Day to Day Expedition to Greenland, by an Expedition Guide
People often talk about their lives in terms of before Greenland and their life after Greenland. Such a profound impact it has, that most people end up returning to the largest island in the world, often several times. Aurora Expeditions does their Greenland voyages a bit differently to others. With an emphasis on adventure and discovery, visiting favourite landing sites is as exciting as exploring hidden finds, and the expedition guides are just as excited as the guests!
As an expedition guide for Aurora Expeditions, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some remarkable places, but whenever someone asks me about my favourite destination, it always goes back to Greenland. On a two-week expedition cruise, you can take in some of the most stunning scenery and have your fill of adventure, immersing yourself in remote wild environments, while enjoying the laid-back feel of the ship which gives the impression, you’re in fact on a trip with a bunch of friends rather than recently acquainted fellow travellers.
After leaving Reykjavik and the initial settling in of welcome cocktails, introductory briefings and finding the quickest route between your cabin and the sauna, there is a little bit of sea time to enjoy before the east coast of Greenland appears on the horizon. Between sitting in on lectures by onboard experts and enjoying dinner in the restaurant, you can stretch your legs on deck and get used to embracing the cold air on your face whilst scanning the horizon for wildlife. It is worth checking with your expedition team when the ship will be crossing areas of the seafloor with sudden depth variation, as the upwelling of nutrients in the water in these parts can be a great feeding ground and will attract a variety of whales. I remember a particularly exciting crossing to Greenland, spotting five different whale species in a concentrated area, all busily feeding in the cold water, rich with krill.
Top tip - Wrap up warm and get out on deck as much as possible! While it can be tempting to stay inside the warm and very comfortable ship enjoying the unlimited coffee and biscuits, the most memorable parts of the trip will happen out in the open. From once in a lifetime wildlife encounters to the special way in which the light plays upon the mountains at sunset, the longer you stay out on deck, the more you are guaranteed to see.
This itinerary captures some of my very favourite places. Approaching Kangerlussuaq Fjord is unforgettable, the towering mountains distorting one’s sense of scale. We awake to find ourselves drifting through a fairy tale new world of sculpted ice. Breathing in the cold early morning air we walk around the deck, peering down to see the ship slowly shifting floating ice from its bow, and looking up at looming icebergs all around. The waters here are fed by the largest glacier on the east side of Greenland’s ice sheet, making for an impressive and ever-changing landscape as the bergs flip and glide around surprisingly quickly by the currents.
There is a possibility of seeing polar bears on Greenland’s east coast, and on this occasion a ripple of excitement runs through everyone on deck as we are lucky enough to spot a bear some 500 meters away, hauling itself out of the water onto an ice flow, with impressive power. The expedition team is all out on deck, answering the many questions the guests have about the polar bears that can be found here, on the edge of the Arctic.
Facilitating a guest’s experience of an extreme environment such as this is one of my favourite things about being an expedition guide. The guest’s wonder at seeing such awe-inspiring landscapes and wildlife sightings, whether it is their first time, or if they have visited polar landscapes many times, is great to see. The smiles say it all when everyone troops back onto the ship after an incredible day of landings.
Day six of the voyage now and further down the coast, the expedition team are preparing for an early morning landing at Skjoldungen Island. Creating the schedule for the day involves meticulous organisation involving checking the weather and ice conditions, the schedule of other ships, how many people have signed up for activities and timings to get the zodiacs on the water, to name just a few tasks. For guests leaving the comfort of the ship for the excitement of a zodiac cruise can be thrilling. Being exposed to the extreme icy environment, zipping across the water to land on the beach, or slowly creeping through the slush of brash ice – hearing the crackles as the air bubbles in the ice explode. We enjoy the variety of sea birds that are wheeling overhead and look around for whales.
Sailing around the coast of Greenland, it can be easy to think that you’ve seen everything there is to see in the way of icebergs. That is until you arrive at Ilulissat on the west coast, known as the birthplace of icebergs. Aurora Expeditions are known for their adventurous side and the activities on offer are a testimony of that. Humpback whales frequently feed here, surprisingly close to the shoreline, taking no notice of our group of kayakers who are quietly watching this feeding frenzy play out before them, surrounded by enormous and vibrant icebergs. Returning to the ship we saw there was a small local fishing boat pulled up next to the gangway, the fisherman engaged in animated conversation with the restaurant manager, that was dinner sorted!
Polar travel is a platform for education and experiences that inspire action. Guests and expedition staff alike come away from their polar voyages with new ideas and often new insight into how they may want to live their lives in a more sustainable way. Aurora Expeditions manages responsible polar travel while still making the most out of every moment on board and on shore.
Isabelle is an Expedition Guide with Aurora Expeditions and grew up spending much time on the water. Very familiar with the Arctic cruise expedition industry, Isabelle has been working for the past four years on expedition vessels in Iceland, Tromsø, Svalbard and Greenland as well as working as an expedition leader in East Greenland.
Aurora Expeditions is operating a season of Arctic expedition voyages in 2022, including Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, Scotland and Ireland. Click here to find out more.
Many thanks to Isabelle for contributing this article to the Panache Cruises Blog.