Summer in Greenland: Cruising Nuuk Fjords

Posted on August 30, 2017 by

Wonder how summer in Greenland is like? Follow my journey as I cruise into Nuuk’s fjords to see icebergs, go fishing, hiking and much more…

summer in greenland

In Greenland, you don’t have to go far to experience the wilderness. Even from the capital city of Nuuk, pristine nature is just a short hike or boat trip away.

The city lies at the mouth of Nuup Kangerlua, which is part of the the impressive Nuuk fjord system, the biggest fjord system in the world. Stretching over an area of 2,000 square kilometres, the fjord system is home to floating icebergs, cascading waterfalls, carving glaciers, and secret coves. It’s also riddled with remnants of the Norse settlers — here you’ll find ruins of storehouses, farms and stables, some of which date back over 1,000 years.

Framed by tall mountains of around 1000 – 1500m in height, the fjords go to a depth of 600m; As such, they are very easy to navigate and many Greenlandic families have their own boats and cabins in the fjords. Come summer, locals cannot wait to sail into the fjords and spend time in nature. 

Nuup Kangerlua is part of the the impressive Nuuk fjord system, which is the biggest fjord system in the world. Stretching over an area of 2,000 square kilometres, the fjord system is home to floating icebergs, cascading waterfalls, carving glaciers, and secret coves.

cruising nuuk fjords

Sailing into the Fjords

For my own taste of summer in Greenland, I headed out into the Nuuk fjords on a sailing trip with local Erik Palo Jacobsen, owner of Arctic Boat Charter.

From the colonial harbor of Nuuk, our group of travelers boarded Erik’s boat, M/S Sterna, a mid-size boat that fits up to 12 passengers.  Born and raised in northern Greenland, Erik spent most of his life working in the marine industry around the world. He eventually grew bored of being a marine architect, and found himself craving for a life out at sea. 9 years ago, he bought M/S Sterna and decided to start his own boat charter business.

Since then, he’s never been happier. He absolutely loves life on the boat, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”  Every summer, he takes local and foreign visitors out to the fjords on excursions; During the rest of the year, he provides transportation for authorities like the police or hospitals.

summer in greenland

Fish and Dish

Over the years, he’s built up a great reputation for Arctic Boat Charter, having hosted some of the most important VIP guests that Greenland has had. His past passengers included Hilary Clinton, the crown princess of the Denmark, and Iceland’s President.  What makes his trips different from others is that he tailor-makes every single trip to suit the guests’ needs. Although Arctic Boat Charter is not the cheapest, it is the best boat charter company in terms of safety, liability, comfort and service.

Erik has also pioneered a lot of other tourism concepts here in Nuuk’s fjord, including the ‘gold fever trips’ where he takes guests out on gold-digging excursions (more like gold washing). “You are not going to get rich on these gold hunting excursions, but you’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Another concept that Erik introduced, alongside his best friend Mads Bek, owner of Qooqqut Nuan restaurant, was the “fish and dish” concept — which we were about to experience later in the afternoon.

summer in greenland nuuk fjords

Deep Sea Fishing in Qooqqut

In just an hour and a half, we arrived into the fjord of Qooqqut, one of the best spots in the Nuuk fjord system for fishing.

“Geologically, the Qooqqut fjord is an exciting place for many reasons. Firstly, there is hardly any forest or tree, so you can easily get a full view of the terrain and geology of the place at a glance. This was also where three tectonic plates collided at one point, which is a very rare and exciting occurrence for geologists. Lastly, the rocks here contain some precious metals, including gold and ruby,” Erik explained.

summer greenland cruising nuuk fjords

Erik then switched off the engine and announced that it was time to lower our fishing lines. This is known to be the best spot in Nuuk’s fjords to catch some red fish (also known as golden fish and rock fish) and cod fish. The red fish – a local delicacy that’s hugely popular in Greenland – usually live in 80-100m deep waters, while the cod fish live in 50m deep waters. It’s therefore quite a challenge to catch the red fish.

It was our first attempt at deep sea fishing, but it took just a few minutes before we caught our first fish. It was a lot bigger and heavier than I thought, but I used all my strength to haul it up. One after another, the fish caught onto our hooks and we were soon hauling up three or four fish on one line. It was miraculously easy and Erik too marveled at just how lucky we got. After an hour or so of fishing, our group of six had caught more than 20 massive red fish and cod fish — all ready to go straight to the kitchen.

greenland summer


 READ MORE: 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN NUUK


Experiencing the Back Country of Nuuk

A few minutes of cruising later, we landed at Qooqqut Nuan, the only restaurant in Nuuk’s fjord system. It’s gained a loyal following among Nuuk locals — not just for its proximity to the city (just an hour’s boat ride), but also for its sumptuous food. This humble establishment is simple and rustic, yet its food and surrounding landscapes speak for themselves.

cruising nuuk fjords

Owner and chef Mads Bek, together with his wife from Thailand, draw huge crowds here every summer with their unique menu, consisting mainly of Danish and Thai dishes prepared with the freshest Greenlandic ingredients. Everything in their kitchen is fresh from the sea or the surrounding forest — and infused with international flavors.

