During my research on Ilulissat prior to starting my trip, I came across pictures of people kayaking amongst icebergs and knew instantly that I wanted desperately to do the same. Booking a kayaking trip turned out to be difficult as I was to arrive in Ilulissat after the season for kayaking trips had ended. However, with some persistence I found a company that was running two last trips while I was in Ilulissat, and I wasted no time in snapping up an available slot!
After emailing about six companies, World of Greenland finally got back to me and said that there was one last kayak trip I could join. World of Greenland (or WoG) doesn’t run the trips themselves, but instead sells them for another company, PGI Greenland. Trips cost around $285 AUD which seems exxy, but this kayak was one of the coolest things I have ever done in my entire life, so it was worth every dollar.
Kayaking around sea ice is not as simple as just jumping in a kayak and setting off, there is a lot of special equipment need. Not only did I have to work my way into a drysuit – which is never an easy task – I had to wear a snapback and special shoes and gloves suitable for the cold climate. The water is several degrees below freezing and as such, if you were to capsize, you’d need protection so that you wouldn’t freeze to death; or at least you wouldn’t freeze in the first few minutes!
There was only four of us in a group, so we were sharing double kayaks. I was sharing with our Barcelona-born kayaking guide, who was extremely energetic and fun to be around. As the sun started to disappear from the sky, we launched from the rocks below the Zion Church and were off!
Now, I am a pretty proficient little kayaker, but kayaking through sea ice took a little bit to get used to! There were huge chunks of ice that we had to dig our way through, and occasionally we would hit a super thin layer of surface ice and have to break it up with our oars. It didn’t take too long until I got the hang of it, and soon I was pushing through the ice like I’d been doing it forever.
As the sun set and cast an orange glow over the bay, I remember feeling that kind of happiness where you feel like you’ll burst from the intensity of it. I couldn’t stop smiling, I said the word “wow” so much that I started to feel like the character Cassie from UK television show Skins and I really didn’t want it to end.
Though we were happily breaking our way through the smaller bergs, we kept our distance from the really huge ones, as if they were to calve while we were too close, a big tsunami wave could prove somewhat promblematic!
About halfway through our kayak, just before the sun set completely, our awesome guide pulled some bacardi out of his life jacket and insisted we do some shots to celebrate the end of the kayaking season. This was completely unexpected but a more than welcome surprise! After a couple of warming shots, the -3°C temperature didn’t feel quite so biting any longer!
It’s interesting to note that the word ‘kayak’ originates from the early Greenlandic Inuit language, coming from the word ‘qajaq’. The entire practice of kayaking originated in Greenland as an essential tool for survival. As the Greenlandic landscape is far too harsh to forge roads between towns; long before large boats and air travel were invented, kayaks were the only way to travel between towns to trade goods in the summer months. They were also integral in allowing the Inuit people to successfully hunt whales and seals.
The Ilulissat kayaking season is restricted to the summer months as in the winter, all the sea water will completely freeze over. During these months, the sea water freezes so densely that people can safely travel on the sea ice with dog sleds and snowmobiles.
Once the sun had set completely and the sky started turning black, it was time to head back to shore. I didn’t want it to end, but I also knew that kayaking blind in a sea of huge icebergs probably wouldn’t end well. At the shore, the rocks are covered in algae and super slippery to climb on. As I went to get out of the kayak I would have definitely slipped into the water if it weren’t for a small group of local Greenlandic teenagers who came to my rescue and helped give me some balance as I stepped out. People do not get friendlier or more helpful that native Greenlanders.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Ilulissat: Air Iceland has direct flights from Reykjavik to Ilulissat twice weekly in the summer months
Ilulissat Kayak: Kayaking trips costs between around $250-$600 AUD depending on the length of the trip and can be booked in person at the World of Greenland office or through PGI Greenland
Camera: GoPro Hero; tour guides also take photos and send them to participants via email
Remember: That Titanic was a great film but not all icebergs will sentence you to death!