Nanortalik, Greenland

Getting around Southern Greenland is easier than in other parts of the country. In the north, there’s an option to dog sled in the long winter months, take a boat if the sea ice permits, or take one of the seldom scheduled flights. The north is isolated, remote. The south feels well-connected in comparison.

Narsarsuaq is the main hub to get into Southern Greenland and from here it’s easy enough to fly to Nuuk, Reykjavik or Copenhagen, take the Diskoline to one of the towns, or a helicopter to Qaqortoq or Nanortalik. We were the only passengers on the early morning flight to Nanortalik.

Narsarsuaq airport is now the fourth airport I’ve walked to for a flight, the others being Reykjavik City, Qaanaaq and Kangerlussuaq. It was just a short stroll along the road from the hotel in what I guess could be described as the centre of town. Smaller airports like this are a pleasure when everything is on time. There is no security queue, no people scrambling to gather the liquids in their bags, no wheelie cases being tested to see if they meet hand luggage requirements. It was check in, wait for a few minutes, and then walk to the helicopter.

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We had different sides for the 45-minute flight which meant entirely different views. While Eva had the jagged, snow peaked mountains, I had rolling hills and greenery which looked like parts of the Scottish Highlands. We flew over a couple of mountains with awesome views on my side, and then down towards Nanortalik, passing closely over some beautiful, glowing icebergs before landing.

Nanortalik turned out to be quite different from what I expected, largely in a good way, and showed a different side of Greenland to the more touristy Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq. It’s a town of around 1,200 people. There are two well-stocked supermarkets, but with limited fresh food, as is expected here. There’s a tourist information office, a café/night club, which was boarded up when we passed by but does open on some evenings. Then there’s the church, the fish market, an open-air museum in the older part of the town. That’s pretty much your lot.

Don’t expect a choice of places to eat, don’t expect catering to fussy eaters, don’t expect coffee shops, tourist tat or plenty of ways to kill time. For visitors, there’s a hotel which can provide breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that’s your place to eat. I love this kind of simplicity. Qaanaaq was the same, although perhaps even more extreme given that the supermarket had been void of food for several weeks. Breakfast in Nanortalik was coffee, cereal, and bread and cheese. Dinner was generally meat or fish with potatoes or rice. Simple but filling.

There seemed to be a bit of surprise when we mentioned to people en-route that we had four nights in Nanortalik. Granted, there isn’t a great deal to do in the town but that’s only an issue for people who need to be entertained. In the middle of nature, in such a peaceful, unique village, it was a joy to spend a few relaxing days rather than doing the stereotypical travel thing of cramming in too much and making each place a flying visit. Slower travel is far better.

On the full days we had, one was spent walking around the island, heading well outside the town, sticking by the coast to a beautiful spot overlooking the mountains and the icebergs. It was lovely weather, just enough wind to keep the mosquitos away, and fantastic scenery. It could not, however, top what was to come the next day…

Seeing photos of Tasermiut Fjord is what put Southern Greenland in my mind a few years earlier. It’s remote and isolated. It has just one, tiny little town along its coast (Tasiusaq, a village of around 40 people). It has the forest of the Qinngua Valley, and it has truly stunning landscape all the way along.

We had an arrangement with a boat owner from the town, a quietly spoken chap named Henrik, to take us along the fjord. In the morning this looked like a bad choice of day: there was low cloud, fog, and the day could easily have been one of what ifs rather then great scenery. But it quickly turned and the trip started off well. At the mouth of the fjord, we passed close by a whale that had been hanging around the area for a few days. At times it was just a few metres from the boat, breaching regularly, occasionally diving and showing off a little.

Sailing further up, the cloud began to break and the blue sky was showing. It was in patches at first, giving some lovely views of high mountains with a bit of wispy cloud cover. We stopped off at a camp a few miles north of Tasiusaq near a sheep farm. The howling huskies of Northern Greenland had been replaced by the timid sheep of the south – it’s quite a surreal site seeing sheep with icebergs in the background.

By this point, after an hour of walking and a snack stop, back on the boat, the weather was close to perfect. Despite the forecast of “mostly cloudy, chance of rain” it was picture perfect blue sky with barely a cloud in sight. We continued up the fjord…

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The scenery at the top of Tasermiut Fjord is truly out of this world. I think I’ll see few places in the rest of my life which easily top this for views. At the top of the fjord, in every direction is a spectacular sight: glaciers, valleys, mountains. Even in isolation, one tiny part of this would be a view people would trek for hours to see, yet in front of us at that moment we had stunning, high-sided mountains, pointed peaks, two glaciers, the Greenlandic ice cap, a lush valley, and mountains leading back down the fjord. It is a phenomenal area.

To top off the trip, in amongst the incredible fjord views in glorious sunshine all of the way back down the fjord, we spotted two musk ox grazing fairly near the shoreline. We startled them slightly and they started plodding off, turning back every so often to stare at us for a bit.

The last day in Nanortalik was expected to be a quiet one. The forecast was again for rain – this time a little did fall – and we only ventured out early afternoon in the dull, grey weather for a wander around town. When we approached the old town, looking at some of the houses, a wee short guy approached Eva. His name was David, and he unlocked a few of the doors to the old houses and ushered us in. For the next two hours, he took us around each of the buildings in the old town of Nanortalik and talked us through, in somewhat broken English (but far better than our Greenlandic or Danish!), the older ways of life, the history of the area, the nature. Each time he shuffled to the next building to tell us there was more to see.

The museum is genuinely fascinating. There’s a rich documented history of the area, and it includes some photographs dating back to the late 19th century, giving a glimpse as to what life was like back then. There are some incredibly well-preserved kayaks, clothing, weapons. There are plenty of documented stories and a wealth of pictures of old life here. It shows how important photos are. Lots of people have a fascination with photos of their local area from the days gone by – showing old cars from the 70s, or horse and carts from well before there. A random photo of a street taken on a digital camera in the modern day wouldn’t have the same impact, yet in a few decades it may still be looked upon fondly as a bit of history. The photos in the museum were simply photos of people young and old going about what seemed a simple life, and they are beautiful pictures.

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As a side note, the museum tells the story of how Greenlandic men in the bygone days could choose a new wife at will. If a husband gave his wife a certain look in the morning, she would know to pack her things and move back with relatives. And if he fancied a new wife, he only needed to be stronger than her current husband to win in a fight and she was his.

Nanortalik is a beautiful little place set in beautiful scenery. It doesn’t seem to attract many visitors above those there for work, and that makes it an honest and unspoiled place to visit.

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