Along with Erik from Arctic Boat Charter, they launched the “fish and dish” concept, where locals bring their own catch to the restaurant. The fish is then prepared in a variety of cooking styles and served straight from the sea to your table. It’s become such a popular concept that Qooqqut Nuan gets packed with hungry locals every weekend in summer.

cruising nuuk fjords - qooqqut nuan

That afternoon, we got to see the chefs at Qooqqut Nuan slice open the fish we caught and transform them into a feast. Our table was covered with decadent dishes of piquant Thai fish curry, creamy cod fish with fresh herbs, and crispy deep-fried red fish drenched in a savoury garlic sauce. Every dish was flavorful, tantalising and so surprising. The East-meets-West combination was perfect, and it was the best Thai food I’ve had outside of Thailand (in all honesty!). Qooqqut Nuan definitely challenged the way I saw Greenlandic cuisine.

In the evening, we retreated back to our cabins at Qooqqut Nuan with our bellies and hearts full, and a sky full of twinkling stars overhead.

summer in greenland

Learning the History of Qooqqut

The next morning, we met up with Mads to learn more about the area and the origins of Qooqqut Nuan.

Sporting blonde hair and Inuit features, Mads is in his fifties but his enthusiasm for Greenland is infectious. Even though he was born in Denmark, he considers himself a Greenlander, having lived here for more than 40 years now.

“Qooqqut is a special place for me. Just look around you, there are mountains everywhere. It’s just spectacular.” Mad’s love affair for Qooqqut started in 1979, when he first came to train to become a chef at the old hotel that stood here.

summer greenland

In 1982, the old hotel was burned down, just 10 days before the owners were to declare bankruptcy. Evidence of arsony was found all over the property and the owners were convicted. A twist of event occurred when the judge turned out to the person who would take over the old hotel once the owners were put behind bars. Eventually, the case was taken to higher court in Denmark and the owners were released and even compensated.

The building in which Qooqqut Nuan stands now was used as a boys’ home for decades up until 2011, when the owner went bankrupt and had to sell it. He was careful with who to sell the building to and eventually chose Mads as the new owner. He converted the boys’ home into a restaurant with a few cabins, and opened up in 2013.

summer greenland qooqqut

Hiking, Fishing and Swimming in Qooqqut

We spent the rest of the day hiking up to the river with locals Pilo Samuelson and Nive Heilmann. The couple know the area inside out as Nive grew up in Qooqqut and spent all her summers here. Now that they are married with kids, they come here every summer with their family, hunting and fishing out in nature.

As hunting season approaches, both Nive and Pilo are looking forward to hunting some reindeers. Nive only shot her first reindeer last year, and she was proud to have caught two reindeers in one day. Hunting is no longer just a means of survival in Greenland — it’s become more of a Greenlandic tradition and rite of passage for many young men, and these days women.

summer greenland

It was a shame that we were going to miss the hunting season, but at least we were here during the trout season. Nive and Pilo invited us on their daily fishing excursion to try our hands at catching Arctic char with our hands.

“We caught a few fish here yesterday, but you never know whether whether we catch any fish at all today depends on our luck!”

nuuk fjords

Our group of travelers stood by the river banks, watching nervously as the black waters thrashed against the boulders and schools of fish fought the current. I had no idea how we were going to get into the water, not to mention attempt to catch a fish.

Peeling away his shoes and socks, Pilo clambered over the boulders agilely and started wading into the water. With the strong currents, it was hard to keep one’s balance on the rocky river floor, but Pilo stood firmly and started reaching out for fish.

cruising nuuk fjords

 

Some of us watched while others started following suit, wading into the river and trying their hands at fishing with their hands. But each time any one of us got close to grabbing a fish, it immediately slipped out of our hands. Catching fish with our hands proved to be much harder than we’d imagined.

It looked like we had used up all of our luck on the deep sea fishing trip. After an hour or so, our group managed to catch two fish — definitely not enough to feed the entire crew, but at least we had fun trying and it turned out to be quite an adventure.

nuuk fjords summer greenland

By noon, the sun was right above our heads and the heat was scorching. We’d been so lucky with the weather — bright, clear skies with temperatures as high as 12 degrees Celsius. Who would have thought it would be that warm in Greenland?!

