruising Greenland: an unusual treat

I've just returned from four days in Greenland, the world's largest island and a remarkable repository of natural wonders: huge glaciers and icebergs, deep blue waters, whales and musk ox (but no trees whatsoever) -- it's like no other place on earth.

It's also one of the least populated places on earth -- just 56,000 people inhabit a territory nearly 14 times the size of England. Those who do live there are a fascinating mix of Inuits (who migrated from the Canadian Arctic) and Europeans who've come over mostly from Denmark and Norway (dating back to Viking days).

But as remote as Greenland is, you can find plenty of creature comforts there, including four-star hotels, wonderful seafood dinners, and some fine shops specializing in locally made handicrafts and garments.

Getting there has just become considerably easier for North Americans, who previously had to fly via Iceland or Denmark (while close to regions of far northeastern Canada, Greenland has long been part of Denmark). This summer, Air Greenland has started flying from Baltimore, Maryland, to Greenland twice a week, until late August. The flights take only four to five hours -- just enough time to take you to another world.

Once there, you have several options for taking a cruise along the Greenland coast.

I was there on a short fact-finding trip, but enjoyed a half day cruise in Disko Bay, sailing among some of the world's biggest icebergs -- it's really the only place on earth where you can get so close to these magnificent behemoths, all of which have broken off from a huge inland glacier and sailed down an icefjord before reaching the bay. We even got close-up looks at a humpback whale, a species that feeds in these waters during the summer before migrating to the Caribbean for winter breeding season.

That cruise and others are available from Maya Boat Adventures, based in Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland. You can reach them by e-mail at

Earlier, when I landed at Greenland's international airport at Kangerlussuaq just north of the Arctic Circle, I met a number of people who were preparing to board the ms Fram, the newest ship belonging to the Norwegian Coastal Voyage line, which would soon set out on a one-week cruise along Greenland's west coast.

In all, some 33 cruise ships carrying 22,000 passengers made 116 port calls in Greenland last year -- a 33 percent increase over 2005 -- making it one of the industry's "hot" new destinations. (Actually, the weather can be remarkably mild in summer: 70 degrees isn't uncommon, as I discovered.) And don't forget the extra daylight: in Ilulissat and points north, you'll see the midnight sun -- in fact, it stays light for 24 hours a day in June and July.


Fred said...

You claim that Greenland has musk oz. Are you certain? Did you actually see any there?

Clark Norton said...

Musk "oz," Fred? No, I think you have Greenland confused with the Land of Oz -- or maybe Australia. We're talking musk OX here, and in Greenland they even put their pictures on postcards.

Maria said...

You guys are hilarious.
Yeah, the musk ox are famous here. Celebs on postcards :)They have a different hair-do every day. And when they run, their entire hair-do is shakin'.

Clark Norton said...

Maria, it's good to hear from a real Greenlander! You sound like you have an artistic sensibility. And you definitely know your musk ox -- the Greenlandic version of Angelina Jolie?