Crashed Planes, Ancient Graves, Bounding Reindeer: A Kangerlussuaq Guide

Crashed Planes, Ancient Graves, Bounding Reindeer: A Kangerlussuaq Guide

Photos by
Axel Sig

Kangerlussuaq, population 500, is a tiny town in West Greenland that’s built around its airport – a former US base that’s now Greenland’s biggest air travel hub. It’s military legacy has left an interesting history, visible in everything from downed training jets to signs warning of possible unexploded munitions. But the town’s history goes back much further than that. In fact, archaeological finds date back to 3000 year old hunting camps, left by the Sissuq people. There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife roaming the region, and the town has a small but strong community.

This remote outpost will become an easily accessible destination for those travelling from Iceland this summer, when AirIceland open their new direct Reykjavík-Kangerlussuaq route—so we dropped by to see what’s going on.

Greenland by Axel Sig

Black Ridge
During the Christmas period, a bright star shape is lit on the mountain overlooking Kangerlussuaq. It marks the Black Ridge, a vantage point that looks over the town. From there, you can see the planes taking off and landing, and get a view over the entire town with its Lego-like airport buildings. A nearby weather station offers views across to the ice cap on a clear day.

Lake Ferguson & Roklubben restaurant
This picturesque mountain lake is the town’s source of drinking water. Several summer cabins sit on its shores, as well as the Roklubben (“rowing club”, in English) restaurant. The building’s humble presentation belies a fantastic menu of local food. The grouse, musk ox and reindeer are hunted in the surrounding plains and mountains, but the star of the show is the local halibut, heaved out of the fjord en masse in fishing nets. As a starter, it comes smoked and raw, and the main comes oven-baked with a rich, hearty dill and shrimp sauce. There’s also a beer brewed in Nuuk only for this restaurant, and if it’s cloudy outside you can finish with a flaming Greenlandic coffee to see some indoor aurora.

Kangerlussuaq by Axel Sig

The Russell Glacier & Greenlandic Ice Cap
Up the longest road in Greenland (40km) lies the country’s best access point to the ice cap. A five hour excursion lets you set foot on its lower reaches, as well as a stop at the spectacular Russell Glacier, which terminates with a dramatic ice wall. At 70m, it’s the same height as Hallgrimskirkja. Tours are offered by World of Greenland Arctic Circle at www.wogac.com.

Greenland Musk Ox by Axel Sig

Wildlife spotting
Whilst driving around the area, you might well see some of the local fauna, whether a darting white Arctic hare, a lumbering musk ox, a family of bounding reindeer or a shy blue fox. There’s also a kennel in the town where you can visit the sled dogs, if it’s the season.

Kangerlussuaq by Axel Sig

Town museum
Kangerlussuaq Museum is a treasure trove of local (post-colonial) history. There are hundreds of old photographs and pieces of memorabilia from the former military base, as well as a rundown of the area’s aviation and scientific history.

Seasonal activities
In the winter, after plenty of snowfall, it’s possible to dog sledding, snow mobiling, cross-country skiing and ice fishing. In the summer, there’s 24-hour daylight, and there’s hunting, hiking and fishing to be had.

Kangerlussuaq by Axel Sig

Harbour & junkyard
For those with an interest picturesque decay and remote industrial desolation, Kangerlussuaq has you covered. The junkyard is a treasure trove of abandoned vintage airport vehicles, cars and trucks, as well as stacks of bikes, barrels, house appliances and more. The harbour area is beautifully bleak, from the rusting pier to the rail-launched barges. Between October and June, when ships are frozen out and it’s all-but deserted. It might seem like a strange idea to travel so far to see a junkyard and an empty harbour, but these places are very atmospheric, and feel like the ends of the earth.

Kangerlussuaq by Axel Sig

Kangerlussuaq by Axel Sig

Accommodation & shopping
The town has several options for accommodation, including an airport hotel, a hostel called Polar Lodge, a youth hostel, and various cabins that are used during the summer. It’s also possible to camp on the ice cap, with a guide and the correct equipment. There’s a small food store, an outdoor clothing shop, and you can pick up local handicrafts and schnapps made using everything from angelica root to ptarmigan parts. The town has two bars, one in the airport and one in the container area.

Looking for a Greenland flight?
Fly with AirIceland.
Accommodation in Greenland
Provided by Visit Greenland
It's cold in Greenland
John & Axel were kept warm by 66º North Jökla parkas.