After spending the day hiking under the sun, we were all tempted to jump into the water, which was now shimmering in spearmint blue. The water was ice cold, but the polar plunge definitely gave us some respite from the surprising heat.

summer greenland


 READ MORE: MY BEST PHOTOS OF NUUK, GREENLAND


Learning Inuit History

It was eventually time to head back to Nuuk; but this time instead of cruising straight back to the city, we went on a detour around the fjords for some exploration. Erik picked us up with his boat, and started our tour with a crash course in Greenland’s history.

“People have lived in Nuuk’s fjords since 4,500 years ago. The Norsemen from Iceland around 1,000 years ago and Inuits came from Canada around the same time — the Norsemen disappeared around 700 years ago but the Inuits survived until today.” Erik explained.

“While it’s unsure why the Norsemen left, the Inuits and Norsemen never really fought — as the Norsemen hunted for animals inland, while the Inuits fished.”

People have lived in Nuuk’s fjords since 4,500 years ago. The Norsemen from Iceland around 1,000 years ago and Inuits came from Canada around the same time — the Norsemen disappeared around 700 years ago but the Inuits survived until today. 

summer greenland

As we closed in on the island of Qequeetannguaq, Erik pointed to the cave where an ancient soap stone carving still stands today. Soap stone is an easily-moulded commodity used a few hundred years ago to make lamps and other useful tools. We hiked up to the cave to find a big rock with carvings: Apparently a Norsemen had carved his name on one side of the soap stone, while an Inuit had carved drawings on the other side of it. For archaeologists, an artefact with the works of two distinctive cultures was an incredible find.

Back on the boat, Erik shared with us more stories of friendships between the Norsemen and the Inuits. As I found out later, storytelling is a big part of Greenlandic culture. Because the Inuit is a spoken language (with no writings), stories had always been passed down from one generation to the next from mouth to ear. Back then, the only form of entertainment during the long, harsh winters was storytelling; and this tradition has been continued to this day.

cruising nuuk fjords

Cruising Nuuk’s Ice Fjord

“The highlight of any trip into the Nuuk fjord system is the ice fjord.” Erik announced as we cruised into a fjord flanked by two massive glaciers. These glaciers are fed by the Greenland ice cap, and the ice that break off from the glaciers end up in the ice fjord as icebergs or little bergy bits.

“Because the glaciers never melt, the ice fjord is usually packed with icebergs all year round. In winter, sometimes the emission of ice is so extreme that navigation can be impossible in the ice fjord.”

cruising nuuk fjords

We woo-ah and ahh-ed as we found ourselves surrounded by icebergs of different shapes and sizes, in every shade of blue you can imagine: from indigo to light spearmint, cyan to sky blue.

According to Erik, the color of the icebergs indicate how old they are. Some of the ice can be up to 50,000 years old, having been formed from years of years of compression under snow — the white ones are the oldest, while the blue ice are younger.

summer greenland

The weather was so beautiful, we sat out on the open deck under the sun, and enjoyed our packed lunch with the icebergs floating right around us. There were now massive icebergs that were as tall as three-story buildings, right beside our boat.

“Only 10% of the iceberg is above water. If we see a 10m-high iceberg, that means there must be 100m of it underwater,” Erik shared.

“As they say, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

As they say, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

cruising nuuk fjords

Visiting an Abandoned Settlement

Our last stop on the boat trip was Qornoq, a small settlement located at the end of the ice fjord. At first glance, it looked like a charming and quaint town with a beautiful beach and nice views of the ice fjord from a distance. Upon closer inspection did we realise it was an abandoned town.

cruising nuuk fjords

As Erik told us, this was once a thriving fishing town in the 1950s and 60s. People who lived here used to make a good living from fishing — in fact, it was said to have the highest income per capital in Greenland. But in the 1970s, everything changed when the fish population suddenly reduced to nothing with the drop in air temperature. Everyone moved back to Nuuk in search of work, abandoning many of the houses here.

These days, people are starting to restore the abandoned houses and transforming them into beautiful and simple summer cottages and vacation homes. The fish factory from the 1950s still stands today, at the edge of town.

nuuk fjords

The trip came to an end as we sailed into Nuuk, with a view of the colorful, vibrant capital city before us. It felt like we had crossed hundreds of miles into the remote wilderness of Greenland, even though in actual fact we barely covered any ground. We had only scratched the surface of Nuuk’s fjord system and I was already blown away — I can’t wait to see what the rest of Greenland has to offer…


Disclaimer: My trip to Nuuk was made possible by Visit Greenland, but my opinions above are my own as always.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

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