They say an iceberg from Greenland sank the Titanic.
The most sparsely populated place on earth (0.026 humans per square kilometre), Greenland is the world’s largest non-continental island with 2.4 million square kilometres – 85 per cent covered with ice up to 3.2 kilometres thick.
And this ice makes Ilulissat, Greenland’s third largest town with 4,500 residents and about 4,000 husky sledge dogs about halfway up Greenland’s west coast and 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, such a fascinating place.
As the Air Iceland Dash-8 comes in to land after the three-hour flight from Keflavik or Reykjavik in Iceland, you see them: giant icebergs either float or are marooned in the harbour and out into Disko Bay.
The Ilulissat Glacier is the largest glacier in the Northern hemisphere that flows into the sea. It produces an amount of sweet water per day equivalent to the amount of water used by New York City in a year.
• A Tourist Nature midnight cruise to get up close and personal with the icebergs in the ice fjord. I wore my long johns and rented sealskin pants and jacket to ward off the wind-driven chill even though the sun stayed above the horizon all night as it does from May through July. Icebergs that are rounded or smooth have typically rolled over.
• A World of Greenland hike along boardwalk and then often marshy tundra to see the icebergs from the shore – and the warning sign in English, Danish and Greenlandic: “Extreme Danger! Do not walk on the beach. Death or serious injury might occur. Risk of sudden tsunami waves, caused by calving icebergs.” Just off the track, we saw a grave where original inhabitants were buried sitting up, facing the sea – covered with heavy rocks to keep the huskies away. The dogs are usually tied up during the summer and then put to work in the winter for both hunting and transportation as communities are connected only by water and air.
• A World of Greenland helicopter trip up to the 7.5-kilometre-wide Ilulissat glacier. The Bell helicopter or 24-passenger Sikorsky lands on the mountain near the start of the ice fjord. This excursion really gives you a sense of how vast the 40-kilometre-long ice fjord is.
• A Tourist Nature boat trip to Ilimanaq, a village of 80 inhabitants south of the ice fjord, where we had lunch with Arne Lange and his family: halibut and rice soup followed by whale meat steaks and whale soup with potatoes and rice. A whale is a mammal and the meat reminded me of flavoursome beef pot roast.
Ilulissat, like many Greenland communities, lives by catching and processing halibut, shrimp, snow crab, cod and seal and, within limits, whale – plus tourism.
It is the administrative centre for Qaasuitsup Kommunia, which covers 660,000 square kilometres stretching to Greenland’s far northwest and is the largest municipality in the world.
Former Sunshine Coaster Mike Grenby teaches journalism at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast.