Watch our webinar on Greenland below where local Greenland specialist, Bettina Ovgaard talks about Greenlandic traditions, culture, everyday life, and the country’s spectacular glacial landscapes and wildlife.
Dianna, Sales Director – Asia Pacific: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining AE Expeditions online information session on Greenland. My name is Dianna Schinella and I’m the Sales Director for Asia Pacific. And, as you can probably tell by my accent I’m based down under in Australia. So the presentation runs smoothly today, I’m going to turn off my webcam.
Also you’ll notice that there may be a slight five second delay when moving in between slides. But don’t worry because there’s only a slight delay with the slide transition. Today you’ll be learning more about Greenland and what this fascinating destination has to offer.
I’m also joined by our special guest, Bettina Ovgaard based in Greenland. You’ll get to meet her later on. Bettina will share her insights, stories and tips on Greenland. She will also be covering each region of Greenland, the benefits of travelling by sea, and of course what there is to see and do in Greenland.
I’m also joined by Jen from our marketing team here in Australia who will manage our Q and A session later on.
Amongst many things today I’ll also share with you more information about AE Expeditions: our voyages which include Greenland, and our new state of the art expedition vessel, the Greg Mortimer. Please know that at any stage during the presentation you can ask us questions by using the chat function or the chat tool you’ll see on the right-hand side.
We’ll try to address all your questions at the end of the presentation. And if not, we’ll be sure to follow up by email in the next 48 hours. But first I wanted to tell you a little more about the exciting company that AE Expeditions is. AE Expeditions has always been at the forefront of expedition travel, co-founded by Greg Mortimer and his wife Margaret in 1991. We actually have over twenty-seven years of experience with small ship expeditions and in fact we were the first Australian owned polar expedition operator.
And of course our pioneering spirit originates from Greg himself. He’s a renowned mountaineer and avid polar explorer. Amongst many achievements, he was one of the first Australians to summit Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen and was a recipient of a medal of the Order of Australia. Greg and Margaret started the company back in 1991 to share their passion for the polar regions with the rest of the world and to educate our expeditioners on the importance of protecting the environment and the wildlife we encounter along the way. What also sets us apart from the others is that on average onboard the new Greg Mortimer vessel, we’ll only take a maximum 132 passengers to our destinations, so providing a more intimate experience on board. And a small ship also ensures we can reach more remote areas that others can’t. Over the years we’ve also been known to be one of the first to offer adventure activities in the polar regions such as snorkelling, diving and kayaking just to name a few.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Our highly acclaimed expedition specialists are some of the best in the business. A majority have worked with AE Expeditions for over 27 years and are recognised world leaders in their fields from historians to paleontologist naturalists to geologists and scuba masters, the list goes on. Our philosophy at AE Expeditions is to really get amongst it whilst respecting the environment and wildlife we encounter along the way. And when weather permits, we strive for multiple excursions a day.
Last but not least in 2018, we were awarded with best itineraries by Cruise Critic. Our itineraries and developed in consultation with our expedition team, so you get the very best out of the destination and your expedition experience. So hopefully you’ve learnt a little more about who we are at AE Expeditions. Now I would like us to hand you over to our special guest Bettina Ovgaard who joins us all the way from Nuuk in Greenland.
Say hi Bettina!
Dianna: Bettina has a wealth of knowledge: a master’s degree in science and I.T. and is about to embark on her 21st season working in Greenland. She has curated Greenlandic exhibitions, guides tourists from all parts of the world and has visited almost every part of Greenland by sea.
So she definitely is the best person to speak to you about all things Greenland. So over to you Bettina.
Bettina: Thank you very much Di and thank you all for taking time today to listen to a bit about Greenland. I’m just going to switch off my camera. Let’s see. Here we go. Let’s start out with some facts about Greenland. Greenland is the world’s largest island and Greenland in Greenlandic is called ‘Kalaallit Nunaat’. And that means the land of the people. The official language is Greenlandic or Inuit and Danish people are also taught what children are taught in school as well. Greenland is situated between Canada, Iceland and Svalbard. It’s obviously in the northern part of the world in the Arctic. You can fly from Copenhagen and you can fly from Keflavik in Iceland and you both land on the west coast of Greenland in Kangerlussuaq or Nuuk. The island is approximately three times France plus a little bit more. So, it’s a really huge landmass but it’s only containing 56 thousand inhabitants and they are a mix of mostly Inuit but also Danes and people from all around the world. Actually, you wouldn’t guess but the largest minority apart from Danes is the Philippines. Everybody lives at the West Coast or in the South. Very few on the East Coast of Greenland. None in the high North. And none in the middle of Greenland, because 80 percent of Greenland is covered by ice. And this is ice all the time. This is the ice cap and also glaciers in glacier fjords. Also, Greenland is the home of the biggest fjord system in the world. It’s called Scoresbysund fjord and it’s on the East Coast and we’ll get back to that.
Talking about Greenland then, there are times or seasons that are different, gives you different experiences when you visit.
In the winter it’s not really a good thing to come here with a ship and few people visit in the winter anyway. But late spring, you’re talking May, then the sea ice will more or less have dispersed. You can still see it, there will be glacier ice, not that many ships so less crowded when you visit towns and whale watching can be particularly good. Summertime is June-August and it’s the peak season. We have midnight sun above the Polar Circle. Whale watching again and of course it’s the peak season for birds and for flowers that bloom and then you go into Autumn where you have the magnificent colours of the mountains and the tundra’s and you have a chance to see the Northern Lights hopefully. So, there is actually a large variety, and if you want to visit Greenland then it [sic the season] goes all the way from May to September-October. So, choosing is not very easy for seasons because you can do different things.
But what is Greenland famous for? Of course, we see here in the picture huge icebergs but there is other stuff to visit in Greenland. For instance, we’ll see on the next slide [that] what is covering most of Greenland is the Greenland ice cap. Greenland is effectively still in an Ice Age from ten thousand years ago. The ice when it was retreating from Canada, North America and Europe. This lump of ice did not disperse, and it is still there. And there is nothing there but ice. So, if you’re not standing on the middle of the ice cap, I don’t think you missed anything because there is no plants, no life, no animals at all. Of course, it’s beautiful. You see it when you fly into Nuuk from Iceland or Europe. At the thickest place it’s 3 kilometres thick and it actually goes all the way from the north to the south and east west as well. And as I said it means that people are living by the sea. If you’re not watching the ice, you might be watching the mountains or the shore scapes. This is an autumn picture where you see the beautiful tundra. This will be willow, billberry and different kinds of other flowers that will turn into these beautiful colours of brilliant green and red and oranges.
Some of the beautiful flowers you can find in Greenland – northern willow and arctic billberry.
So what you should expect to see is lots of mountains, lots of sea, and of course also some inhabitants.
There are villages and towns that you can visit when you go by the ship. Very beautiful and friendly people. And here this is a picture from a lovely set which is on the middle of the West Coast. And you can see the big icebergs in the distance. It’s right near to town. And we’ll see. I will tell you more about that when we come to talking about the West Coast. But just to keep in mind that even [though] nature here is huge and dominating, people are still living here. And they more or less have lives like you have where you live.
So when you are on the ship you will actually more or less see Greenland as the locals because you will see them from the seaside. Locals have boats that go out a lot and they also have kayaks. Actually ”Kayak” is a Greenlandic word ”kayak” it’s called in Greenlandic and it means kayak. And these people that you see in this slide they are having a fantastic time visiting the ice. Very low on the water. And when you’re out there in the quiet you can actually hear the ice sing. It crackles and pops and all sort of all the little pieces. They will bump against each other. So, you hear this very beautiful sound of all this ice and all the air leaving the ice. Great experience. And very unique to Greenland. These air bubbles that you hear might be thousands of years old and the sound that you hear is when they are released from the ice. It’s not all ice. There’s also land, and, on the land, it can be quite lush. This is very near to where I live in Nuuk in south of Greenland. You can see this is this little plant is actually a rhododendron, a very very small polar one called Lapland bailiff. You have the mountains with snow on this summer. But there is no snow on the ground in the summer. I’ve been asked ”Is it cold in the summer in Greenland” and it depends on what you’re used to. But when the sun shines and there’s not a lot of wind then it’s actually not that cold. And you can see there’s flowers. So, when we get to go it’s not all frost and igloos all of the time. Of course, this is in the south and going more south, the plants get a little bit higher, going north they get a little bit smaller.
