Kayaking in Greenland

Greenland…..could be chilly

For a change of scenery I booked a sea kayaking trip to Greenland with Hezzer. This is the sort of thing I do in winter during the dark days and lousy weather. The darker it is and colder and wetter it is the more daft a project I dream up to do in the summer. And this year with a bit of pain from a replacement knee thrown into the mix, the resulting expedition was particularly extreme.

When summer eventually comes around I am usually quite happy  paddling the coast of Devon and Cornwall ,but Greenland was already booked ,so off we went.

We stopped over in Iceland which was disappointing because I hadn’t planned it properly. We stayed in a bed and breakfast near the airport which was a bit of a bleak lava field. We took one trip into Reykjavik to meet up with my brother Tim and Calum who were on their way to Greenland to hunt Musk Ox and fish. This was not a coincidence and I had timed our trip to coincide with theirs but all we did was have a meal together and share the plane from Iceland to Narsarsuaq in Greenland. Apart from that we saw nothing of the rest of the island.

The flight to Greenland was absolutely thrilling, and something I will never forget. The brown mountainous coast filled the horizon, with glaciers flowing down the valleys to break up into myriads of icebergs, and the great white sheet of the polar icecap covering the entire interior like a monumental duvet.

Greenland from the plane

The little plane twisted and turned down the valleys below the level of the surrounding peaks to ‘give us a bit of a thrill’ as the pilot explained when he emerged from his cockpit afterwards.

As we disembarked at the tiny airport icebergs of all shapes and sizes bobbed about in the adjacent sea.

Hezzer and iceberg

Hezzer and I were quickly introduced to our other five Tasermiut ( the travel company) expedition teammates and we were whisked off down the fjord in a RIB. Another thrill. Upon arrival at Narsaq we were introduced to Adrian, our guide and installed in the kayak ‘hotel’ which was a sort of shed but perfectly well equipped.


The next morning we had a brief wander round the Inuit town with its brightly coloured houses (and no fences)  before we were whisked off in another RIB to where the kayaks were located. Basically a beach in the middle of nowhere with seven kayaks stacked up neatly on the shore. Superb. Proper wilderness.

pre-departure lunch

As we munched lunch prior to departure eagle-eyes Hezzer spotted a White-tailed Eagle circling about, which attracted the attention of a large falcon which carved across the sky towards it. I was pretty sure this was a Gyr Falcon as it looked too grey for a peregrine, but didn’t look too hard as I was sure we would see more over the next week, but we didn’t. Not for certain, anyway.

White-tailed Eagle

We loaded up our kayaks and off we paddled. Dodging between the icebergs which were constantly creaking and groaning and surprisingly often rolling over with a massive roar.Wise to give them a wide berth.

At last…paddling Greenland’s icy waters

The camp on the first night was a superb location on the corner of a fjord and the water was complete glass. And the sun shone, just what I wanted. And yes it was cold at night but not below freezing.

First night camp


More flat fjord, sun, icebergs and treeless mountainside the next day with a camp below the icecap on a desert like area. Really very little wildlife apart from the occasional wheatear and family of snow buntings, with eagles overhead every so often.

Glassy paddling

We had a superb paddle on day three past some massive cliffs and then culminating in the approach to the foot of a glacier with bergs breaking off regularly and thundering into the sea. Our camp overlooked the mile-long wall, but if you turned your head to look at the action when you heard the boom of breaking ice, you were generally too late because the sound had taken three seconds to reach your lugholes.

Camping with a view

The next day we paddled beneath the two ‘feet’ off the glacier (at a respectful distance) . This was everything I had hoped for when I booked to come here. A wall of ice, glass calm blue sea and unbroken blue sky above. Perfection. When  arrangements were made for the walk up the glacier I declined to go as I was a bit worried about my new knee so just sat around watching the scenery. There was absolutely no wildlife to look at and not a sound of any life, just the crack and creak and crunch and grumble and thunder of moving ice.

At the foot of the glacier
Greenland perfection

Due to a sudden unexpected wind, which I think was a katabatic wind pouring off the ice sheet ,we had to be ‘extracted’ by boat and taken to an encampment of Tasermiut-owned plastic igloos for the night. I would have sooner been in the tent but never mind. Plastic igloos don’t really tick my wilderness box.

Igloo village

Next day was a short hop to an island where we went for a water collecting stroll , punctuated by a swim in a lake as it was so blooming hot! would you believe that…too hot in Greenland!

Hezzer cools off

Our final day had us hopping across the mouths of several fjords so I was hopeful of my long awaited encounter with a whale from a kayak. Alas no whales but we did see a couple of seals but these were extremely easily spooked and no doubt with good reason as I think they are a prime hunting target for the local inuits.

Little wildlife, lots of icebergs

Incidentally, if I had known I was going to have a spectacularly good and prolonged encounter with a whale less than a month later off the coast of Devon I may not have booked the trip at all.

Distant caribou

We did manage a very distant view of a single Caribou at the range of about a mile, and that was the end of our six day Greenland kayak adventure. We covered just over fifty miles in total so I was reasonably happy with that. There were plenty of stops for ‘snacks’, in fact many more than I usually have (both in terms of the stops and the snacks) on my usual full day paddle trips.

