Ilulissat Icefiord - a UNESCO site in Greenland
The IluIissat Icefjord is known all over the world, and in 2004 it was listed as UNESCO world heritage. And there is quite a good reason for this, because the Icefjord is a very special place. Here you will get an unforgettable experience.
The numerous glacier
Sermeq Kujalleq is the name of the glacier at the base of the Icefjord, and it is an impressive one. It is the fastest glacier in the northern hemisphere, moving around 40 metres per day. Other galloping glaciers have periodically moved faster, for instance the one near Qeqertarsuaq, but they cannot keep the pace for long. Sermeq Kujalleq, however, keeps going and going. If you get your hands on a guidebook that is 10 to 15 years old, you will be able to read that the Icefjord is 45 kilometres long, whereas today it is said to be 55 metres long. The revision is simply caused by the fact that the calving front of the glacier has retracted due to climate changes.
The glacier is huge. It is 6 kilometres wide and 55 kilometres long. That corresponds to 66,000 football fields, and the glacier is known for dropping the same amount of ice in the water on a daily basis, as the annual consumption of water of the entire Manhattan. Actually, Sermeq Kujalleq produces 10% of all icebergs in Greenland.
A boat trip into paradise
A boat trip to the estuary of the Icefjord is quite an experience. Enormous icebergs have run aground by the mouth of the fjord where the water is shallower than further inwards. The shallowness is a result of a large sand bank being pushed towards the estuary by the huge icebergs, causing the ice to run aground. The icebergs will not move until they have melted enough to break free of the sand bank, or if a large portion of ice calved from the glacier at the base of the fjord pushes more ice forward, or if they are lifted over the sand bank by large waves caused by the calving of major icebergs.
Sailing near the icebergs is simply incredible. The officers bring their boats as close as safety allows – naturally keeping proper distance to the enormous giants. The icebergs can be tall as a skyscraper and have a vast areal extent. Take a boat trip in the daytime and then a second one in the evening when the midnight sun spreads a golden hue. It might seem a little extravagant to go on the same boat trip twice, but we know from experience that people have really loved how different the two events have been.
Hiking to Sermermiut
By the northern side of the Icefjord, you will find the abandoned Sermermiut settlement. People have settled here for more than 4,000 years. The Saqqaq, Early Dorset and Thule cultures have settled at Sermermiut due to the rich fishing conditions. The area is therefore home to many ruins. The ruins were mainly excavated in 1953 and 1983, uncovering evidence indicating the presence of the many different cultures.
In fact, we know that Sermermiut was the largest settlement in Greenland in 1737, but around 1850, the last person left and moved to Jakobshavn, which had been founded nearby – known as Ilulissat today. Today, getting to Sermermiut is easy; from the old heliport on the southern fringe of Ilulissat, a gangway leads all the way down to the waterfront. From there, you can also continue to the Woman's Ravine where it is said that elderly people would throw themselves off the edge if the community were starving. They would thus sacrifice themselves in order to save food for the younger generations to make it through the hardships of winter.
You can also walk along the fjord further inland on designated footpaths.
Fly to the glacier
When you are in Ilulissat, you also have the option of flying to the glacier, which is an incredible experience. Seeing it all from above really gives you a sense of the amount of ice in the fjord. Besides, it is quite fascinating being able to experience the maritime life in the fjord below you where seals bask in the sun, and the whales gambol between the icebergs.
Guide to Ilulissat
This guide is our very short complimentary guide to Ilulissat with a few tips on things to do and see, which you should not miss out on while in Ilulissat.