|Honeymoon in Greeland|
One has to wonder about the bridal magazines Mary Donaldson found in Denmark. While the average Australian bride is trying to decide between romantic Tahiti and sun-drenched Port Douglas as honeymoon destinations, this Tasmanian bride and her Danish prince were in Greenland remarkably soon after their wedding.
After almost two weeks in Greenland, Princess Mary would certainly know the place better than most Australians. From the several visits I've made to the same places the royal couple toured, I bet she can't wait to get back there for a better look. Prince Frederick, who once served with a Greenland police dog sledge patrol, may feel he already knows it well enough.
Personally, before reading Peter Hoeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" about the only thought I'd given to Greenland was thinking about how unfair it was that the world's largest island appeared to be so much bigger on Mercator Projection world maps than Australia, the world's smallest continent. In fact Greenland is about a quarter the size of Australia.
The royal visit in June and July this year was to celebrate 25 years of home rule. Greenland became a Danish colony in 1775 and that was revised to make it a Danish province in the 1950s. In 1979 Greenland was granted semi-autonomy and its own parliament. Denmark is part of the European Union but Greenland has opted out.
The Danish royals had certainly done their homework on the best way to travel around Greenland - they brought their own ship, the Dannebrog. Though Greenland is large, nearly all of it is covered in the vast Greenland Icecap and only a 20 km wide coastal fringe is left exposed. There are no roads between towns so the options for travel in Greenland are incredibly expensive flights, irregular coastal ferries or cruise/expedition ship. Or, of course, the royal Danish yacht.
After the independence celebrations in Nuuk the capital and Greenland's largest town, the royals sailed along the west coast of Greenland. When Eric the Red arrived here in 982 AD he named the place "Greenland" because he thought that would attract more settlers than a more accurate description. It has been described as the first great real estate lie. That may be true in winter but in the short summer the coastal region really is a land of thick grasses and rich green mosses and diminutive wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Although there are no trees more than 25 cm tall, it's a green land, indeed.
Before delving far into any travel in Greenland you have to get your head around the place names. Mary and Frederick visited Qeqertarsuaq, Uummannaq and Sisimiut before flying to the far north and Pituffik, then finally to the east coast and Illoqqortoormiut.
Sisimiut is the most northern Greenland port to remain ice-free year round. It is the country's second largest town and has about 6000 residents. Much of its history is connected to the whaling industry and even now you enter the old town through an arch made from whale jawbones. Like other towns in Greenland it's built on bare rock. To make up for the lack of natural colour, all the houses are painted in bright colours. I once asked a Greenlander why the houses were such a profusion of colours and he replied that it made them easier to find late on Saturday night.
The owner of a bookshop in Sisimiut described the royal visit as "rather disappointing" and described a scenario closer to Disney's hyperactive Tasmanian Devil than Denmark's Tasmanian princess. He was quite looking forward to seeing the newlyweds but "they just drove past in a blur at about 60 km/h on their way to a reception in the town centre". They were in the most impressive vehicles in town - a convoy of large 4WDs - and the windows were tinted so bystanders couldn't see inside at all.
The royal couple also visited Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island. Many of the icebergs that break off the glaciers flowing from the Greenland Icecap float through Disko Bay so the town has the unusual problem of icebergs virtually in its backyards. There are some great tundra walks out of Qeqertarsuaq and it's a very pretty town of brightly painted houses on rolling hills with bays and waterways in between. It was here that I was first offered soup made from beluga whale meat. And it's a rare day when someone isn't slicing up a seal on the rocks near the public jetty.
Ice is the common theme of Greenland. The town of Ilulissat is one that Mary didn't visit but it takes its name from the local word for "iceberg". That's not surprising as nearby Ilulissat glacier is the most prolific in the world - it extrudes ice over a huge face that moves outwards at more than one metre per hour!
On the other hand, ice has posed a direct threat to the town of Uummannaq. This is Greenland's most spectacular town, perched on a small island of bare rock with a huge monolith rising sheer behind it. Giant icebergs often end up caught between this island and the next. When they break up and tip over, the resulting wave has demolished docks, fishing boats, seaside houses and stores as well as drowning some people and scores of sled dogs.
Greenland remains a wild place where nature dominates. It's strangely beautiful and has very little in common with what we regard as daily life. Perhaps for a Tasmanian princess it's the perfect place for a honeymoon?
There are regular flights to Greenland from Copenhagen and from Iceland. They are not cheap. If you are joining a cruise in Greenland, you'll fly in on a charter flight. Peregrine operate their charters from Ottawa, Canada.
Travelling around Greenland is expensive but there is such a range of things to see that you won't want to stay in one place. As there's no road network, aircraft and ferries must be used. Unless you have a specific interest such as dog sledding in winter you'll see and experience much more on a cruise.
Peregrine visit Greenland as part of the more general Northwest Passage voyage. Typically, you'd fly from Ottawa to Kangerlussuaq, a former US air base just north of the Arctic Circle at the head of a long, beautiful fiord. The next days might be spent at a tiny fishing village, walking fiordside tundra or visiting the towns of Ilulissat, Uummannaq, Sisimiut or the far north town of Upernavik. Costs for a 10 night voyage begin at $A6000, including the return charter flights from Ottawa.
Many of the local products for sale in Greenland are made from ivory from walrus tusks, the fur of seals or the teeth of polar bears. All are prohibited imports into Australia. There are some products from reindeer bone and hide and it's worth getting a certificate to say so to avoid customs hassles. Soapstone carvings are heavy but unique.
Some of the special moments in Greenland are likely to include:
The summer season in Greenland is July and August only. The winter dog sledding season is March to May.
David McGonigal © David McGonigal Pty Ltd