This is a settlement in South Greenland. They look the same in the north. What is very particular is these wooden houses in different colours and some places like this one can be really small maybe only 40 people. Whereas the capital Nuuk has 17000 people. So, there is a great variety in the villages and the settlements and the towns in Greenland and I’m sure you’re going to visit some of them on Greg Mortimer. As you can see there might be not a lot of modern facilities in a little place like this, but we’ll get back to that.
Northern Lights I’m sure that many of you would be excited to see the northern lights and I completely understand why. The Inuit tale about Northern Lights is that it’s that people in the sky playing football with a walrus skull. At least that’s one of the stories. There are other stories and a local trick to call out the Northern Lights is to whistle, so you might want to try that when you’re standing outside in the night on the ship. Try and whistle and then lure it out of the skies. Anyway, it’s a very beautiful experience and it’s not to say when it actually occurs. So, you just have to keep your eyes peeled. The same goes with this guy and all his colleagues. All the whales when we’re talking wildlife it’s of course like in the rest of the world that you can never guarantee that you see them. And I want to teach you a Greenlandic word right away. It’s called immaka and it means maybe so we might see whales. If we see whales, it would probably be humpbacks. It could be minke whales but it could also be bowhead whales specially in May around the Disko Island. So hopefully you will see this master of the oceans coming up here to feed in the summertime. But remember immaka!
Seals is in abundance in Greenland. There are five species of seals. They are not endangered. And local hunters will hunt them for their meat. Of course, they will get the pelt as well, but they are actually all is used on the seal. And you don’t have to worry about things made from seal. It’s absolutely legal as well. We see animals on land like foxes.
Some of the wildlife you might find in Greenland – arctic foxes.
Here we have a little pup and that’s also a place where you want to keep your eyes peeled because these guys are so quick up in the mountains. I was out camping once, and they can be pretty friendly and go quite near. You wouldn’t think that of a wild animal. And then we just turned our backs and one little pup was just eating my friends’ plate. It looked pretty cute and he was not happy, but I was laughing until the same pup was just chewing on the guideline on my new tent and I was finished laughing. So, these ones can be a little bit too friendly for my taste but they’re cute and they’re very very quick.
Going onto other land mammals, we have the muskox. Just look at this magnificent prehistoric animal. Or at least it looks like it. It’s it’s actually not an ox it’s a member of the goat and sheep family and it has a particularly warm wool. One of the warmest wools in the world. And you don’t want to knit a sweater of this because it’s simply too hot. You will need just scarves or hats or gloves. We can see them on the west coast but it’s immaka. They are mostly inland animals.
Muskoxes can sometimes be found on the west coast of Greenland.
So going onto the west coast of Greenland we’ll start out with this magnificent view.
