Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Tag Archives: Arctic Umiaq Line

Disko Bay

Wake up as the ferry pulls into Aasiaat at 8am. This the first AUL ferry of the year to make it this far North, and it’s clear why, the sea is still covered in a layer of ice. I guess they’re used to that here though and sure enough the ice is thin enough for our ferry, the Sarfaq Ittuk, to plough on straight through it.

Aasiaat Harbour

Aasiaat Harbour

We stop for just half an hour at Aasiaat so once again there’s no opportunity to get out and see the town which is a shame. Up until Aasiaat I saw a handful of icebergs, but once we leave and head up through the Disko bay the sea is suddenly chock-a-block with them, the vast majority coming from the Ilulissat Glacier (or Sermeq Kujalleq to give it it’s Greenlandic name) which is the most productive glacier outside of Antarctica.

Iceberg Disko Bay

Iceberg in the Disko Bay

It’s a pretty spectacular few hours sailing through the icebergs, the ship having to constantly change direction to find a way through. It’s absolutely freezing out on deck, so I tend to spend half an hour or so outside taking photos before going back into the warmth of the aft lounge.

Iceberg Disko Bay

Iceberg in the Disko Bay

About 2pm we arrive in Ilulissat, an hour behind schedule but I don’t think many people were complaining, it’s pretty amazing we made it at all given all the ice. I get a lift to my hotel, Hotel Avannaa, from the very friendly Faroese lady who runs it. It’s a really nice hotel with an amazing view over the bay and I’m glad I chose to stay here.

View of sunset over Disko Bay from Hotel Avannaa

View of sunset over Disko Bay from Hotel Avannaa

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All At Sea

Last night I boarded the Arctic Umiaq Line ferry, which will take me all the way up the West Coast to Ilulissat, arriving there Sunday lunch time (journey time forty hours). There are no roads between towns in Greenland, the huge distances, mountainous terrain and climate make it economically infeasible, so historically boats have been the main way to get around, and the AUL ferry is a bit of a lifeline for the smaller towns on the West coast. So much so that despite running at a loss, the Danish government subsidise the service by 8 million krone a year to ensure its continued operation.

Leaving Nuuk

We left Nuuk at 9pm, given the gale force winds I’m surprised we even set sail but I guess they’re used to it here. The ferry is nice, there’s a canteen selling meals, snacks and drinks, and a TV lounge at the back of the ship. You can also go out on deck but I think I’ll wait for the weather to improve before checking this out.

I had a couple of beers in the canteen then took a travel sick pill, the combination of the two sent me straight to sleep and I managed to pretty much sleep through the night. I’ve got basic “couchette” accomodation for the two nights I’m on board, you could pay more for a cabin but it’s comfortable enough.

AUL couchette

Couchette on the AUL ferry

In the morning our first stop was Maniitsoq, the sixth largest town in Greenland with a population of 2784. The wind had finally died down a bit by this point, and I was starting to look forward to the journey ahead. We only stopped at Maniitsoq for about twenty minutes, not long enough to get out and have a look around but it was nice to see the town from our approach into the harbour.

AUL ferry

AUL ferry

Some four hours later we arrive in Kangaamiut (population 357), it’s such a small place the harbour can’t accommodate our ferry so a small boat comes up to the ferry to collect the three passengers who are getting off.

Ferry at Kangaamiut

We’ve then got six or seven hours on the ferry until we arrive in Sisimiut. The sun finally comes out and it’s a very relaxing afternoon alternating between going out on deck, and sitting in the canteen or lounge. In the TV lounge they show the Shining, which I’m sure is an 18 certificate in the UK, but things seem very relaxed in Greenland and there are a few Greenlandic children glued to the violent images on the screen the whole way through.

There are a mixture of tourists and locals on the boat. I’m sharing a couchette with a student from Australia currently studying in Iceland, (not putting real names on here but I’ll call him M), then there are an Austrian couple, a British couple (who kept themselves to themselves and I didn’t manage to speak to) and a group of four Australians on the first leg of what sounds like an epic trip around Europe.

Sisimiut

Sisimiut

Just after 6pm we arrive in Sisimiut, the one stop on the journey where we’ve got long enough to get out and see the town. I head into town with M and we have just long enough to be denied the sale of alcohol in the supermarket (it’s a Saturday night, and a time when you might want to buy beer so the law says you can’t 😐 ), then find the town’s pub, Cafe Kukkukooq. It’s a marked contrast to Nuuk, the locals are all keen to chat to us, and were a friendly bunch. I love pubs in small communities like this, they’re real community type affairs where everyone young and old gathers and chats. It’s all things to all people in a way that pubs in big city centres aren’t.

Cafe Kukkukooq Sisimiut

Cafe Kukkukooq

We have to leave the pub just as the party is getting into full swing, as the ferry leaves at 9pm.

AUL ferry Sisimiut Harbour

AUL ferry docked in Sisimiut