Greenland Adventure — On a new path into an (un)known polar region | Polarjournal
The Greenland ice sheet is more than a white wasteland. On guided hikes, travelers can get an idea of what it’s like to hike on the world’s second-largest ice sheet with Quark Expeditions’ latest product. Photo: Carlo Lukassen

Greenland has always been a favourite destination for Arctic travellers. Although almost 80% of the world’s largest island is covered by an ice sheet, it is very diverse in terms of nature and culture and offers much more than just icy expanses and a highly polar fauna and flora. The south of Greenland in particular is often underestimated and only visited by cruise ships because of the Viking heritage and its easily accessible fjords. The expedition company Quark Expeditions has now launched a new product to change this perception and in the process has also embarked on a new way of developing this product.

Whether it is hiking on the Greenland ice sheet, camping in the vastness of Greenland’s outdoors, kayaking on rivers and streams or learning more about the use of local plants in Greenlandic cuisine, Quark Expeditions’ programme on its Greenland Adventure voyage sounds anything but boring. The product developed by the Canadian expedition company specifically for this region and this voyage is not aimed at simple sightseeing of southern Greenland. Rather, it wants to let guests really immerse themselves in the region, interacting instead of observing, experiencing an authentic Greenland with all their senses. And not only along the coast, but also in the air and really inland, with residents actively involved in the development of the new product. Polar expedition travel on a new level.

The brains behind the new product are Alex McNeil and Andrea Machacek, who are responsible for new product development at Quark Expeditions. As long-standing guides, expedition leaders and co-ordinators, both can draw on a wealth of experience, especially when it comes to areas and customer requests. “When we came to south Greenland on board the Kapitan Khlebnikov in 2016 during our circumnavigation of the Arctic, I immediately thought of doing more here than just making a few landings along the coast,” explains McNeil. “The landscapes differ greatly from one another, depending on the region. The deep fjords with their glaciers and mountains in the somewhat barren south-east are a stark contrast to the green southern tip, partly covered by forests, where even agriculture is practiced. And the south-west with its towns and the somewhat flatter landscape offers a gentle mix of it all.” Machacek is also enthusiastic about the diversity in a small space: “It’s like Greenland in a nutshell and offers an exciting variety of different landscape forms and habitats.”

Not only landscape fans have a lot to enjoy in the region, but also animal and plant enthusiasts get their share in the areas. This is thanks to the Greenland Current, which brings nutrient-rich water from the north and thus ensures a diverse range of wildlife in the water, on land and in the air. Be it humpback whales or orcas, peregrine falcons or even white-tailed eagles, Arctic hares or foxes, with a bit of luck and keen eyes, one will always find animal residents that sometimes cannot be found further north. The question about polar bear encounters, which automatically arises with Greenland, can be answered with the industry-standard “cannot be ruled out”. “Especially on the south-east side, at the beginning of the journey, it is not impossible for a polar bear to venture that far south, carried along on an ice floe or iceberg from the north,” explains McNeil. “On the other hand, the probability of meeting the king of the Arctic is yet very low. But we will still take some security measures.” After all, people are still moving around in the Arctic.

Quark’s latest ship, the Ultramarine, will serve as a very comfortable basecamp for the voyage. She will take her 200 guests from the hamlet of Narsarsuaq towards the south-east coast, where the various activities will start. The core of the operations are the two on-board helicopters, with which the areas inland are reached. Two helicopters for 200 people? “We have a lot of experience in using helicopters and can operate very quickly and efficiently,” explains McNeil when asked. “We also have a wide range of programmes for all guests, so that the groups can be divided up and the waiting times are short.” When asked about guests’ fear of missing out, Machacek explains: “There is so much to see and experience that it’s impossible to be present at all of them. In addition, we will always stay a few days in the three different regions. This allows guests to maximise their experience.” This means that one can also simply stay on board and let the grandiose landscape work its magic from the deck, the lounge or the cabin. The activities have also been developed to cater for all tastes. “We want to offer an experience based on equal opportunities,” McNeil continues.

However, equality did not only apply to the offers for the guests. McNeil and Quark Expeditions also broke new ground in the development of the Greenland Adventure programme. “When I developed the idea further, I realised that we were not the experts in this region,” says McNeil. “That’s why it was clear that we would work with local partners right from the start. So, we sat down with the local tourism stakeholders and officials and asked them what they thought and what they wanted.” Plans were developed together; locations were selected for the activities and the local infrastructure was used for implementation. “We would never have managed a camp near the ice sheet without working with a local provider. They run it entirely.,” McNeil says. “Here, guests will experience true Greenlandic hospitality, enjoy simple but very tasty Greenlandic food, and be in a place that ordinary cruise tourists don’t see.”

The weather always dominates the outcome of an expedition voyage. For the first time, however, Quark Expeditions has consulted scientists and local experts to determine the best voyage date to maximise the experience. Photo: Carlo Lukassen

Also, the time of the trip — mid to late July — was not simply chosen based on the ship timetable. “We sat down with various scientists and local helicopter pilots and found out what the best weather-related time is to visit the region. Because helicopter operations are dependent on the weather, we thus have minimised the risk of failures,” McNeil says. “For the first time, it was not the ship that determined the schedule, but the product that determined the ship’s operations,” adds Machacek. However, the plan for the eight-day trip still allows for a maximum of flexibility, because the travel distances are relatively short, despite the size of south Greenland. This means that south Greenland can be (re)discovered in a whole new way and offers even newcomers an introduction to the wonderful world of the polar regions.

This article is part of the partnership between PolarJournal and Quark Expeditions.

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