This is the Ilulissat ice fjord. It’s called Jakobsound ice fjord because the Danish name for Ilulissat is Jakobsound and it was a[sic became] part of the UNESCO’s heritage list in 2004. And it has been inhabited. This area has been inhabited for the last three, four thousand years. Very good hunting grounds in the vicinity of the big icebergs. And you can experience today the ice fjord in different ways. You can go sailing or Zodiacing around the icebergs. You could also go hiking. What you will experience is this huge huge glaciers have been calving all this ice. The ice fjord is actually 56 kilometres long. And we won’t see the actual face of the glacier, but we will see the icebergs that are sort of blocked by an underwater mine at the mouth of the fjord. So, the big iceberg is just lying there waiting to crack up or to melt away so they can just come over this barrier. And that’s where we see them lying there very beautifully. You can also see people hunting so there will be smaller boats whizzing around. One reason for that is that there are seals, and where there are seals there’s fish, and where there’s fish, there’s krill and where there’s krill, there’s whales. It’s also exciting when you just hear them because they might be on the other side of a huge iceberg. So, you can hear them breathe but actually not see them. So, there are many surprises when you are out watching the icebergs. Another way of watching icebergs is from land and it’s so lucky that Ilulissat is very very close to this ice fjord. So you can walk there, out of town and walk 15 minutes and you will meet a very safe new boardwalk through a little valley and they take you directly down to the shoreline and you can see the huge icebergs and you can also see the site. It’s called Sermermiut which is the place where people have been living for thousands of years [with] different kinds of Eskimo migrations. So, this is another way of seeing the icebergs and doing a little bit of stretching your legs at the same time. There are good hikes in the area as well. If you are keen on going on a 4-hour hike, 5-hour hike there are heights where you still have these great vistas.
Just off Ilulissat there’s a big island called Disko Island and it’s situated in this huge bay Disko Bay and it’s a beautiful island. In the interior it has a fantastic microclimate. It’s very famous if you talk to biologists because it has these hot springs and when I say hot it’s not hot hot it’s maybe two degrees only Celsius but it’s all year round. It makes for some indigenous plants and stuff. But what we’ll see when we go there is these beautiful shorelines lined with the icebergs and there is also the main town on this island is called Qeqertarsuaq. And also, a beautiful place to visit. It was actually in the 19th century the biggest town in Greenland because it was a thriving whaling community.
Today Nuuk is the biggest town in Greenland. It contains seventeen thousand inhabitants. I live there. Whoo! You can’t see my house though. But this is this view is from the old colonial harbour. You can see the old church there on the left. And this is a town that is totally modern. It has public transport. It has a swimming pool. The parliament is here as well. And you have schools, you have university, you have libraries. So, this is sort of the town where people move to. In Greenland like the rest of the world people tend to move from the land to towns and that’s also true for Greenland. It’s very green town because electricity comes from a big hydro plant. A bit south of Nuuk. So, it’s very environmentally friendly. Of course, a lot of US goods are transported by sea from Denmark and all around the world to Greenland which might not be so green. But I don’t think there’s any town that’s that big in the world that can boast that all their electricity comes from hydropower.
The big mountain that you see in the back there is called Pinguaraq and that’s where I live. So, going onto East Greenland we’re going to see something completely different. All in all, in East Greenland you only have three thousand inhabitants and that means that most of what you see here is, well nature, but nature in the very beautiful sense. Still you have the icebergs. You have lots of mountains. You have lush valleys. There are quite a lot of wildlife still. Whales might be a good place to spot muskox and if you are a photographer, I’m pretty sure that you won’t get a wink of sleep here because there are so many good [sic positions]. See the next slide is from this beautiful fjord called Kaiser Franz Josef fjord. And this particular place shows pretty well how the weather can influence what you see. You see the fog here coming down and it makes for some really dramatic views as well. This fjord is known for some fossils that were found in the 30s. This fossil was sort of the intermediate between fish and land animal and it was supposed to be the sort of link between when animals went from the water to land. So, it’s a four-legged fish. It’s called the ichthyostega. Yeah, I’m not very good at pronouncing Latin!
