Our take off point for our recent adventures in Greenland was the charming city of Reykjavik, Iceland. And after a wonderful trip there in February 2016 — viewing the Northern Lights, ice and snow covered landscapes, lakes, glaciers, and frozen waterfalls — we decided to further explore Iceland since it was the launching place for our 2019 Greenland trip. (Yes, Greenland alone would have been enough, but we generally leave few opportunities for adventuring on the table.)
This time in Iceland we headed north, about a five to six hour drive out of Reykjavik to the area known as the Diamond Circle. We stayed on the shores of Lake Myvatn for our three nights in the area.
It was late August: there was no snow or ice or freezing temperatures, and nothing but green fields, ponies, sheep, and exquisite landscapes and waterfalls. There was also rain and fog. But the weather didn’t deter us. It was lightly raining most days, and the spray from the waterfalls was heavy (especially on the camera lens). It actually made for some lovely pictures.
First, a few photos from this, our second Iceland trip. then see below for a link to a short slide show if you want to see more.
In my photo album on Flickr, you will see 24 pix of some of the major sites we visited including Krafla Caldera (a place of geothermal activity generated by one of the country’s most explosive volcanoes); Dettifoss Waterfall (Europe’s most powerful waterfall) along with Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss Waterfalls; Jokulsargljufur Canyon (one of the deepest and most break-taking canyons in Iceland); and Asbyrgi Canyon (a place full of Icelandic folklore). We hiked in Dimmuborgir (a “lava forest” formed by an eruption that occurred some 2,300 years ago) and then warmed ourselves in hot thermal baths in Husavik. On the way back to Reykjavik, we visited the beautiful Godafoss Waterfall.
Reykjavik is a delight, and I’m not sure you can get a bad meal there. From coffee shops to “famous” hotdogs and a gourmet dinner, we stuffed ourselves as best we could in the short time we had there.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full page. They are much sharper, and the larger format does more justice to them than the few above.
Ellen and I have been fortunate to travel widely and see a world beyond where we live. Our recent trip to Greenland certainly ranks high on our list of favorites. It was remote. It was wild. It’s ancient culture is being challenged by modern society. It is quiet, and it is beautiful.
*Truly awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, and the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights.,
*The cultural issues, always of interest to us, were fascinating as the Inuit population moves from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.
*Each day our activities placed us in a world where we were constantly confronted with new sights and insights.
*Each day and many nights were a photographer’s paradise.
*Our two expedition leaders were superb, with their planning of activities, their knowledge of all aspects Greenland, their ability to inform, to teach, and to help us understand and capture what we were experiencing. Plus their photographic advice and assistance helped all of us, no matter what kind of camera or experience each of us had.
*The Nat/Hab Base Camp was located in an isolated area that gave us a sense of Greenland which we could never have experienced if we were on our own.
*Excellent weather. Cold but no rain until our final day.
Briefly, after spending four days in northeast Iceland among waterfalls and scenic vistas, we met our group of 10 other travelers (three couples, three single women, and one single man) and one of our guides in Reykjavik. We flew from Reykjavik to Kulusuk in southeastern Greenland and went by helicopter onto Tasiilaq, a town of 2,000 (the total population of Greenland is only 57,000, despite the huge size of the island).
There we spent two days, hiking, boating (our first views of Arctic icebergs and whales), and learning about Greenland (three times the size of Texas, 80% covered by ice and snow, and if you circumnavigated the entire island going in and out of the inlets, you’d cover about the same distance as if you went around the world, 25,000 miles). We learned about its people and about its history, and we met several unforgettable individuals (both in Tasiiliq and throughout our trip.) We also had one incredibly clear night in Tasiiliq of Northern Light activity (see Ellen’s photos below and in her slide show, links below).
A four-hour boat ride took us to the NatHab Base Camp, a truly isolated, wilderness setting on the edge of the Sermilik Fjord. Base Camp consisted of eight individual tented cabins (heated and lanterned and containing ‘dry’ toilets) plus a number of other tented spaces for meetings, showering, eating, and storing of equipment. We had electricity during the daylight hours in the common spaces. The meals were terrific, and the entire camp was surrounded with a ‘modest’ electrified fence as a precaution against polar bear encounters. There was no wi-fi or cell connectivity.
From here we kayaked among the icebergs, spent hours on rubber rafted Zodiac boats exploring the fjords, glaciers, icebergs and sea life, and hiking. Each day seemed to focus on two major activities. One morning, for example, we spent three hours in the tiny town of Tinit, population 82 where we began to get a sense of life today in Greenland versus that of just a few decades earlier when the Inuit population lived in small sod and stone structures and existed solely on their ability to hunt and fish. That afternoon we kayaked amongst the glaciers in one of the fjords.
Words fail to adequately describe what we saw and what we will long remember, but Ellen’s photos will give you some sense of what we experienced over these five days at the camp and over our full nine days in Greenland. Think of them as a collage, not representing every aspect of what saw and did. I think they give you an overall picture of the beauty of the wilderness and the remoteness of the country.
We ended our time in the Base Camp by helicoptering back to the airport island of Kulusuk, population about 300, where we had one last opportunity, as we waited for our flight back to Iceland, to learn about another small town and the role the US military played there.
Then it was back to Reykjavik for one day and night
(wonderful food) before flying the six hours back to DC.
As we often do, Ellen and I made a list of some of the best
parts of the trip and a few Do’s and Don’ts for those of you who might
consider such an adventure:
Words that Best Describe Greenland:
Ellen – Remote
Richard – Land in transition
Most Unforgettable Moment:
Ellen – Photographing the Northern Lights
Richard – First Zodiac trip in the Sermilik Fjord with its icebergs
Ellen – Day 5 – Zodiacing all day, Haan Glacier, Diamond Beach, whale watching, photographing, and iceberg gawking.
