The Arctic

Reference: Ar1

Title: The Arctic in Summer.

Length: 1200 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel operator: Kuoni/Voyages of Discovery.

Copyright Derrick Grover.

The Arctic in Summer.


When you have holidayed in hot climates for many years the idea of the Arctic carries an air of mystery and, possibly, cold winds. So thought the 600 tourists aboard the Greenland Discovery Cruise. It was unusual to find a first time cruiser and most had a wealth of tales to tell of their previous experiences. We chose the route from Harwich via the Faroes, Iceland and up the East Coast of Greenland. It introduces you to the colder weather in easy stages since both Iceland and the Faroes islands are in the warm Gulf Stream. The Faroes seemed a tranquil place on a fine day but the weather is unpredictable. Excursions were arranged to visit the villages and bird life.

A shuttle bus drove passengers to the edge of Torshavn where it was a short walk to the picturesque harbours. Many boats were available to reach the outlying islands, although in rough weather a helicopter is used. Walking from the harbour we noticed roofs of houses covered with turf. This practice, also seen in Norway, provides insulation and the grass absorbs the rain before it can penetrate the roof material.

Iceland by contrast seemed a hive of activity with dual carriageways and extensive facilities. Here an excursion around the island known as the Golden Circle cost about £70. It was extraordinary to visit the greenhouses in Hveragerdi where the hot springs provide the heating - sufficient for a tropical garden with many exotic flowers.

The geological fault that causes the hot springs also causes a 120 foot high cliff adjacent to Iceland's lawmaking assembly founded in 970 AD. We walked down between towering walls of rock. Large boulders perched precariously on top of the wall awaiting the next earthquake to tumble near the path. The wall protected us from the wind and fortunately all was quiet but for the chatter of tourists.

The most awe-inspiring sight was the Gullfoss or Golden Waterfall. With a height of 96 feet above a deep gorge it was resplendent with a series of cascades extending to the peripheries of our vision. A gravel path runs alongside and those with waterproofs could venture further into the spray. Indeed some people were enthusiastic enough to penetrate the spray without waterproofs.

Icebergs off Greenland

The hot springs of the Geysir area would spout about every 20 minutes. It is wise to dress warmly. Waiting in the cold wind was unpleasant and the performance of the geyser varies from the disappointing to an impressive 60 feet. Lunch with a generous portion of salmon was served in the nearby hotel.

Kerid is the site of a volcanic crater that retains the conic sides so often depicted but rarely seen. A lake has formed at the bottom, reminiscent of the hideout for the villain in a James Bond film.

The tour culminated in a visit to the top of Pearl a dome of glass built on hot water storage tanks. The platform encircling the dome is excellent for taking panoramic photographs. The camera can be mounted rigidly and rotated accurately for the shots to be joined on a computer. Compass directions are etched into flat plates.

Greenland is out of the Gulf Stream and although travelling initially South from Iceland the weather became progressively colder. The Prins Christiansund fjord at the South of the island was blocked by ice and so the ship continued to Narsarsuaq. It is not an interesting town to visit unless taking a tour such as a visit to Eric the Red's Viking ruins or a hike in the mountains. Here we were lucky to see an unusual iceberg delicately coloured in shades of blue. The colour is that of pure ice, only seen after immense pressure has forced the air out. We met a Danish man who had been hiking and camping in the mountains for five days, but too much rain was forcing them to abandon the remainder of their plans. We sat on a bench overlooking the mountains and the fjord until an icy wind encouraged us to move back to the ship.

Nuuk boasts that it is the northernmost capital. It has a population of about 15,000. A continuous shuttle bus service was organised that would circle the town and the waterside. The museum is excellent and we were intrigued to see examples of Inuit winterware. There were fur-lined clothes of various designs and even a combined one for mother and baby. The construction of a kayak was demonstrated together with various artefacts used in more primitive times.

The post-box for Father Christmas is just beyond the museum. Letters from children all over the world could be seen through the glass panel. Father Christmas cards can be purchased for posting in time for December. You write your child's name and address on the card and pay £2 for the service. Nuuk, when viewed in the summer, is a place we thought it would be nice to stay at; winter might be another matter.

It was at Illulissat that we saw the most extensive icebergs, some larger than the ship. Ranged like a visual symphony they moved so slowly that movement was almost imperceptible. The ship's tenders ferried us ashore, wary that 90% of the iceberg is below the surface and careful to steer a safe path between them. The journey lasting perhaps 30 minutes was delightful in itself. Many boats again filled the harbour even though it freezes in the winter. The larger boats are lifted out but the smaller ones simply get forced onto the top of the ice. The landing site for tourists has changed and is no longer adjacent to the town. A shuttle bus is recommended. A helicopter trip to the Icecap lasting for 90 minutes cost about £220.

The town is active. Young Inuit children were playing in the school playground and friendly people greeted us. On the way to the post office (now beyond the crossroads) we passed about 20 huskies. They were mostly peaceful apart from the yelps when their territory was being invaded.

On board there were many activities to while away the time at sea. At the start of the day lectures were given on each port and other topics of interest. An art class attracted a large following and an impressive exhibition was given of the work on the last day. The swimming pool was round in shape; I tried to perfect a form of sidestroke to swim in a circle. More energetic activities were available in the gymnasium and at the aerobics class. In view of the six course dinners these were necessary. Among the numerous activities were a Bridge set, Whist drive, Bingo, a dance class and an ambitious group creating a play. Evenings could be spent watching the shows in the Carousel lounge or a more classical rendering by a Russian trio of musicians.

It was appropriate to have finished the trip in Greenland where the extensive icebergs were a highlight of the trip. A further novelty was to be too warmly dressed to return to England in a heatwave.

Photographs supporting this article.

Photographs of The Faroes.

Photographs of Iceland.

Photographs of Greenland.

Request form for publication.

Back to home page.