I was excited to be able to go to two unusual, fascinating and remote places recently - a trip to Greenland and Iceland in their summer. They are both islands in the polar north between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans and between Europe and Canada. The countries were full of surprises.
Flying from Copenhagen in Denmark the first sighting in the air of our destination came after four hours, and was the permanent ice sheet that covers 80 per cent of the flat centre of Greenland. Kangerlussuaq, the airport on the west coast of Greenland where we landed, was the first town I noticed that included the letter ‘q’. It was an old US army base and the place where the part of my trip, a cruise, started.
Sailing down the south west of Greenland
As the ship sailed south down berthing at the main towns and settlements on the ice-free coastal edges of Greenland, there were more ‘q’ letters – Qaqortoq, Narsaq and Qeqertarsuaq were just some. I loved the colourful houses that came closer as the ship berthed right in the middle of most towns. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to use my mobility scooter on the side of the town roads where the locals also walked. I could get off and out and explore.
Greenland boasts being the largest non-continental island in the world. It is smaller than Western Australia but larger than Queensland. Most of the 55,984 population live in the settled areas along the mountainous west coast. They move between towns and settlements by boat but these days also by air using helipads and small airports.
I learned a lot about Greenland from the talks given by Greenlanders – they make up 88 per cent of the population and come from an Inuit background. The remainder of the population is mostly Danish or Norwegian. Greenland is an autonomous country but is within the Kingdom of Denmark.
Greenland has a hunting based society with a unique culture arising out of extreme living conditions. Historically everything was developed from the materials available to them, and today they continue to live simply and fairly. I found the culture that I saw and heard of, to be something special. I would like to read more about it.
After leaving the southern tip of Greenland we were at sea for a day sailing east, towards Europe, and ending in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik. Two thirds of Iceland’s population lives in Reykjavik and surrounding areas in the southwest of the country. The second part of my trip began leaving the port of Reykjavik in a small minivan with a guide. Driving through Reykjavik I immediately felt I was in a European city.
Iceland’s heritage is Celtic with chromosome studies showing the origins of females are from United Kingdom origins and the males from Norway. The Vikings were the first settlers in the ninth century. They came and went, returning with captives and other goods to support and grow the population. It is now a republic, had serious financial issues in the global financial crisis but is thriving again. Some of the main industries are fish processing, aluminium smelting, geothermal power and tourism.
For most of the first part of the trip in July, their summer, we were above the Arctic Circle sailing along the coast of Greenland enjoying the midnight sun, with almost 24 hours of daylight. It was 10 degrees C when we landed but it felt warmer than that in the sun. By the time we went south of the Arctic Circle in Greenland to the capital of Nuuk it reached 20 degrees C. Going north again to visit Iceland it didn’t get a lot cooler and it was even much warmer than Melbourne’s winter at the time, up as high as 18 degrees C.
Away from the area of Reykjavik, the rest of the country is sparsely populated. The rich agricultural areas with grazing Icelandic sheep and horses were visions that I didn't expect. Travelling around, every turn on the road seemed to have another jaw-dropping natural scene with volcanoes aplenty. All kinds of landscapes seemed to be found in Iceland, even though it’s only half the size of Victoria. Many sights had accessible gravel paths and boardwalks for wheelchair users to get to viewing spots. That was another wonderful surprise.