As expected, there are a few challenges to visiting such a remote and extreme location. However, there are many more reasons for overcoming these challenges and doing it anyway.
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If looking to fly commercially, you can choose one of the two weekly flights with Air Iceland Connect from Reykjavik’s domestic airport, RKV (which services internal Iceland routes and routes to Greenland). The destination airport is Constable Point (Nerlerit Inaat in Greenlandic). We chose to fly with a private plane which we organised through a personal acquaintance.
Depending on the time of year you arrive, there are different methods of transport to take you from the airport to Ittoqqortoormiit (helicopter, snowmobile, dogsled or boat) which is located approximately 40 km to the south-east.
Luckily, we were able to take one of the scheduled helicopter flights with Air Greenland. It was a 10-minute helicopter flight to Ittoqqortoormiit. If there are no scheduled Air Greenland helicopter flights available, you can opt to charter a helicopter or get there by snowmobile or dog sled.
On the way back to the airport at the end of our trip, we endured a two-hour snowmobile journey in the freezing temperatures. This was when I saw the most incredible sunset of my life. The halo around it was truly extraordinary to witness.
The town is covered in snow 9 months of the year, which means this same journey is doable by boat for only 3 months of the year, when the sea ice melts.
We got in touch with Nanu Travel early on when planning the trip. They were instrumental in sharing with us what we could expect, what we should bring and the various activities on offer.
Based on this, we decided it would make sense to bring some dry food with us, such as pasta, canned food, bread, etc. We also brought fresh fruit for the locals kids from Iceland.
However, upon arrival we found that the only grocery store in town (which happened to be run by the husband of our guide) had everything one could need: fruit, vegetables, toys, diapers, Nutella, guns (to scare the polar bears away), Kikkoman soy sauce, instant noodles, soy milk, eggs, avocado, hardware tools, etc.
All meat sold in the store is imported from Denmark and is frozen. Fresh meat should be sourced directly from the hunters, and your guide will be able to help you get your hands on some.
It was -25°C at the end of March. To endure a snowmobile ride in that condition, I wore: 1 thermal bodysuit, 1 thermal top, 1 jumper, 2 fleeces, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of tights, 1 pair of long johns, 1 ski pants, 1 down jacket, 1 balaclava, 1 hat, 1 hooded down jacket, 1 ski mask, 1 shawl, 1 big hooded overall, 2 pairs of gloves and an extra sheepskin lining in a pair of borrowed moon boots.
I wish I had worn more. Going to the toilet with all those clothes on proved to be a challenge.
The list of reasons for overcoming these challenges could be endless, but here’s a start:
After a thrilling snowmobile ride from Ittoqqortoormiit to Cape Tobin (Greenlandic: Uunartoq), we continued on to look for Greenland’s warmest hot springs.
In the freezing cold of minus 25 degrees Celsius, the 62ºC water was a perfect relief. We were told that the hot spring has been receding. It was shallow, perhaps up to the ankle level.
We were surprised to see animal bones in the hot springs, and learned that the hunters use the waters to clean their catch.
When you venture to somewhere so isolated, you can expect to hear that the locals eat things you normally might not. You might be able to sample musk ox (I loved it!), seal, whale, narwhal skin (a delicacy – apparently best eaten with Aromat, my favourite Swiss condiment that the Danish and Greenlanders also love), walrus, and more. The Government of Greenland prohibits the export of these meats and they are solely for consumption within Greenland.
Note that there is only one place resembling a restaurant in Ittoqqortoormiit: a grill house serving chips and sausages from Denmark. Be ready to cook simple meals like pasta and prepare sandwiches. The potatoes we bought at the supermarket were from the last ship that came from Denmark (which could have been a long time ago!).
Depending on when you visit, you might be able to catch the elusive polar bear or narwhal. Our guide Jan shared with us this picture of when a polar bear came up to his kitchen window and began looking in at him and his grandchild having breakfast.
He also told us that he had once seen a hundred narwhals from his porch as he was sipping coffee at breakfast. …It would seem that breakfast time is the time to be on the lookout!
Be reminded though that it is still very rare to spot these animals – so bring your lucky stars with you!
After much disappointment chasing the lights in Iceland, I was skeptical when our guide said that we would definitely see them that night. We were instructed simply to look outside around 9.30pm.
There is nothing like seeing the northern lights for the first time, and what’s more from our bedroom window! It started off as a light green horizontal streak in the sky. At its most active, the lights shifted, swirled and danced so beautifully across the entire horizon.
No wonder the Greenlandic name for northern lights is “arsarnerit”, which translates literally to mean “the ones who played ball” – legend has it that the lights we see are actually the souls of dead children playing with a walrus skull.
Driving a snowmobile on the fresh yet rough sea ice in between icebergs was an amazing experience. The icebergs were of various sizes. I even sat on one.
The guide warned us against driving all the way to the giant iceberg that was looming so temptingly in the distance, explaining that you can never tell how deep the ice beneath you is.
Also, as everything is white, the actual distance was also tricky to estimate.
The list goes on…
These 5 reasons are far from an exhaustive list of why I think it is worth it to visit the most isolated town in Greenland. The truth is, the reasons are endless.
The totally unique experiences above are an attempt at describing how special Ittoqqortoormiit is. It is so different to anything I have ever seen and experienced (and I have been to 108 countries). Perhaps this little village stole my heart for the following reasons:
The nothingness. The vastness of space. The insignificance of you. The remote wilderness. The dominating landscape of snow and ice. The endless serenity. The sheer cliffs dropping down to meet the sea ice. The silence of the high Arctic. The deep valleys which beg to be explored. The extreme cold. The halo around the sunset. The dancing northern lights. The absolute purity of the ice sheet. The secrets trapped in the glaciers. The sudden sound of snowmobiles zipping around town at 7:30am as the locals begin a new day. The bark of the sled dogs. The tracks of the elusive polar bear that I never saw. The toilets that do not flush. The knowledge that an 8 year old is somewhere out there hunting musk ox with his father for 3 days. The narwhals lurking in the deep waters under your feet. The sixty-two degrees Celsius hot springs concealing animal bones in the middle of nowhere. The musk-ox skin in the wooden sledge that helped keep me warm. The plane landing on ice. The walk on the airport runway in the middle of the night scouting for northern lights…