In Greenlandic, the island is called Qeqertarsuaq, which means ‘the big island’. It’s actually Greenland’s largest island, and although its located 100 km from the mainland, it can be seen in clear weather from all the towns in Disko Bay.
Despite the large size, there is only one town, also named Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn in Danish). The town dates from 1773 and is one of Greenland’s oldest and smallest towns with less than 1,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by majestic red basalt mountains, in the cosy town centre by the water lies Hotel Disko Island.
The town’s lively harbour testifies that fishing, especially for snow crabs, is still the most important occupation. If you move further around the town, you’ll come across the octagonal church, popularly called ‘Vor Herres Blækhus’ (Our Lord’s Ink Well). In addition, the local museum is definitely worth a visit. Here you’ll find a nice collection of paintings by the artist Jakob Danielsen, and you can learn about the town’s history and the Arctic Station, which is located on the outskirts of the town.
Apart from the main town Qeqertarsuaq, there is only one settlement, Kangerluk (Diskofjord). The rest of the island is unspoilt nature in the form of mountains, valleys and permanent ice caps on top of the basalt mountains and a varied flora and fauna.
Whales and Alluring Nature
On the boat trip to Disko Island, it is quickly revealed that the island is of volcanic origin. The characteristic basalt mountains rise almost 1,000 metres. The steep basalt mountains and the presence of hot springs differentiate Disko Island from anywhere else in Greenland. Disko Island is renowned for rich plant life and unique geology, leading to numerous scientific studies of the island. In 1906, Arctic Station was founded and is now the oldest manned field station in the Arctic. It belongs to the University of Copenhagen and is used for field research.
The plateau in the south is covered year round by ice and snow in the form of Lyngmarksbræen (Lyngmark Glacier), which is approx. 900 meters above sea level. The top of the glacier affords a panoramic view over Disko Bay, and in clear weather during autumn and winter it’s also a perfect place to view the magical northern lights.
Qeqertarsuaq was founded in 1773 under the name Godhavn by whaler and merchant Svend Sandgreen. The island’s optimal hunting conditions attracted many European whaling expeditions.
The sea is rich around Disko Island attracting large numbers of whales from spring to autumn. In the spring, there are good opportunities to spot the great bowhead whale. In Greenlandic it’s called ‘Arfivik’, which means ‘the barrel-shaped’. In summer, humpback whales frolic close to shore.
Hiking on Disko Island
Disko Island’s hinterland is characterised by ancient volcanic activity, steep basalt mountains and lush vegetation. The area is ideal for hiking, and visitors will find routes of varying levels of difficulty to choose from.
A short and relatively easy hike will take you out to the lookout south of the city, located on the extreme tip of the peninsula on which the town sits. From here is a formidable view of the southern part of Disko Bay, where hunters throughout the ages scouted for whales from this point.
A slightly longer hike leads into Blæsedalen (valley) to a waterfall. On the way to Blæsedalen you pass Arctic Station, which is a hive of activity throughout summer. You’ll have ample opportunity to admire the volcanic landscape and the hike also takes you past the waterfall up along the red river. Blæsedalen is very fertile, and a significant part of Greenland’s flora is found here, where the low Arctic meets the high Arctic.
On the hike to Kuannit nature reserve you can appreciate the distinctive basalt formations and spectacular waterfalls. Located a little north of Qeqertarsuaq, the place is lush and verdant. In summer you’ll find a carpet of neon-green moss and tall angelica. A millennia ago, the lava formed intriguing basalt sculptures. Locals say one of these basalt formations resembles an elephant drinking from the sea!
If you have the courage and stamina for a harder hike up the 900 metres to Lyngmarksbræen, there is a marked hiking trail up through the characteristic basalt mountains. Though strenuous, this hike is incredibly beautiful. Upon reaching the top, you’ll be rewarded with a commanding view over the entire Disko Bay.