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FROM ICELAND TO THE FJORDS OF GREENLAND WITH ADVENTURE CANADA
 
(2020 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: ADAM SAUNDERS AND VALERIE MARSHALL



REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

In Iceland’s vibrant capital, we bought locally made woolly hats in the market and watched children play chess by the Reykjavik Old Harbour before tucking inside a popular restaurant for dinner where the menu and ambience in Kopar, a seafood haven, did not disappoint. Afterward as the sun still shone, we ambled back to our charming hotel for a good night’s sleep. The following day we met our Adventure Canada hosts for our once-in-a-lifetime 12-day expedition cruise.

Unlike large ocean vessels, the small ship known as the Ocean Endeavour offers guests a chance to visit small communities in remote regions and to enter fragile environments like marine protected areas and national parks without disturbing the stark natural beauty.

Expedition leader Matthew James Swan (a.k.a. “MJ”) stood alongside a tentative crew who warmly greeted us as we boarded the small ocean vessel with 140 passengers. MJ immediately encouraged us to become “travellers, not tourists” since Arctic exploration requires flexibility when negotiating safe travel through iceberg-laden waters.

However, with the newly refurbished Ocean Endeavour, which underwent an overhaul in 2018, we knew the Arctic-bound expedition vessel was fully ready to sail west like the Vikings in a spectacular cruise from Iceland to Greenland. To boot, the 198-passenger cruise ship boasts a 1B ice class that allows her to traverse the icy sea in summer.

EXPLORING THE CAVES OF THE WESTMAN ISLANDS

In Heimaey, the only inhabited island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago off Iceland’s southwest coast, the fog did not deter hikers from viewing the Eldfell volcano while other cruise guests visited the Eldheimar Museum in the small fishing town to see exhibits of the devastating Eldfell volcano that erupted in 1973.

Back on deck after an orientation and outfitting we climbed into zodiacs to explore Heimaey’s craggy cliffs and caves, which are home to hundreds of nesting gulls, guillemots, kittiwakes, eider ducks and puffins. Truly a birdwatcher’s paradise! Awed by the towering cliffs, we learned how generations of local boys enjoy the sport of Spranga or cliff-rappelling there each year. Geologist Lynn Moorman also shared her knowledge of the ancient rock formations.

PAST SURTSEY ISLAND ACROSS THE DENMARK STRAIT

We left behind Iceland and enjoyed our first evening at sea dining in the spacious Polaris Restaurant as we passed a new isle called Surtsey Island. The uninhabited island, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was formed from volcanic eruptions during the sixties.

GREENLAND’S TRAILS OF THE VIKINGS

Along the southeast shore, specialists like marine expert Ursula Tscherter explained Greenland’s fascinating history, untamed geography and how we could experience the rich marine life as we travelled along an ancient Vikings route. Passengers anticipated the many wildlife sightings, especially the curious minke whales, a member of the baleen whale family.

Anxious for fjords exploration, MJ and the guests saw glorious sunlight gleaming off icebergs as we cruised through the magnificent Kangerluluk Fjord, previously unreachable by Adventure Canada. Many passengers sat out on deck to enjoy a lesson in Greenlandic from Tuparnaaq, our Greenlandic guide.

When we weren’t outdoor seafaring adventurers, workshops and seminars kept us busy. For our at-sea days, we enjoyed the ship’s onboard activities while others relaxed in their comfortable cabins.

Among our highly trained team of archaeologists, naturalists, geologists, environmental scientists and historians, each one was a safety expert. During our zodiac adventures, the trip leader regularly connected with MJ, providing us extra reassurance that helped foster maximum enjoyment of this remote destination.

EXPLORING PARTS UNKNOWN

On earlier Arctic cruises Adventure Canada veered away from Prince Christian Sound due to heavy drifting ice floes. But on this voyage, the captain cautiously guided Ocean Endeavour through the majestic fjord as passengers stood on deck awed by the stunning glaciers and waterfalls. We felt like true explorers! For us, the thunderous cracks of calving glaciers created a stark reality of climate change as it affects the Arctic region.

ART AND MUSIC ON BOARD

Ontario artist Rob Saley taught art classes and displayed his paintings of the scenes captured during our cruise each day. Our evenings were filled with concerts from host David Newland and one of Greenland’s premiere singers, Nive Nielsen.

AN ABANDONED MINING TOWN

The Arsuk Fjord has an abandoned mine in Ivigtut that produced cryolite essential to the war effort but in 1987 the old mine finally closed its doors. An elderly Danish World War II veteran who served in the Danish Island Command Greenland booked this cruise anticipating this mine visit. Our Adventure Canada scouts fulfilled this hope by introducing our fellow passenger to the officers at a nearby naval base. There the coat of arms from his old unit was presented to him in a special ceremony. It was an extraordinary day and an emotional moment for a proud veteran!

BRATTAHLID AND THE VIKING SETTLEMENT

Callum Thomson, an archaeologist and historian, shared his knowledge of the Viking invasion from the Nordic countries from Iceland to Greenland. One can only wonder about the harsh conditions those early settlers endured on Greenland’s hostile shores when Norse explorer Erik the Red arrived in 985 AD. His son, Leif Erikson (985 AD) built a home in Brattahlid before sailing to present-day L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland where he lived before his return to Brattahlid or Qassiarsuk in Greenland. We visited a reconstructed Viking longhouse, passing through a field of sheep to visit the imposing bronze statue of Leif.

WARMING UP ON THE SMALL ISLAND OF UUNARTOQ

Despite the nippy temperature hovering around 11 Celsius, some guests enjoyed a refreshing warm-up in the Uunartoq Hot Springs. Uunartoq is a popular tourist site in southern Greenland near the remote town of Qaqortoq, our next stop.

THE BEST-PRESERVED NORSE RUINS IN GREENLAND

We visited the Hvalsey Church, possibly the most important Norse ruins in Greenland near the lovely town of Qaqortoq, settled in 1775. As a centre for education Qaqortoq boasts a bustling population of 3,000 residents with attractions including the Great Greenland Furhouse, a tannery known for unique souvenirs.

Later, a white-tailed eagle soared overhead undoubtedly protecting her chicks from predatory sea birds as we returned to the Ocean Endeavour in zodiacs. Meanwhile, kayakers from our ship carefully approached the nature scene and snapped stunning photos using Nikon cameras available on loan to Adventure Canada passengers for this expedition cruise.

A RARE OPPORTUNITY IN NUUK

Our journey would not be complete without a visit to Greenland’s capital. We toured the Greenland National Museum, home of the world-famous 500-year-old Qilakitsoq mummies. In 1972, two hunters discovered a grave from a 16th century settlement in Uummannaq. The origins date back to the Thule culture in the 1400s. Ocean Endeavour’s historian Jane Sproull Thomson, also a former museum curator, brought this extraordinary history to life!

WE NEVER THOUGHT WE COULD DO IT!

Before this bucket list trip, we had doubts about our fitness level for some of the guided adventure tours. Well, how foolish a thought! We were among passengers of all ages and abilities.

Yet despite a feeling of sadness that washed over me at the sight of calving glaciers, with an award-winning cruise company like Adventure Canada, it is possible to venture to the far reaches of the Arctic without disturbing the natural beauty, and taking home only memories and plenty of pictures.

Travel Planner

Adventure Canada: AdventureCanada.com

First Air: FirstAir.ca

Canadian North: CanadianNorth.com

 
 
 
 
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