But another fjord in this area that we’re going to visit in the autumn next year is called King Oscar Fjord. And here you see a beautiful colourful lichen and lichens can actually point to different kinds of minerals in the ground. Greenland is full of minerals and gemstones and whatever. And of course, the challenge is to get them out of the ground and get them away from Greenland. When we are speaking about ice and we’re speaking about severe winters and stuff that makes it quite difficult. But there’s loads of lead and zinc and nickel in the ground on the East Coast and iron and some of these minerals will then trigger different lichens to grow there. And I’m not really sure this lichen is rusty because there’s iron in the ground but for specialists they will actually see these growths as a hint. And everybody else that are not specialists can just enjoy the colours and the beautiful views. And we can all enjoy plants of course. So even there is a lot of Greenland has tundra, there’s also a lot of sheltered valleys and especially in the south you have a lot of growth of plants and flowers. The thing about plants in Greenland is that most plants you will see from the south all the way towards the north. They will just change size. So, in the south they will be huge and tall, and, in the north, they will just be much lower to the ground. And this is because of the lack of precipitation in the north, it’s very dry and it’s also colder. So, what we see here is beautiful tundra colours. This is the willow and the billberry, and we have the buttercups, the Arctic hare bells and then the Lapland Bayleaf which is the rhododendron. That little pink flower in the down right corner. I enjoy very very very much to go out and photograph these plants and some of them are even edible. Don’t try that yourself. Just be guided and you will have some great experiences with that. Some of the plants you can make tea off and you can buy them locally as Greenlandic tea. One of the herbs is Labrador tea. Maybe you have tried that somewhere else in the world and that grows wild here. And it’s a very good tea plant.
This town is called Ittoqqortoormiit. It’s not very easy to say it. It means the place with the big houses and a more familiar name is Scoresbysund. This is the most northern town on the East Coast and five hundred people live here. It’s a hunting community and it’s a hunting district and it’s a place where they more and more experience visits of polar bears. And they are not welcome. They are hazardous to people walking around in the streets. So, this place actually has a Polar Bear Patrol and the Polar Bear Patrol will go out on walking or with ATVs, of course they have rifles and they will check out before all the kids go to school. So, everybody will be safe. So it is of course a rare and beautiful animal, the polar bear. But they are not really welcome in inhabited areas.
So on to the south of Greenland. This is Prince Christiansund fjord that we are looking at. Prince Christiansund. It’s an it’s a 70-kilometre-long fjord. And it keeps us from having to round Cape Farewell, which has pretty poor weather quite a lot of the time. Instead we’ll go through this beautiful fjord and have a nice quiet time looking at the mountains and at the mountain mountainsides and at glaciers and there will be some ice probably as well. And it will take us into South Greenland which is sort of a very different kind of landscape. You still have mountains they’re pretty rounded because the ice has been gnawing off all the tops. But it’s more lush and the you will experience you’ll still experience ice. And salacious but you would also experience maybe a bit more wildlife and a bit more bird life in this area. South Greenland is famous for the white-tailed eagle and the south around Narsarsuaq. It’s a very very good place to try and spot them. Actually, Narsarsuaq was the first place I visited when I started working in Greenland. That’s where I got the virus. And I have to warn you because you might get that virus as well. And I’ve been suffering from it now for 20 years and I can’t seem to shed it. And when you look at a slide like this you probably understand why it’s infectious. This place is called the Uunatoq. It is a glacier near Narsarsaq which is actually an old American installation it was an air base but in the 60s it was brought up by the Danish government and it’s been civilian ever since. It’s also a place where you can visit a very very particular and quite exotic place Uunatoq hot springs. Uunatoq means warm water or warm spring in Inuit. And this pool that you see is a natural pool and the locals come and visit as well. And the water that you see there is heated up by the earth in in a crack in the earth. So, it’s not volcanic actually. And the water is seven is thirty 37 degrees Celsius. So, when you’re sitting here on your bum it’s just sand at the bottom. The water will reach your chest and then you just have this beautiful view of buttercups and the mountains and icebergs floating in the little bay there. And so, you can just sit there soak it all up and having a very very special experience sitting there in your bikini. That’s not something that you do on a regular basis in Greenland. I can tell you that.
Bathe in the Uunatoq hot spring and soak in the scenery.
