We arrived in Qaqortoq early the next morning. The town clings to the steep land overlooking the water. It is the largest town in southern Greenland with a population of around 3000. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times. As is true of all populated places in Greenland, Qaqortoq – Ka-kar-toak -and means ‘white’. It is not connected to any other place via roads. There are no roads outside any of the towns in Greenland. Hiking trails lead north and west from the town, but for any motorized transportation all terrain vehicle are needed, while during the winter, snowmobiles become the transport of choice. But I did see a few pickup trucks and SUVs. The residents tend to paint their homes in very bright primary colours. Perhaps to deflect the long dark cold days of winter. Whatever the reason, it is a very pretty colourful sight to see.
They have a hospital with 18 beds and a medical helicopter. Also a couple of grocery stores, a hotel, bank, a couple of museum in what used to be someone’s home, and a couple of cafes. There is a primary, middle & high school as well as a school for commerce and a basic vocational school. Qaqortoq is the main centre for education in South Greenland.
My tour to visit Hvalsey Church was interesting from start to finish. First of all it was 6C (42F) and it was windy and our transportation was an open rubber dinghy type boat. We had to put on something to keep us warm and they gave us a sort of hazmat suit. It looked like a serious snowsuit with reflective tape and velcro at the wrists and ankles. I was having trouble getting into mine when the captain of the boat came over and got me all tucked in and zipped up. At that point I thought I should say, I have to peeee!! It was hard to walk or bend and I felt that if I ever fell overboard I would float. Once we got underway, flying across the fjord for 30 minutes, I was very happy to have that extra layer of clothing. It was freezing!!!
Hvalsey Church is one of the best preserved Norris ruins in Greenland. Now all that is left are the stone walls, and they think it would have had a wooden roof covered with turf. According to written sources, the Norsemen became christians in the early 1000s. The churches were usually built by a wealthy farmer close to his home and at this particular church they have found the ruins of about 15 farms. At the museum I read about the written account of a wedding at this church in the early 1400s, and this was the last written life sign of the Norsemen in Greenland because from then on there was nothing but silence. Their disappearance is a huge mystery. Some theories say they were wiped out in a war with the Inuit. Or perhaps some sort of epidemic or even inbreeding. Today, they said, that none of these theories are correct.
They know that a significant change in the climate set in around the 12th century and it got much colder and the summers more arid. These conditions may have altered drift ice around Greenland which would have worsened sailing making it dangerous to get in and out of there, and could have had an impact on migration patterns of the seal, making hunting of this important food source more difficult. The arid summers would have reduced the growing season. Young Norsemen could have been persuaded to seek greener pastures, resulting in the slow but inevitable demise of the Norse settlements in Greenland. But inspite of all of this, the museum said there will never be a complete picture of why the Norsemen abandoned their settlements.