Food overload

A final night in the hostel and meal in the surprisingly well supplied Narsaq Hotel, and the next day we were speeding back up the fjord towards the airport with laughing Captain Oju cracking  (incessant) jokes at the helm of the RIB.

Hezzer and Captain Oju

Greenland did turn out to be a place of extremes. The world’s biggest island  and the least densely-populated country in the world. Two-thirds covered in ice. I think we saw fifteen species of bird during the six days we were there, a tally that I could better in less than six minutes in my garden. But apart from that minor glitch it was an extraordinary adventure in an extraordinary country.

To me what is even more remarkable about Greenland is that nobody seemed too sure to what continent it belonged. Incredible as it is the size of the whole of western Europe. (technically it is part of the continent of North America…..I think).p1140602


As autumn progresses the opportunities for offshore paddling in search of cetaceans diminish. Both wind and swell increase and the sea generally becomes less friendly and also I just don’t fancy paddling around miles offshore when it is cold. It’s fine when you are clad in a vest and it’s nice and hot and sunny. Falling in wouldn’t be a problem; in fact it would be a good way to cool off.p1040427

And anyway the cetaceans thin out as the season wears on.

Possibly my final offshore jaunt of the year was to Falmouth bay on a calm October morning. A couple of Sandwich terns hunting in Carrick Roads showed that winter was not here yet. One joined a roost of Mediterranean Gulls for a bit of a breather. Mediterranean gulls used to be rare but now there is a significant influx every year from mid summer onwards.

Sandwich Tern
Mediterranean Gulls

A few seals splashed about in the mouth of the Percuil River.

Nice eyebrows

Passing the lighthouse at St Anthony the bay looked calm and welcoming so I headed out. It was still enough to hear a couple of schools of porpoises ‘piffing’ long before I saw them. And I would have missed a small school of Common Dolphins had I not been looking directly at them as one leaped half out of the water. They sped past and were remarkably difficult to observe, and were soon gone. All I could see were the spurts of water at the surfaces as their fins emerged, I couldn’t actually see the fins.

St Anthony head

A sudden major splash drew my attention to several large dolphin sized creatures breaching clear of the water. They looked completely silvery and I wasn’t really concentrating and it all happened in the blink of an eye (maybe I was blinking as well). So I’m not really sure what they were but I think they were Tuna! Yes, Tuna! Blinking heck! They did not reappear so I’m even more certain they weren’t dolphins, as I would have expected them to surface for a breath somewhere within sight.

I know that Bluefin Tuna are around but this is the first time I have seen them from my kayak in the UK. Funnily enough I did see one jumping in exactly the same way in Southern Spain in March. Getting a better view (and hopefully a photo) will be one of my targets for next year.

While loafing about three miles offshore I noticed that one of the tankers moored up in Falmouth bay had completely disappeared…..fog! It was rolling in like a blanket.

Foggy St Anthony Head

Although I had my GPS with me I felt a bit vulnerable as the mist rolled towards me and regretted not having a compass as a back up. It wouldn’t be too good if the batteries in the GPS went. I pushed for the rocky coast quite hard and as it was I never quite lost sight of it. Interestingly the sea fog that day was not forecast. Good lesson. Always be prepared.

There are plenty of estuaries and sheltered inlets around south west England to provide entertainment when the open sea is no go. I hadn’t ‘done’ the Camel estuary for a few years so set off from Wadebridge and drifted downstream on the outgoing tide. It was a cold and wet day and I could hardly believe my eyes when an otter appeared fishing in the open estuary in front of me. Of the hundred or so otters I have seen around Devon and Cornwall in the last decade this is only the second one I have seen in a proper marine environment, and I have yet to encounter one in the open coast.

Otter on Camel

I gave it a wide berth in an effort not to disturb it, but as I got upwind it definitely got a wiff of me. And clearly didn’t like it too much. It slipped into the water and disappeared.

I was completely absorbed by the hoards of wading birds including Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwits as I paddled slowly down towards Padstow. With that classic winter soundtrack of the estuary…..the bubble of Curlew, the mew of Lapwing, the whistle of Wigeon and the ping of Teal.


I did a double-take on a huge white bird in flight when I realised it wasn’t a swan. a quick fumble for my binoculars with cold hands…..it’s a Pelican! And it was quite a lot bigger than a swan.

Dalmatian Pelican

dalmatian-pelican-2A Dalmatian Pelican, and the first one to be seen in the UK for over a hundred years. I was aware it had been ‘doing the rounds ‘ of the estuaries of Cornwall and had even ventured up to the Taw estuary in Devon, before coming back to its apparent favourite place, the Camel. So I was half expecting to see it, but it was still a bit of a thrill.

Even when there is not a lot of wildlife to see, the broad-leaved woodland that clads the hills around many of the inlets of the south-west provide a very scenic backdrop to an autumnal paddle.

Tamar estuary
Tamar at Morwellham

The Tamar is one of my favourites as it is very sheltered and always offers Kingfishers and a few Dippers up near Gunnislake weir.


Kayaking around the coast has its unexpected moments. I have rescued several inflatables plus occupants being blown offshore, but never before a diver with cramp. I towed him half a mile into Port Mellon bay near Mevagissey. Hard work and unbelievably slow but it warmed me up. A lot.p1020849p1020850

Good view of a fox, a young looking one, on the edge of Roadford Lake.

Roadford Fox
Early morning on the Torridge