Hiking in East Greenland: What to expect
A walking holiday in Greenland will get you well and truly off the beaten track in some of the world’s most spectacular and untouched wilderness. Here’s what to expect on our Hiking in East Greenland holiday, led by award-winning guide and Greenland expert Cathy Harlow.
Getting to East Greenland
The gateway town to East Greenland, Kulusuk is reached by flights from Iceland. For most travellers, that means spending a night in Reykjavík, enjoying the sights of the Icelandic capital, before boarding a two-hour flight to Greenland the following morning. It’s an exciting flight, crossing the Denmark Strait, eagerly awaiting your first glimpse of the world’s largest island, its fjord-riven coastline dotted with icebergs.
After touching down on Kulusuk’s gravel airstrip and checking into the town’s only hotel, it’s time to lace up those hiking boots. Right on your doorstep, there’s breathtaking walking along the coast. Part of the Ammassalik archipelago, Kulusuk is located on a small island, about 40 square kilometres in area. You’re 110km south of the Arctic Circle and right in the path of icebergs drifting along the coast of East Greenland. Led by your guide, Cathy, your first walk here is likely to be a slow stroll, constantly pausing to admire the wonderful shapes and colours in the ice. There will also be time to walk around Kulusuk itself, visiting the beautiful timber church, built in 1908 from the wreckage of a Danish ship trapped in the pack ice. Also not to be missed is a boat trip, weaving through the icebergs to reach the snout of the Apusiaajiik Glacier.
Tasiilaq and the Valley of Flowers
This is a two-centre holiday: a 10-minute helicopter flight from Kulusuk whisks you across the archipelago to Tasiilaq, providing a wonderful view of the many hundreds of rocky islands guarding the maze of fjords and inlets on Greenland’s sparsely inhabited east coast. Like Kulusuk, Tasiilaq is a superb base for hiking. One of the highlights is a day’s walk along a gentle path through the Valley of Flowers. Many delicate Arctic plants can be observed here during summer. Cathy will help you identify Alpine catchfly, moss heath, trailing azalea, glacier buttercup, moss campion, roseroot and Arctic river beauty. This hike also takes you along lakeshores, fording streams and climbing a ridge for wonderful views towards the open sea and the giant icebergs grounded at the narrow entrance to the bay. Back in Tasiilaq, it’s worth stopping at the ethnographic museum to find out more about life in this remote place. Then it’s time to relax at your hotel, enjoying dinner with a view of the bay and the many icebergs mirrored in its glassy surface.
Day hikes in the land of the Inuit
During your days in Tasiilaq, Cathy will draw on her intimate knowledge of the area to plan a series of unforgettable day hikes. To give you a feel of what it’s like, here’s an extract from her diary:
“Today dawned clear but cloudy. From Tasiilaq town we hiked along the coast on an easy trail hovering above chaotic icebergs scattered randomly on the surface of the calm fjord. Following the track upstream past a series of rapids, we waded across the stream where it exited the first of five lakes; the chilly water tingling our toes. A sea mist played hide and seek with the pink pyramidal peaks above, just allowing us a glimpse of Mittivakkat glacier. Arriving at Lake 168, we picnicked among huge gneiss boulders and clumps of saxifrage and hairy lousewort – not a great name but a beautiful pink flower nevertheless!”
Some hikes require a short a boat trip, zipping across the bay in a zodiac to step ashore at remote outposts in the Ammassalik archipelago. A finger-like peninsula, Aammaqqaaq has the remains of an Inuit summer camp – it’s amazing to think that the people of East Greenland only became known to the outside world just over 100 years ago. Another boat trip takes you to Ikkattek, a tiny island at the entrance to the 100km-long Sermilik Fjord where huge icebergs calved from the inland icecap jostle for space among broad slabs of pack ice. A settlement here has been largely abandoned as families moved away to an easier life in the larger towns. In the schoolhouse, you can still see books, posters and papers all in place.
Return to Kulusuk and your onward journey…
After the helicopter transfer back to Kulusuk, there’s time for a final hike – perhaps following the track that snakes up towards the masts of the US-built radar station, admiring the views of the iceberg-filled bay for one final time. But this doesn’t have to be the end of your holiday. Greenland towns are well connected by flights, so you could head south to explore the Viking ruins near Narsarsuaq, or west to Ilulissat, where Disko Bay promises more encounters with Greenland’s mighty icebergs. Alternatively, following your return to Reykjavik, you could spend some time touring the waterfalls, volcanoes and other natural wonders of Iceland.