And near to Uunatoq you have another great site which is the Hvalsey Church ruin. This church was built by the Norse. Or you might know them as the Vikings and Norse people came from Iceland in 986. Erik the Red came from Iceland. He was expelled because he had killed a guy and was expelled for three years. He’d heard about this big landmass to the west of Iceland and he went to find it and he did. And he settled there with his family for the next 500 years. But how did he get people to go there? He was actually the guy that invented the word Greenland a pretty shrewd marketing stunt from his side because after three years he went back to Iceland and he had 25 ships coming with him to Greenland, 14-15 made it and then the colonization started in South Greenland and the area around Nuuk. This church is where you can see it more or less only need to be that or it needs a roof. And then it’s good to go. A more modern church you will find with a roof which is fortunate as it snows quite a lot in the south, in the wintertime is in Qaqortoq. Qaqortoq means ‘the White’ in Greenlandic and it is sort of the Pearl of the South. It is the capital. It has three thousand inhabitants and it is beautiful with its own old colonial buildings. It has a marvellous museum that you absolutely have to see, and it is situated right at the mouth of the fjord.
The ruins of Hvalsey Church.
And also in this area in the south you have Narsarsuaq. It’s another Narsarsuaq than the one with the glacier that we saw before. Narsarsuaq in Greenlandic means plane or big flat place and so place names are all over the map sort of the same place names. And this particular place is fantastic for hikes for kayaking among the little icebergs and you can even see the remains from different Inuit tribes that has been living in the area and also from Norse. And you might even see some Inuit graves. Piles of rocks still with bones inside them. So, you don’t touch them you just leave them like they are, but they are in the area. And of course, you can enjoy the vistas with the fantastic mountains there in the background. Even though we are in the south there’s still quite a lot of glaciers. And this one in the Qingorlaq fjord is particularly beautiful. It’s quite blue. Ice comes in very very many shapes as you probably know but also in different colours. So, if they look blue, they’re not really blue. If you melt it the water, it’s just the way it reflects in the sun. So, a very good time to be out Zodiacing or ice cruising with the kayaks. Just remember don’t go too near. It looks like they’re quite near to the glacier face there in that little Zodiac but they’re actually not. The perspective in Greenland is very wide because of the dry air. So, you can see on a good day you might be seeing maybe 50 kilometres which I know in most part of the world this is definitely not an option. And so beautiful places, beautiful fjords. And then when we just saw that little Zodiac that it’s pretty obvious what the advantages of visiting Greenland in with the ship is because you have the freedom to go where you want. You can launch your Zodiacs or your kayaks when you want to. And you are not dependent on the infrastructure in Greenland which is on the other side. Also, very very limited. Just to tell you a fun fact. There’s only 160 kilometres of road in Greenland total and no towns are connected by road. So, you don’t have to have a car in Greenland, but you definitely need to have a boat and most people have. So, in visiting Greenland with a ship we do like the locals we go by the waterways and you don’t have to be worried that you will be stuck in crowds. Greenland has a coastline which is longer than around the equator. You can always find places for wilderness stops and you can always visit towns and settlements when you want to because they’re all by the sea. There’s lots to see when you’re on a ship. Everything from wildlife to ice and Northern Lights is seen very well from a ship and in your own sort of private setting.
If you are seeing Greenland from land what is there to experience? Well we have seen a lot of slides in this presentation with the flora. So, walking around here hiking smelling all the different herbs and maybe nibbling a little bit on a hell bell, watching a fox running by is really spectacular. We can do that in the morning. We can do that in the evening as we please.
You can do that even walking out of a town and visiting towns, go to the supermarket see what’s in the freezer that might be something different from your freezer. See what they sell in the shops. Go to a local cafe, have a watch of what local people are doing and you will probably see that they are doing more or less the same as you are doing. Kids go to school, people go to work. Definitely visit the open air market where locals sell fresh produce and produce here is not probably grown but it’s like fish that you have fished or seal meat that you’ve been hunting or berries that you’ve been picking and also when you walk around in town you will probably see the old Colonial Park which is very colourful and beautiful. Walking out in the in the wilderness you might see tent rings from Inuit tribes, or you might see Norse remains as well. So, you are enjoying sort of both sides when you are on a ship. You enjoy that you can choose where you want to be and when you are there y