» Greenland’s Viking trail
Greenland's Viking trail
A Sphinx-like iceberg on perfectly mirrored water near Qassiarsuk.

Greenland’s Viking trail

The west coast of Greenland may be the most hospitable, but it is still wild enough that Viking settlements gave way to the original Greenlandic inhabitants that remain to this day. This is a harsh and unforgiving place and life here is governed by rules imposed by seasons. It does not bend to the will of new inhabitants. The Inuit people understand this and have thrived here for hundreds of years before the first Viking pushed west from Iceland in search of new lands to settle and farm. Not unexpectedly, the first Viking arrived after disagreements resulting in a fatality, which necessitated a hasty exit by the victor. This was a perfect recipe for territorial expansion by Eric the Red.

Greenland's Viking trail
Welcoming us into his home for coffee in the beautiful village of Igaliku, our new friend shows us his wedding rings carved from bone.
Greenland's Viking trail
The colourful houses of Maniitsoq, scattered around the granitic cliffs.
Greenland's Viking trail
The imposing statue of Viking explorer “Erik the Red” who arrived here at Qassiarsuk almost 1,000 years ago.
Greenland's Viking trail
As large icebergs melt, they can flip, revealing a spectacular crystal-like blue structure.

I recently explored the Greenlandic Viking trail from Kangerlussuaq to Igaliku with Hurtigruten on deft and able MS Fram. This small, expedition-class ship with just 127 cabins is more luxury SUV than giant floating hotel, easily coping with inclement weather and a good measure of ice. MS Fram is also small enough to navigate far into fjords and bays, out of reach of the standard cruise ships.

At first blush, life still has a simplicity in these coastal towns. Hunting and agrarian pursuits still dominate. There was a feeling that visitors are not so common, which is a pleasant antidote to the mega-cruise ship sheep-shuffles of popular European destinations. Locals were kind and inviting and a lack of common language was overcome with smiles, hand gestures and an invitation for coffee.

Greenland's Viking trail
On a blue sky, calm evening, the small harbour at Igaliku is breathtaking.
Greenland's Viking trail
The local kids of Paamiut, cheeky and quick to smile.
Greenland's Viking trail
Small homes are dotted around the hills of Igaliku with such picturesque landscapes.
Greenland's Viking trail
Always looking for the highest point, these sheep pose for a sunrise shot near Qassiarsuk.

Visiting Maniitsoq, I saw a lone returning hunter in a small boat. He lifted out a 1.5-metre Harbour Porpoise that he has just shot, while his friend in another boat close by began carving up a Harp Seal. As he deftly worked over the carcass, he looked up at me with the smile, offering a choice piece of sushi. There was an obvious fervour about this hunt, as he explained that he was preparing meat for his father for the winter.

We headed deep into the Qassiarsuk Fjord. Our photographic guide, Camille Season said “this is as close as we can get to the glacier”, as we felt the crunching of the water that was firming up around us. “In a couple of weeks, this water will be a 2-metre-deep ice sheet”. We looked for a small, fresh-water ice chunk that broke away from the glacier. Our guides are picky, like specialist jewellers, rejecting anything that was not crystal clear. A select piece was hauled onto the boat and aggressively chipped into shards before filling our glasses to chill a local liquor. The ice was so compressed that when placed on the tongue, it feltlike popping candy as the oxygen escaped while we sipped cocktails in the shadow of icebergs.

Greenland's Viking trail
Walking over the steep surrounds of Igaliku revealed a pastured valley with sheep grazing next to another fjord dotted with ice.
Greenland's Viking trail
On clear nights, the Northern Lights can put on a spectacular show.
Greenland's Viking trail
It may be bitterly cold, but being on deck before sunrise provides opportunities for amazing images like this iceberg in the pre-dawn glow.
Greenland's Viking trail
Expedition craft deploy kayaks for a peaceful exploration of the icy fjords.

Dan Avila shot these images on the Fujifilm GFX50S Medium Format Camera System with the Fujifilm GF23mm, GF32-62mm, GF120mm Macro, GF250mm lenses and a Gitzo GT3533LS Tripod.

More information

Ben Tours: bentours.com.au

Hurtigruten: global.hurtigruten.com