I think Ilulissat may just be my most favourite place on Earth.
I love the cold wind as it comes off the icebergs and laps my face. I love the sound of the Greenland dogs as they howl at the sun when it comes up. I love the burnt orange sunrises and the magenta sunsets. I love the colourful houses set against ice and snow. I love the people – so kind and giving. But mostly, I just can’t get over the icebergs in the Ilulissat Icefjorden.
I visited the Ilulissat Iceford for the first time in late 2015, and from the first time I lay eyes on the place, something just clicked inside me. It is the kind of place that you could just about weep for joy upon seeing for the first time. I don’t know if it is the way the icebergs move through the bay, or the sounds they make as pieces of ice calve off, or if it is the way the sun casts a glow over the fjord; maybe it is a culmination of all these things.
All I know is that it is one of few places in the world that feels truly magical to me.
So, ever since that trip I have been itching to return to Greenland, and especially to return to the Icefjord and see if it would be just as special the second time around.
I woke up my first morning in Ilulissat and despite there being heavy cloud cover and seriously subpar natural lighting, decided to go ahead and go to my beloved icefjord anyway. I knew full well that the low lighting could mean that I wouldn’t be able to photograph the fjord in a way that did it justice, but I just couldn’t stay away. I had waited so long to return and I didn’t want to wait a single day longer!
So at first light, I set off. I didn’t need maps or street signs. It turns out that I remembered the place incredibly well, and could navigate my way through and around the town purely by memory – something that is very unusual for this little backpacker!
The last time I hiked to the icefjord, the route was very easy to see – a boardwalk led through the earlier part of the trail, and then blue markers on rocks are placed to lead hikers safely through the rest. However, in winter, heavy snow means that these route markers are not always obvious – at times I could barely even tell where the wooden boardwalk was!
After a lovely walk to the beginning of the rocky part of the trail, I finally got a glimpse of the icebergs in the bay, and by god, even with heavy cloud cover, holy moly was it an amazing sight.
Check out the tiny boat in this next picture in comparison to the iceberg – really gives some scale and perspective on the sheer size of these ‘bergs!
Traversing through the trail was a lot more difficult than it had been in the autumn (when I last visited) – at some places the soft snow was easily up to my mid thighs and trudging through that was no mean feat! I ended up with ice inside my boots and my jeans and thermals were completely soaked through, which is not ideal when the mercury is hovering at around -14 degrees centigrade! However, despite being cold and uncomfortable and tired, I didn’t care even a little bit.
I mean – just look at the views I had in front of me! How could anyone care about feeling a bit chilly when surrounded by such astonishingly beautiful landscapes?
A little further down the trail are a few benches and tables – and they make for some seriously good looking photos! These next pictures are easily some of my favourites from the whole day!
After a few hours spent exploring the parts of the trail that were still accessible, the clouds decided to break up a little bit and let some sunlight through – and in just a few moments, an already amazing place transformed into the magical, incredible and other-worldly place that I fell in love with.
I didn’t want to leave, but winter in Greenland means days with short periods of daylight, so after a little while I really needed to start heading back. Hiking through rocks, ice and deep snow is not something that anyone should be doing after dark.
I left my favourite spot on Earth feeling much happier than I thought I would. I had been worried that I would be sad to leave it, but really, I know I will be returning one day soon, and when I do, the Icefjorden will be waiting for me – just as special, just as magical and just as wondrous as ever.
Getting to Ilulissat: Air Iceland do run direct flights between Ilulissat and Reykjavik, but these flights are suspended in the winter months. If travelling to Ilulissat in the winter, you will need to fly with Air Greenland from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and catch a connecting flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat
Getting out of the Airport: Most hotels can arrange airport pick ups, if yours doesn’t then taxis are your best bet
Paa & Jannik Bed and Breakfast: Jannik is one of the loveliest and most helpful guys I have ever met, and staying with him and his wife Paa at their home or in one of their well-located apartments is a lovely and affordable way of lodging in Ilulissat, click here for more info
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens and M.Zuiko 7-14mm f2/8 lens
Ilulissat Icefjorden: Entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage site is free and hiking maps are freely available in most hotels. Just inform someone if you plan to hike one of the trails so that if you don’t return in a timely fashion someone knows to come looking for you!
Remember: If visiting in winter, make sure to double check the times of sunrise and sunset – you don’t want to be left stranded on a tricky hiking trail with no sunlight to guide you