A sleepy coastal town in south Greenland

Nanortalik is an evocative land of polar bears, ice, and a surprising amount of color

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer Nanortalik is a hardscrabble town, as seen from partway up Ravnefjeldet. Icebergs drift by in the fjord past the colorful houses. Who lives here? The town on a Sunday morning is empty, intriguing.

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer
Nanortalik is a hardscrabble town, as seen from partway up Ravnefjeldet. Icebergs drift by in the fjord past the colorful houses. Who lives here? The town on a Sunday morning is empty, intriguing.

Elisabeth Beyer
Vancouver, B.C.

Tucked away in the fjords of southern Greenland is Nanortalik, the tenth-largest town in the country (that might sound like a whole lot of people, but in Greenland it means a population of only 1,300!).

Brightly colored houses line the streets, immense mountain peaks rise in the distance, and icebergs float by in the bay.

It’s a quiet place, with a totally different feeling from its northern counterpart, Qaqortoq, a town three times larger in population.

The summer of 2015, I had the chance to visit both of these remote towns, and while I loved exploring them, there were some major differences between the two.

When I arrived, the streets were quiet, like a ghost town. Unlike in Qaqortoq, there were hardly any locals out except for the tourist info center staff. Perhaps it was the damp cold and the drizzling rain, or the fact that we arrived early on a Sunday morning, that was keeping people indoors.

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

To me, Nanortalik felt like a sleepy, silent, and cold place, but I also found a simple natural beauty there too.

Despite the eerie silence on the streets of Nanortalik, the brightly colored wooden houses were anything but quiet. If they don’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.

Originally, this lively style had a practical use and indicated the function of a building. Visit Greenland explains that “commercial houses were red; hospitals were yellow; police stations were black; the telephone company was green; and fish factories were blue.”

Today, all the colors of the rainbow are represented in Nanortalik. I discovered houses painted in lime green, magenta, bright orange, sky blue, and lavender—basically any color you can imagine!

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

As I walked past the houses, the absence of people made my imagination run wild. I wanted to know more about the locals, their culture, beliefs, and way of life in this remote corner of the world.

Who lived in the house with the bright pink laundry on the clothesline? Who left the old rusty Christmas tree out in their front yard? Who did the friendly neighborhood cat belong to? Who was the hunter drying furs and meat outside? Who were the children who played on the swing set?

Nanortalik lies at the mouth of the 70-kilometer long Tasermiut Fjord. This fjord attracts climbers, kayakers, and hikers from all over the world to explore the challenging mountains.

What otherwise would have only been a gray mountainous landscape was interspersed with fields of blooming wildflowers, adding a lively characteristic to the otherwise sleepy Nanortalik.

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

The nature in southern Greenland is extraordinary, and the mountains here are no exception. Even through the clouds and fog, they seem to loom over the Tasermiut Fjord.

Ravnefjeldet, a mountain just outside of Nanortalik, is a one-hour hike (one way), which looks a lot easier than it actually is.

Along the way you’ll find a lush alpine landscape full of mosses and lichens—but watch out because the trail ends abruptly in a number of places and you might have to find your way back to it several times.

Hiking in Greenland was always on my bucket list. Although this wasn’t a strenuous Arctic expedition-style trek, I couldn’t help but feeling a little bit like a pioneer exploring a mysterious new country.

I never made it all the way to the top of Ravnefjeldet because of the cold and rain, but the view onto the mouth of the fjord from about halfway up the mountain was still pretty amazing.

It was from up here that I could see just how many icebergs were floating around in the ocean just outside of town.

In Greenlandic the name Nanortalik means “place of polar bears” because polar bears are occasionally seen hunting on the drift ice outside of town. Although I didn’t see any polar bears, what I did see was a ton of icebergs drifting by in the bay getting stuck in between the many tiny islands.

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

Photo: Elisabeth Beyer

I was amazed and surprised at the vast amount of ice. I had to remind myself that I was just below the Arctic Circle and summertime in Greenland is exactly when the bays are filled with bergs that broke off from the ice sheet in the spring.

It was still surreal to see so much ice floating past me in the middle of August, a month that I attribute to hot, sunny days at the beach, not to being bundled up in my parka in the cold.

When we left Nanortalik, I stood outside on the deck of our ship for as long as possible to take a mental picture of the icy landscape. Once you’ve seen the beautiful icebergs here, it’s hard not to feel drawn to Greenland.

My day in Nanortalik left me wanting to discover more of this area. I highly recommend that you spend some time in this quiet and far-flung corner of the globe.

Elisabeth Beyer is a German-Canadian travel writer and blogger based on the west coast of Canada. She loves to explore different cultures and destinations, favoring natural landscapes to big cities. You can read more about her travels at her personal blog www.sidetrackedtravelblog.com.

This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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