Day 3 |
Aug 30, 2009

Ilulissat, Greenland

By Susan Langley, Historian

Co-ordinates: 69˚ 13' 43" N, 51˚ 06' 43" W

Weather: Partially cloudy and warm

Air Temperature: 39˚F / 3.9˚C

Wind: 7 km/hour

Amazing! Fantastic! Unbelievable! All the superplatives one can imagine don’t do justice to the Jakobshavn Icefjord, known in Greenlandic as Ilulissat Kangerlua.  Although the glacier proper lies about 60 km up the fjord, the ice-choked river and berg-strewn Disko Bay made for ice cruising that required many photographs to illustrate. We visited sheer cliffs and canyons of the whitest ice imaginable in moderately sized local boats and as an added bonus were joined by two humpback whales!

Those of us who opted for the helicopter ride were treated to over an hour of flying to and from the glacier and about another half hour on the ground adjacent to it. What a stunning perspective of the region!

There was even time for a leg-stretching walk to a breathtaking viewpoint above the fjord. This relaxing trek followed a new boardwalk through the recently designated UNESCO World Heritage site.  Along the walkway, which was designed to protect the delicate tundra environment, we passed archaeological ruins of Thule house pits at the abandoned village site of Sermermiut.

Although not as picturesque initially as Sismiut, Ilulissat has hidden treasures.  There is a surprisingly good art museum dedicated largely to the Danish artist Emanuel A. Petersen; that his work is evocative of the Group of Seven style is not surprising since it is almost contemporary. Ilulissat is also the birthplace of the famed Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen and his childhood home is now the town museum en route to the wooden church facing the sea. Construction of the church started in 1777 and was completed in 1779 with funds raised from the sale of 84 whales and 157 barrels of whale oil collected by the residents of the district.

There are several shops, restaurants and tour facilities since, at 300 km north of the Arctic Circle, Ilulissat has become something of a jumping off point for other areas of the Arctic and also offers opportunities to sleep in ice hotels (“igloos”) and for dog sled travel in the winter months.  There are about 1/3 more dogs in the the town than people with about 6000 dogs to about 4500 human inhabitants.  Local laws do not require chaining sled dogs until they are six months of age so adorable puppies are often rolling around one’s ankles and dog sled crossing signs compete with pedestrian crossing ones.

Despite being tired from a long day of fresh air, I hope that we’ll be awakened to come to the decks to view the Aurora Borealis soon and that our good weather and insect-free walks hold true for the rest of our adventures.