Richard – Also Day 5, followed closely by the afternoon kayaking. (“This is what I came for.”)
What Exceeded Expectations:
Ellen – Weather and capturing the Northern Lights
Richard – The total NatHab experience – guides, plans,
facilities, activities, and accessing people and places we never could have
done on our own.
What Would You Return for:
Ellen & Richard – To see what changes take place over
the next decade for the Inuits and the environment.
Do’s and Don’t’s:
Don’t put on your rain gear or “Mustang suit” with boots on.
And don’t put either of them on before visiting one of the ‘dry’ toilets. (Yes, you have to remove the gear to use ‘bush toilets,’ which are different than ‘dry toilets’.)
Don’t expect to have your passport stamped in Greenland
And don’t expect much internet connectivity.
Don’t try to bring back a Greenland sled dog puppy, no matter how
cute they seem.
Don’t fall out of a Zodiac or kayak under any circumstances.
Don’t worry about everyday standards of cleanliness. They don’t apply and no one cares how long its been since you’ve showered.
Do read about the early explorations of Greenland before you go, and then continue that reading while you’re there and perhaps after you return. (We can make specific suggestions.)
Do pay close attention to what NatHab suggests you pack.
Do take a camera, any kind, and keep it with you at all times.
Since you will likely get to Greenland via Iceland, Do eat at least one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever (Yes! I said, “hot dogs”) from that cart in Reykjavik. (You probably should order two, and don’t miss the crispy onions.)
And here are a dozen of Ellen’s favorite photos from Greenland. Do use a big screen to get a high resolution, especially for those of the Northern Lights. You wouldn’t want to miss the stars and constellations she also captured.
If you want more, see the link below to her slide show of 65 photos.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the linkto start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full pageThey are much sharper, and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.
(Photo by Haraldur Guojonsson, Amazing Tours.Is, our Northern Lights guide and photojournalist in Iceland. We are the two ‘orange clad’ people closest to the jeep.)
We’d been thinking about a summer trip to Iceland for a few years now, but after learning about an “adventure hotel” about an hour outside of Reykjavik where it was possible to see the Northern Lights from one’s room, we decided that winter was the perfect time to go. (After all, we had all the necessary clothes after going to Antarctica, and we reasoned a winter trip need not take the place of a summer one.)
For all but a day and a half of our week in Iceland we were the countryside.
We never tired of the landscapes, the waterfalls, the lakes, the hot springs, and the glaciers. We explored ice caves, farms, small villages, and snowmobiling. (Ellen loved that. I liked it more after we finished than while I was ‘driving’ the machine.) For two days we had a guide who drove us in a four-wheeled Super Jeep and delighted in off road driving. In fact, he seemed to make a practice of avoiding anything that resembled a road or well-worn tracks. But he was knowledgeable about his country and was as good a driver as I’ve ever had. (He also rescued several other drivers while we were with him, which gave us a lot of confidence, When on one of the two days our own vehicle broke down, he quickly used his cell phone to call a buddy back in Reykjavik who within an hour arrived with two vehicles, one to replace ours and the other to tow the broken one back to be repaired.)
Most of the time we felt we were on another planet: one that was rocky and snow covered, with whipping winds that blew the snow across the road and across the glaciers. We saw ponies and sheep hovering in the freezing temperatures (although the daily temperature generally reached 30 degrees, it did get precipitously colder at night), isolated farms, small villages, churches, and lighthouses. We found the natural geothermal hot springs fascinating with their billowing clouds of steam rising out of the ground. On the coast, the water was deep blue, many of the beaches were black (think lava), and the waves looked steamy as they crashed into the shore. We explored a hot water extraction and distribution plant, took hundreds of pictures at the geysirs (geysers), heard a story about why many farmers painted their roofs red, and learned a lot of Icelandic history. The sun didn’t rise each day until 9:45 AM, and it set around 5:45 PM. All the sunrises and sunsets differed, and all were all spectacular.
So was the food. From the dark breads, fresh butter, gravlax, and skyr (yogurt) to the endless varieties of seafood soups (one better than the next) to the langoustines (Icelandic lobsters), Artic Char, Icelandic cod, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and lamb in many forms (including the lamb soup we ate for lunch at a tourist rest stop), every meal was a feast.
And we were fortunate enough to get three evenings of Northern Lights. Having seen this wonder in Alaska, we wanted to see them again. Our first night out with a photo journalist/guide was only partially successful. He took us to a mountain, and we were able to see a bit of Northern Light activity. On our way back to our lodge, the lights had gotten stronger (see photo above), and he taught Ellen how to photograph them (see photo below and others in the slide show). The next two nights, however, these dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis were stronger, and we indeed could see them from our room. The dancing lights are a result of electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, and if you’ve ever had the good fortune to see them, you will not forget them. The night sky gave us an amazingly clear view of millions of stars and the Milky Way.
Towards the end of our week, we left our lodge in our rented SUV in the midst of what they called ‘snow squalls’ but seemed to us to be a snowstorm with whiteout conditions. It took us two hours to cover a distance that usually takes only an hour, but we made it back into Reykjavik safely. There we spent just a short time exploring the city — quaint with modern touches, a nice harbor area, one fabulous church, beautiful arts center, and great food — before deciding to go back into the countryside and along the western coast. On our final day, we spent four hours at the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor hot springs pool where you can relax in a 99-102-degree hot springs while still being in the middle of a 32-degree wondrous landscape.
The 12 photos below will give you a first glance at what we saw and the slide show following will take you deeper into Iceland.
We will return. Not only during a summer but also for another winter week.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).