The iceberg looming above me is the size of an apartment block, yet despite its enormity the frozen seascape is eerily silent. I am sitting in my kayak with eight other paddlers in one of Greenland’s enormous Arctic fjords. All that breaks the calm is the snap, crackle and pop of the ice. Then, as if on cue, a curious seal pokes his head above the water to check us out.
“Don’t get too close to that big iceberg,” warns Scott, our kayak instructor. “The large ones have a tendency to tip over without any warning – and the bit above the water is only 10 per cent of its total size.”
Keen to avoid the Titanic experience, we back off. Moments later, there is an enormous groan as a giant iceberg starts to keel over. We paddle farther away as the monstrous hulk sends up showers of ice and a large wave surges behind us as the unstable berg tries to right itself again.
“That,” says Scott, “is why you never get too close to an iceberg.” He picks up one of the millions of tiny floating ‘bergy bits’ surrounding us and places it onto his kayak. “We’ll have that with our gin and tonics later. Not often you get to enjoy a 5,000-year-old chunk of ice in your drink.”
It’s all quite a change from the standard summer holiday. On an Arctic cruise to Greenland, I am spending what should be the warmest month exploring Inuit settlements and glimpsing glaciers around this country’s rugged and dramatic coastline.
Greenland is the largest island in the world. It’s sparsely populated, with barely any mobile phone coverage. But add in stunning mountain ranges, glaciers, ice-choked fjords, polar bears, hot springs, volcanoes and spectacular views of the aurora borealis and you have the perfect recipe for enjoying one of the most pristine and spectacular places on the planet. It’s no surprise that Greenland appeared in Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel” list for 2016.
Second only to Antarctica for ice cover, it’s home to the northern hemisphere’s fastest moving glacier. The Ilulissat Icefjord is known as the iceberg capital of the world, with as much as 20bn tonnes of ice flowing through the fjord each year.
Like icy soufflés, icebergs can collapse without warning and ruin your afternoon
While we’ve opted to enjoy this UNESCO world heritage site by sea kayak, our colleagues on this polar cruise are ferried ashore in a flotilla of Zodiac dinghies for walking tours of varying lengths and skill levels. The terrain is isolated, hilly and magnificent. It can also be dangerous. At all times, passengers are escorted by a team of rifle-bearing expert guides who keep a close watch out for starving polar bears.
The 370,000sqm Greenland National Park is the largest park in the world and, as an international biosphere preserve, is also home to 40 per cent of the world’s musk ox, polar bears, walrus, arctic foxes, beluga whales and many species of seals and birds.
A team of scientists and wildlife experts give fascinating lectures throughout the cruise to help explain the sites we enjoyed on our twice-daily excursions ashore.
Greenland has a fascinating history stretching back beyond the first Viking explorers. At least six different Inuit cultures have called Greenland home, and the community of Brattalhio is where Erik the Red and his descendants lived until the late 15th century, when they disappeared.